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Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 57

Part 57: 1992


MOVIES:

  • JFK

  • The Silence of the Lambs (winner)

  • The Prince of Tides

  • Bugsy (hidden gem)

  • Beauty and the Beast

JFK

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Beata Pozniak, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Ed Asner, Brian Doyle-Murray, John Candy, Sally Kirkland, Wayne Knight, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tony Plana, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dale Dye, Lolita Davidovich, Ellen McElduff, John Larroquette, Willem Oltmans, Tomas Milian, Gary Grubbs, Ron Rifkin, Peter Maloney, John Finnegan, Wayne Tippit, Jo Anderson, Bob Gunton, Frank Whaley, Jim Garrison

Oscar Wins: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Director, Best Original Music, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture


Just moments after JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, the government assigned blame to a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald. Convinced he worked alone, the popular theory stated that Oswald shot Kennedy with three bullets fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.


Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was tasked with investigating the assassination, along with seven committee members. Together, the Warren Commission concluded that the murder of JFK was the work of Oswald and Oswald alone…but something just never felt right about that…


It wouldn’t be until several years later that the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations would unearth evidence that would show that there were at least two shooters that day, proving Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy. This peaked the interest of District Attorney Jim Garrison of New Orleans, who also had his own theories and ideas about how JFK’s murder was anything but a one-man job.

Directed by Oliver Stone, JFK attempts to prove to its audience – over the course of 3+ hours – that there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. While JFK is not fact, it fabricates a gripping story out of truth and suspicion. Using Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) as our lens, Stone breaks down a conspiracy so elaborate that anyone could get lost in the intricacies of it. His attempt to tell the truth also exposes lies that were told surrounding the Kennedy assassination. What we’re left with is not answers, but questions…questions that are given unsatisfactory or contradictory answers. This movie is going to anger you…and it’s supposed to. In this monumental film, Stone hopes we get frustrated enough to demand the truth.


Featuring a truly all-star cast, JFK uses documentary footage and reconstruction to give us every possible angle of those 1963 events. We learn more about Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), suggesting he could not have been the lone gunman that day. It examines the details of the assassination in Dealey Plaza, the possible involvement of the mafia and CIA, and, perhaps most famously, rebukes the so-called “magic bullet theory”.

In his research, Garrison interviews a slew of witnesses and informants. The amount of star power here is – as they used to say – bigger than the heavens, with the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Bacon, and Walter Matthau all making small cameos.


The entire film builds up to an overwhelming conclusion, showcasing Garrison’s near 20-minute monologue at court. It’s a bit of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ending, where the story devolves with the hero’s disillusionment…recounting the death of American idealism. No one wants to believe that their government lied to them…yet the facts of the case cannot be ignored.

As of 2013, a mere 30% of Americans still believed the lone gunman theory. However, a whopping 81% accepts that Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy, governmental or otherwise. A Congressional Investigation in 1976 found a “probable conspiracy” in the assassination of Kennedy, but didn't give many more details other than that.


The files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations were supposed to be locked away until 2029, however, many have been released and made available, following the passing of the Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. This statute directed all Federal agencies to transmit to the National Archives and Records Administration all records relating to the assassination in their custody (the temporary agency, The Assassination Records Review Board, helped ensure that the agencies complied with the Act). Most of these are available for viewing on the National Archives website.


If JFK does anything, it helps create a metaphor for how American culture feared the truth of the JFK assassination. This film has enough facts in its fiction that we cannot help but question the official story and, in turn, the legitimacy of our leadership.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Director: Johnathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Masha Skorobogatov, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Kasi Lemmons, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Danny Darst, Alex Coleman, Dan Butler, Paul Lazar, Ron Vawter, Roger Corman, George A. Romero, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Brent Hinkley, Cynthia Ettinger, Lauren Roselli

Oscar Wins: Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture

Other Nominations: Best Film Editing, Best Sound


Fear. It’s a universal emotion – and a timeless one. Classics like Psycho and Halloween send chills down our spines without needing to resort to cheap jump-scares. Best of all, they remain just as terrifying today as they did when they were first released.


On February 14, 1991, the movie-loving public was introduced to a brilliant, horrifying, cannibalistic monster named Hannibal Lecter. Played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins, Dr. Lecter showed viewers the darkest potentialities of the human psyche. In a way, it’s hard to completely hate Dr. Lecter because he’s not pure evil (like Michael Myers) or mythical in his existence (like the Devil)…he’s a man, like any of us, who – despite his desire to eat people – just wants to be accepted as a human being. Creating a character who could walk that fine tightrope is difficult, and it’s part of the reason why The Silence of the Lambs still brings fear to audiences 30-some years later.

FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is an eager student who hopes to work at the agency’s Behavioral Science Unit. Hand-selected to assist with the pursuit and capture of a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), Clarice is sent to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who the FBI hopes can help guide them in the right direction. The only problem is the Dr. Lecter is no longer practicing…he’s locked in a maximum-security psychiatric prison after killing, and consuming, his patients.


But, the good doctor offers Clarice a quid pro quo deal. For every piece of information he shares with her about Buffalo Bill, Clarice must reveal one detail about her past. In doing so, they both profile each other, worm their way into each other’s psyche.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill has already killed five victims, all slightly overweight young women who were stripped of large portions of their skin. When the sixth victim shows up with a Death’s Head Moth in her throat, Clarice and Dr. Lecter find themselves closer than ever to tracking down Buffalo Bill…however, Bill’s seventh victim has already been captured and is as good as dead unless Clarice can get to her first. A new level of fear also encloses upon Clarice when she learns Dr. Lecter has escaped from custody.


The main drive of The Silence of the Lambs is the capture of Buffalo Bill before he can kill again…but the heart of the movie is the eerie and complex relationship between Clarice and Dr. Lecter. Both are ostracized by the worlds they inhabit (Lecter because he’s a cannibal, Clarice because she’s a woman in a man’s profession). Both feel powerless in their situation, both use their powers of persuasion to escape from their traps, and both share similar childhood wounds. They respect each other’s intelligence and Clarice is one of the only people that recognize Lecter as a human being. He senses a kinship with her and their relationship becomes twisted and complex, morphing from student and mentor, to father and daughter…while always remaining cat and mouse.

The chilling aspect of The Silence of the Lambs is that we almost like Lecter. We, like Clarice, know he won’t hurt her…plus he’s helping her solve her case….how bad can the guy be? Not to mention Hopkins brings such wit and charm to the character that it’s almost hard not to like him. It’s part of the reason the classic line, “I’m having an old friend for dinner,” divides audiences so much. Some (myself included) enjoy the dark, punny humor…but others find it cheap and in poor taste, almost forcing viewers to accept “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the same way current documentaries try to humanize serial killers.


As of now, The Silence of the Lambs is one of only three movies that have won all top five Oscars (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Picture) and is one of only a handful of thrillers that have been nominated for Best Picture. While I don’t agree that it’s one of the best films ever made, I can certainly appreciate its legacy. Like many others, I can’t really see Anthony Hopkins as anyone other than Hannibal Lecter, which is a true credit to his acting. He created a character so real that the actor who played him can’t even escape him…and that in and of itself is terrifying.

 

The Prince of Tides

Director: Barbara Streisand

Starring: Nick Nolte, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, Jeroen Krabbe, Melinda Dillon, George Carlin, Jason Gould, Brad Sullivan

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Actor (Nick Nolte), Best Supporting Actress (Kate Nelligan), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture


Every family has its secrets…and the Wingo’s are no exception. Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte) is the only surviving son in what can only be described as a dysfunctional family. When his sister, Savannah (Melinda Dillon) attempts suicide, he’s called to New York by her psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Barbara Streisand, who also directed and produced the film). Dr. Lowenstein hopes Tom can help unearth the deep, dark family secrets that Savannah has repressed.


But Tom’s life isn’t that great, either. His wife, Sally (Blythe Danner) is tired of the distance Tom has put between them and their children. Tom’s coaching and teaching career is on the downslide and Tom’s estranged mother (Kate Nelligan) refuses to help deal with Savannah’s issues.

With a ton on his plate already, Tom leaves one crisis for another and boards a plane to New York. In his initial meetings with Dr. Lowenstein, Tom remains closed off…but, like any Jewish mother, she can tell there’s more beneath the surface.


Overtime, their conversations turn from therapeutic to personal, as both characters develop an affection that not only offers romance, but a cure for each other’s pain. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Lowenstein’s marriage is on the rocks and she’s hungry for companionship. Together they both face the truth about their empty marriages, ultimately discovering that what they need is each other. Aww!


Based on a novel of the same name, The Prince of Tides is heavy on the sap. In a movie that’s essentially one long therapy session, there are a lot of emotions flying around. Streisand, who also directed the film, filled every empty corner with sappy music or unnecessary scenes. Streisand also cast her real-life son as her own son in the film, who doesn’t really serve much of a purpose other than to get Tom out of his shell a bit.

But there are some surprises, too. There’s a fun cameo by a certain dirty comedian that totally took me by surprise…and when the Wingo family secret is finally revealed, the movie takes a much darker turn that gives us a new appreciation for Tom and his ability to have a somewhat normal life, despite his childhood (it’s honestly shocking he made it to adulthood WITHOUT therapy).


Though she didn’t receive the same clout that Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner did for starring in, directing, and producing their own films, Streisand still put together an enjoyable movie. Together with her obnoxiously long nails – which really should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor – she did a great job narrowing down a near 600-page novel. While it certainly wasn’t the best film of 1992, it was far from the worst.


At its romantic little heart, The Prince of Tides is not a sentimental celebration of the way we were, but a hopeful rendition of ordinary people. It’s a reminder that, oftentimes, the only way we can move forward is to come to terms with our past. And, if we’re lucky enough, we might even find love along the way.

 

Bugsy

Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, Bill Graham, Lewis Van Bergen, Wendy Phillips, Richard C. Sarafian, Carmine Caridi, Andy Romano, Wendie Malick, Stefanie Mason, Kimberly MccCullough, Don Calfa, Ray McKinnon, Joe Baker, Ksenia Prohaska, Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, Joseph Roman, James Toback, Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum

Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

Other Nominations: Best Actor (Warren Beatty), Best Supporting Actor (Harvey Keitel), Best Supporting Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Director, Best Original Music, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture


Warren Beatty is one smooth cat…and he’s even better when he plays one in a movie. Packed with all the excitement of a classic mobster movie, Bugsy takes inspiration from Goodfellas and The Godfather to craft the story of how Las Vegas came to be the metropolis it is today. But that’s just one part of it. It’s also a salute to old Hollywood glamour…a testament to movies in general…and an elegant eulogy for those days now long gone.


Gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (but don’t call him Bugsy) (Warren Beatty) aims to take over SoCal like the cold-blooded killer he is. As he scouts out Hollywood, he meets up with his friend, George (Joe Mantegna), who is filming a TV show. While on set, Ben meets – and becomes enamored with – actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), who isn’t afraid to flirt and affront in equal measure.

Ben, of course, is married…and Virginia is dating someone else, but that has never stopped Ben from getting what he wants. His reputation precedes him, and Virginia is all too aware of his connections and resources. In fact, pretty much everyone is aware because he carelessly flaunts them to great success, buying up houses that aren’t for sale, name-dropping left and right, and inserting himself into the lives of the rich and powerful.


Does he do it for money? Not really. Ben is probably the only gangster ever to not care about payday. No, Ben conducts his life as if he were the star of his own movie. Nothing can touch him. He’s got big plans and big ideas and anyone who stands in his way doesn’t stand for much longer.

Eventually Ben gets the grandiose – and ultimately fatal – idea of building luxurious casinos in the empty desert of Las Vegas. He wanted each casino to have a show room with name acts performing every night. No one shared his vision, but he knew that if he built it, they would come.


His vision begins to come to life with the creation of The Flamingo, a name inspired by Virginia’s legs. He carelessly spends so much money building and designing it that he was killed by the mob before he could ever see his vision come to life.


Although Bugsy contains lots of gangster movie staples, it’s primarily a love story between two free spirits. Ben, who is so used to getting what he wants, is confident, fearless, and practically volatile. Virginia, on the other hand, is drawn to power…and just as ambiguous with her romantic commitments. The kicker is that Ben and Virginia have found their match in each other. Virginia will never truly belong to Ben if she continues to sleep around…and Ben’s uncontrollable jealousy and vanity end up destroying him. They are the perfect embodiment of opposites attract.

As Ben Siegel, Beatty is clearly having the time of his life. He’s completely uninhibited, playing a character that allows him to show every side of himself. He can be a romantic with Virginia, a loving father with his children, a ferocious manic with those who get in his way, or a complete lunatic, running around his house in a chef’s hat while baking his daughter’s birthday cake.


Of course, that was far from the REAL Ben Siegel, a man who was arrested several times for rape, drug possession, carrying a weapon and, not to mention, a string of murders (though he usually got off). So, while this is a somewhat true biopic of the man who invented Las Vegas as we know it, it’s certainly not the WHOLE truth…but, how often do we get that when the mob is involved?


Though Ben never got to see his hard work come to life, his mark on Las Vegas still stands. The Flamingo remains as one of the oldest working casinos on the Strip and a memorial to Siegel can be found outside the wedding chapel of the hotel.


Like most mob movies, Bugsy is still a great time, regardless of its falsehoods. The costumes are great, the story is exciting, and it’s near impossible not to fall for Ben’s charm. Though it may focus more on romance than real life, it's still a wonderful, bloody love story to Sin City.

 

Beauty and the Beast

Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Starring: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Pierce, Rex Eberhard, Jesse Corti, Jo Anne Worley, Hal Smith, Mary Kay Bergman, Kath Soucie, Jack Angel, Phil Proctor, Bill Farmer, Patrick Pinney, Brian Cummings, Alvin Epstein, Tony Jay, Alec Murphy, Kimmy Robertson, Frank Welker

Oscar Wins: Best Original Music, Best Original Song ("Beauty and the Beast")

Other Nominations: Best Original Song ("Be Our Guest"), Best Original Song ("Belle"), Best Sound, Best Picture


I feel like all 80’s and 90’s kids have those one or two Disney movies that shaped their childhood…the movies that live rent-free in their minds…that inspired how we decorated our rooms, who we were for Halloween…maybe even influenced our career paths. For me, those movies were Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast.


Belle (Paige O’Hara) is a princess for the nerdy girls. Not only does she love to read, she dreams of getting out of the provincial town where she lives. She doesn’t shy away from putting hot-tempered men in their place, regardless of how much hair they have on their chest. She’s brainy and bookish, romantic but also realistic, and not hung up on the thought that someday her prince will come. Though her name means “beauty”, and she’s described as the most beautiful girl in town, that’s hardly of any interest to her. Belle is much more interested in adventure in the great wide somewhere.

When Belle’s father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), gets lost on his way to the town fair, he takes shelter in an old castle, unaware of the Beast who lives inside. With sharp teeth and a body full of hair, the Beast (Robby Benson) is a towering figure who was the victim of a curse. When he was a young boy of 11, an old hag offered him a single rose to say the night in the castle. He refused, prompting the woman to reveal her true self as that of a gorgeous enchantress. The young boy begs forgiveness, but it’s too late. Convinced he has no kindness in his heart, the enchantress casts a spell, turning him into a hideous beast and his servants into inanimate objects. He’s given a magic mirror to see the outside world and the rose, which will lose petals until his 21st birthday. If he cannot love and be loved in return by that time, he will be doomed to remain a monster forever.


Meanwhile, back home, Belle is fighting off another hairy beast by the name of Gaston (Richard White). As the most muscular, egotistical, manly man around, Gaston is set on making Bell his wife. But before he can propose, a worried Belle takes off into the woods to try and find her missing father. Her father’s horse leads her back to the Beast’s castle, where she agrees to stay with the Beast forever in exchange for her father’s release.

Unsurprisingly, Belle and the Beast don’t get along that well. He’s hot-tempered, she’s stubborn. But, over time, they begin to warm up to each other. This is a tale as old as time, after all. The talking objects around the castle, including a candlestick named Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a clock named Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and tea pot named Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), do their best to make Belle feel at home, convinced she’s the one who will help break the curse. The Beast isn’t so sure. No one that beautiful could fall for a monster.


But Belle isn’t so shallow. In the Beast, she finds someone who accepts her for who she is. He even gifts her a library so she can read to her heart’s content. In return, she helps him regain a piece of his humanity. This bond helps these two outcasts become friends.

Beauty and the Beast is technically, artistically, and aesthetically one of the greatest Disney films ever made. It was the first full-length cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and prompted the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, which was officially established 10 years later. With sensational songs as old as rhyme, unforgettable characters, and lots of humor (both for kids and adults), Beauty and the Beast is a story that flies in the face of our modern (un)sensibilities. It teaches us that we are so much more than what we look like on the outside. Hell, even Gaston – who is nothing but brawn – is actually way more calculating than he seems.


Unlike other fairy tale stories, it isn’t Belle’s beauty that ultimately saves the day – it’s her “peculiar” traits…her wonder, self-sacrifice, intelligence, and steadfast goodness. While Disney would go on to create even more magical stories, I’d argue few come close to the beauty of this one.

 


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