In this project, I’ll be watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.
The 64th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: Silence of the Lambs, JFK (8), Bugsy (10)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: February 25th – March 1st, 2018
The snacks: Not much — we weren’t really hungry, if you care to know why.
The year: 1991.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.
So why did the other movies lose?
JFK had so much smoking in it that I felt like I was getting lung cancer just from watching. But I suppose it was the time and the circumstances: everyone was nervous, and no one knew the answers. Spoiler alert: the 35th President of the United States is shot and killed, and everyone loses their marbles. The accused killer is also shot before he ever goes on trial, and various conspiracy theories pop up, making for an indelible sequence of historical events that surely influenced an inquisitive young U.S. citizen named Oliver Stone to make this movie several years later. A huge mass of well-known middle-aged actors signed on for this film, many who were alive and at an impressionable age during the assassination, and they ride Mr. Stone’s screenplay and make his quasi-historical quasi-documentary film quite believable. As of 1991 and even presently, we still don’t have all the answers, but Stone and his mouthpiece Kevin Costner present some compelling evidence with a fast paced film featuring some unique cinematography and convincing dialogue. But making a near-documentary with an agenda won’t get you Best Picture, apparently.
Bugsy has Bonnie and Clyde syndrome: we get this violent, conniving, and short-tempered womanizing criminal for a protagonist, and in the end we’re asked to feel sorry for the dude because his side lover is crying in the wind when he dies. Ugh. Bugsy is introduced as a smooth character who shoots people point blank when he’s mad. He then leaves his wife behind for a B-list actress who also happens to be a two-timer and kind of nuts, and Bugsy continually makes excuses to his wife for being gone so long, never having the guts to tell her he’s a total jerkwad. Bugsy seems to have limitless cash all the way up to the end when he blows it all on a risky Las Vegas casino project, and in his most sober moment he apologizes to his freshly hired staff for his poor foresight and lays them all off. The mob eventually cuts him down, and the film ends with Annette Bening sobbing, but everything’s okay because Las Vegas still happens.
So why did Silence of the Lambs win?
The reason why Silence of the Lambs won is really a matter of which aspect appeals to you, because it’s really a superior film in every way. One of the only three “Big Five” winners, you’re getting a convincing performance out of a young Jodie Foster, a rattling depiction of a caged maniac from the veteran Anthony Hopkins, and seamless production in editing, cinematography, and the haunting score. The film works as a horror movie, but not in the way you’d expect; the tension is certainly there, but the goal isn’t to scare you, but to immerse you in the spectrum of humanity, from the unfeeling and self-serving professional to the brilliant yet vicious criminal. Even Clarise has her flawed past. The cornerstone is Hopkins as Lecter, with his calculated rhetoric and cold stares, and though his carnality is all the way out there, we are nonetheless enraptured by his presence on screen. The final sequence is among the most intense in film.
The movie that should have won: Silence of the Lambs
This one is a pretty easy choice, which explains the film’s success at the Oscars. The great achievement in this selection, to me, is the lack of political agenda in a relatively weak pool of movies to choose from. The Academy gives JFK its attention, but refreshingly chooses cinematic achievement for the win.