Two performances for the ages: Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs (1991)

My Top 20:

  1. Silence of the Lambs
  2. JFK
  3. Beauty and the Beast
  4. The Fisher King
  5. Europa Europa
  6. Boyz N the Hood
  7. The Commitments
  8. Grand Canyon
  9. Dead Again
  10. Thelma and Louise
  11. Homicide
  12. Truly, Madly, Deeply
  13. City of Hope
  14. Life is Sweet
  15. Barton Fink
  16. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  17. Ju Dou
  18. Bugsy
  19. La Femme Nikita
  20. The Double Life of Veronique

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Director:  Jonathan Demme  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actor:  Anthony Hopkins  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actress:  Jodie Foster  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Harvey Keitel  (Bugsy)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes Ruehl  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Thelma and Louise
  • Best Cinematography:  Barton Fink
  • Best Animated Film:  Beauty and the Beast
  • Best Foreign Film:  Europa, Europa

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Director:  Jonathan Demme  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actor:  Anthony Hopkins  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actress:  Jodie Foster  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Jack Palance  (City Slickers)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes Ruehl  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Thelma and Louise
  • Best Cinematography:  JFK
  • Best Foreign Film:  Mediterraneo

Top 10 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Silence of the Lambs  –  #378
  2. Thelma and Louise  –  #444
  3. JFK  –  #492
  4. The Double Life of Veronique  –  #514
  5. Barton Fink  –  #529
  6. Van Gogh  –  #560
  7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day  –  #565
  8. La belle noiseuse  –  #699
  9. Europa  –  #713
  10. Ju Dou  –  #735

Note:  Silence of the Lambs becomes the first Oscar winner to top the Top 1000 list for its year since The Godfather Part II in 1974.

Top 5 Films  (1991 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Silence of the Lambs
  2. Bugsy
  3. The Commitments
  4. JFK
  5. The Prince of Tides

Top 10 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. Silence of the Lambs  –  2470
  2. Bugsy  –  1178
  3. Thelma and Louise  –  1027
  4. JFK  –  831
  5. The Fisher King  –  672
  6. The Prince of Tides  –  634
  7. The Commitments  –  516
  8. Beauty and the Beast  –  493
  9. Barton Fink  –  435
  10. The Naked Lunch  –  365

Note:  Silence of the Lambs, with a 1291 point lead, has the largest margin of victory in 8 years and the second largest ever.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day - the first time Cameron topped the box office, and still his best film

Top 10 Films  (Domestic Box Office Gross):

  1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day  –  $204.84. mil
  2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  –  $165.49 mil
  3. Beauty and the Beast  –  $145.86 mil
  4. Silence of the Lambs  –  $130.74 mil
  5. City Slickers  –  $124.03 mil
  6. Hook  –  $119.65 mil
  7. The Addams Family  –  $113.50 mil
  8. Sleeping with the Enemy  –  $101.59 mil
  9. Father of the Bride  –  $89.32 mil
  10. Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear  –  $86.93 mil

note:  I saw all of these on opening weekend except Father of the Bride, which I didn’t watch until about 15 years later.

Top 10 Films  (Worldwide Box Office Gross):

  1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day  –  $519.8 mil
  2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  –  $390.5 mil
  3. Beauty and the Beast  –  $351.9 mil
  4. Hook  –  $300.9 mil
  5. Silence of the Lambs  –  $272.7 mil
  6. JFK  –  $205.4 mil
  7. The Addams Family  –  $191.5 mil
  8. Cape Fear  –  $182.3 mil
  9. Hot Shots!  –  $181.1 mil
  10. City Slickers  –  $179.0 mil

note:  JFK makes over 65% of its gross internationally while City Slickers only takes in 30% of its gross outside the States.

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Silence of the Lambs  –  #65  (1998)  /  #74  (2007)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Silence of the Lambs
  • JFK
  • The Double Life of Veronique
  • La belle noiseuse

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Director:  Jonathan Demme  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actor:  Anthony Hopkins  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actress:  Jodie Foster  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Alan Rickman  (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Annette Bening  (Guilty by Suspicion)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Grand Canyon

The wonderful Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman in the under-rated Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991)

Comedy:

  • Best Picture:  Beauty and the Beast
  • Best Director:  Terry Gilliam  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Actor:  Robin Williams  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Actress:  Juliet Stevenson  (Truly, Madly, Deeply)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Lerner  (Barton Fink)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes Ruehl  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Commitments
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Fisher King

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Director:  Jonathan Demme  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actor:  Anthony Hopkins  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Actress:  Jodie Foster  (Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Alan Rickman  (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes Ruehl  (The Fisher King)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Fisher King
  • Best Editing:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Cinematography:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Original Score:  JFK
  • Best Sound:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Best Art Direction:  The Fisher King
  • Best Visual Effects:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Best Sound Editing:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Best Costume Design:  Bugsy
  • Best Makeup:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Best Original Song:  “Something There”  (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Best Animated Film:  Beauty and the Beast
  • Best Foreign Film:  Raise the Red Lantern

Raise the Red Lantern (1991, U.S. release 1992) - the best Foreign Film of the year

My Top 5 Foreign Films released in their home country in 1991:

  1. Raise the Red Lantern
  2. The Lovers on the Bridge
  3. The Double Life of Veronique
  4. Sólo con tu pareja
  5. The Ox

note:  These are the Oscar eligible films.  Raise the Red Lantern and The Ox were both nominated.  Double Life was submitted by Poland but didn’t earn a nomination.  Lovers on the Bridge was passed over by France in favor of Van GoghSólo was Alfonso Cuarón’s first film, made with money from the Mexican government, but then they refused to distribute it.  It played at film festivals, but didn’t actually play in Mexico until 1993 (which, I suppose, means it might not have been eligible until 1993) – but certainly Mexico wasn’t going to submit it.

Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise: sexy enough to land Brad Pitt

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Beauty and the Beast
  • Best Line:  “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”  Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Opening:  JFK
  • Best Ending:  Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Scene:  the hopping along the Thames in Truly, Madly, Deeply
  • Best Use of a Song:  “Unchained Melody” in Naked Gun 2 1/2
  • Best Ensemble:  Grand Canyon
  • Funniest Film:  Hot Shots!
  • Most Over-Rated Film:  Poison
  • Worst Film:  Mobsters (also worst film I saw in the theater)
  • Worst Sequel:  Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
  • Best Sequel:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique
  • Sexiest Performance:  Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Jennifer Connelly in The Rocketeer
  • Best Soundtrack:  The Commitments
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  Billy Bathgate
  • Star of the Year:  Alan Rickman  (Truly Madly Deeply, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
  • Best Cameo:  Donald Sutherland in JFK
  • Best Animated Character Performance:  Jerry Orbach in Beauty and the Beast

Film History:  Pauline Kael retires as the regular New Yorker film reviewer in March.  David Lean, whose films Kael often attacked, dies in April.  Frank Capra dies in September.  Beauty and the Beast becomes the highest grossing animated film ever made and the first to ever earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.  Barton Fink wins the Palme d’Or.  Poison wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Rambling Rose wins Best Picture and Director at the Independent Spirit Awards.  In spite of making two extremely successful Best Picture winners in a row (Dances with Wolves, Silence of the Lambs), Orion Pictures files for bankruptcy in December.  Julia Phillips publishes her Hollywood expose, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.

Academy Awards:  Silence of the Lambs becomes the third film ever and the first since 1975 to win the big 5 awards (and like the previous two, doesn’t win any other Oscars); it is the first film in 10 years to even get nominations for all 5 awards.  It also becomes the first film in 8 years to win multiple critics Best Picture awards and go on to win the Oscar.  Beauty and the Beast becomes the first animated film to get nominated for Best Picture; it is also the first film nominated for Picture but not Director or Screenplay since 1983 and the first with no Director, Screenplay or Acting nominations since 1975 – something which has never happened since.  John Singleton is nominated for Best Director for his film debut; he also becomes the youngest director ever nominated.  Beauty and the Beast becomes the first film with three Song nominations.  Silence becomes the first film to win Best Picture after having been released on video.  It is also the first film in 14 years released before Labor Day to win Best Picture.  Gary Rydstrom becomes the first person to compete against himself in two categories (Sound and Sound Effects Editing).  No Miramax film is nominated for Best Picture – the last time that will happen until 2005.  Thelma and Louise becomes the first film to win Best Original Screenplay without a Best Picture nomination in 11 years.  Zhang Yimou has a film nominated for Best Foreign Film for a second year in a row; the two films are submitted by different countries (Ju Dou in 1990 was submitted by China while Raise the Red Lantern is submitted by Hong Kong).  Only 29 films are nominated for feature length Oscars – the fewest in 9 years.

They do well.  I agree with 11 of the awards and 4 more are my second choice (Editing, Cinematography, Score, Art Direction).  Of the remaining four, two are my fifth place choice (Original Screenplay, Song) and only two fall below my standards – Supporting Actor and Foreign Film.  Of the major categories, I think they only mess up the two supporting awards (see below).  The only other categories I feel they don’t do well with are Foreign Film (which they never get right) and Original Song – namely because they missed out on the best of the Beauty and the Beast songs and didn’t nominate any of the great songs from Until the End of the World.  The films they most let down are films that actually did well – The Fisher King, whose 5 nominations don’t include Picture, Director or Cinematography and, surprisingly, Silence, which should have won for Editing and Cinematography (which it wasn’t even nominated for) and should have been nominated for Score, Art Direction, Sound Effects Editing and Makeup.  There are several great films which didn’t get any nominations – Dead Again, Homicide, City of Hope – but they all fall short of my top 5 in all the categories anyway, so I can’t complain too much.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Foreign Film for Mediterraneo
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Film for The Elementary School
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Cinematography for Silence of the Lambs
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  For the Boys
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Dead Again
  • Best Foreign Film Submitted But Not Nominated:  The Double Life of Veronique  (Poland)
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Foreign Film
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Picture, Director, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Costume Design, Makeup

Golden Globes:  Silence of the Lambs becomes the first film in 9 years to win the Oscar after failing to win Best Picture at the Globes (the first eligible film in 13 years).  Silence and Bugsy become the first films nominated for the big 5 awards in the Drama categories since 1982.  Bugsy has the most nominations since 1975 (8) but becomes the first film to win Best Picture without winning any other awards since 1987 and the first film to win the Drama award without winning any other awards since 1976 (and only the second film since 1960).  Meanwhile, JFK becomes the first film to win Director and nothing else since 1981.  In fact, no Drama film wins more than 1 award.  The only multiple award winners are Fisher King (Actor – Comedy, Supporting Actress) and Beauty and the Beast (Picture – Comedy, Score, Song).  The five Best Picture – Drama nominees, Silence of the Lambs (Actress), Bugsy (Picture), JFK (Director), Thelma and Louise (Screenplay) and Prince of Tides (Actor) all win one award each.

Awards:  Silence of the Lambs becomes the first film in 8 years to win multiple critics Best Picture awards and go on to win the Oscar.  With 5 awards for Naked Lunch and 4 for Life is Sweet, they become two of the most successful films at the critics awards to not go on to earn any wins or nominations from any of the awards groups.  But it is really all about Silence.  Without any awards from the LA Film Critics or the National Society of Film Critics, it earns the second highest point total in history from the critics (currently 8th all-time), and actually does better at the other four groups than GoodFellas.  It finishes fifth all-time at the New York Film Critics by winning Picture, Director, Actor and Actress.  It wins Picture, Director and Supporting Actor at the National Board of Review.  It ties Blue Velvet for the best performance at the Boston Society of Film Critics by winning Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Cinematography.  And it is still the all-time points winner at the Chicago Film Critics where it takes Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay (making it the only film to ever win all of the big 5 awards at any of the six big critics groups).  In a distant second is Bugsy, which wins Picture, Director and Screenplay from LA.  The final group, the National Society of Film Critics, gives Picture, Actress and Supporting Actress to Life is SweetThe Naked Lunch takes home Supporting Actress and Screenplay from New York, Director and Screenplay from the NSFC and Screenplay from Boston.

Silence wins the big three at the guilds – the PGA, DGA and WGA.  The DGA and WGA match the Oscars well – 4 for 5 at the DGA (Streisand bumped for John Singleton) and 9 for 10 at the WGA (The Commitments bumped for Europa, Europa).  But, surprisingly, the PGA nominees are Silence, JFK, Prince of Tides, Boyz N the Hood, The Commitments and At Play in the Fields of the LordBugsy makes up for it by winning the American Society of Cinematographers over JFK, Prince of Tides, Hook and Terminator 2JFK has the most guild noms (5), but only manages to win the American Cinema Editors over Silence and Terminator 2Beauty and the Beast wins the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the initial Best Animated Film at the Annies, but is the first film without a DGA or WGA nomination to get an Oscar nom for Best Picture in five years.

The Commitments wins Best Picture, Director and Screenplay at the BAFTA’s – the first, and until 2008, only British film to do so.  Silence of the Lambs and Dances with Wolves both receive 9 nominations each, including Picture, Director and Screenplay, but Silence only wins the two lead acting awards and Dances is completely shut-out.  It is the worst shut-out since 1976, but Thelma and Louise is almost as bad, also earning noms for Picture, Director and Screenplay, but going 0 for 8.  It is the only time between 1968 and 2008 that two Best Picture nominees go home empty-handed.  Cyrano de Bergerac, on the other hand, without Picture or Director nominations, wins 4 awards – Cinematography, Score, Costume Design and Makeup, though it loses Foreign Film to Nasty Girl.

Best Director:  For the second year in a row, the Best Director race is a blowout.  With four critics wins, the DGA and Oscar (and Globe and BAFTA noms), Jonathan Demme runs away with the consensus award, and the Nighthawk Award as well.  In second is Barry Levinson, with the LA Film Critics Award and Oscar and DGA noms for Bugsy (though he finishes just outside my Top 10).  The rest of the consensus nominees are Oliver Stone for JFK (Globe win, Oscar and DGA noms), Ridley Scott for Thelma and Louise (DGA, Oscar, BAFTA noms) and Alan Parker, who wins the BAFTA for The Commitments.  Barbra Streisand, who misses out on an Oscar nom in spite of DGA and Globe noms and a Best Picture nomination for Prince of Tides, also just misses out here, finishing sixth in the consensus awards.  My own nominees are Stone, Terry Gilliam for The Fisher King (Globe nom), Agnieszka Holland for Europa Europa and John Singleton for Boyz N the Hood (Oscar nom).  Alan Parker is my #6 and Ridley Scott is my #10.  In between are three directors who get no other kudos – David Mamet for Homicide, Kenneth Branagh for Dead Again and Lawrence Kasdan for Grand Canyon.  It kills me to have to exclude all the runners-up: John Sayles for City of Hope, Levinson, the Coens for Barton Fink, Zhang Yimou for Ju Dou and Krysztof Kieslowski for The Double Life of Veronique.

Best Actor:  Anthony Hopkins runs away with the award with four critics awards, the Oscar, the BAFTA, and a Globe nom thrown in for good measure.  But, interestingly, the awards from both the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Board of Review were actually for Supporting Actor, because early on, people weren’t quite certain what category he should be in.  The only person to beat Hopkins is Nick Nolte for Prince of Tides who wins the Globe, as well as the LA and Boston awards and an Oscar nom as well.  They are easily my top 2 of the year.  The next two are also the next two on my list: Warren Beatty for Bugsy (NBR win, Oscar and Globe noms) and Robin Williams for The Fisher King (Globe – Comedy win, Oscar nom).  The fifth on the consensus list is Robert DeNiro for Cape Fear, with Oscar and Globe noms.  My #5 is River Phoenix for My Own Private Idaho who won both the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Indie Spirit.  My 6 through 10 are Val Kilmer for The Doors, Jeff Bridges for The Fisher King (Globe – Comedy nom), Kenneth Branagh for Dead Again, Joe Mantegna for Homicide and DeNiro, but for Guilty by Suspicion rather than Cape Fear.

Best Actress:  With her amazing performance, combined with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon likely splitting the votes with their teamwork in Thelma and Louise, Jodie Foster cruises to a series of wins: the New York Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics, Globe, BAFTA, Oscar, consensus and Nighthawk.  Next up is Davis, eeking ahead of Sarandon by winning the Boston Society of Film Critics Award, though they split the National Board of Review Award and both earn Oscar, BAFTA and Globe noms and are my #2 and 3 (in that order).  The last two consensus (and Oscar) nominees are Bette Midler for For the Boys (who wins the Globe – Comedy) and Laura Dern in Rambling Rose (Globe nom).  Dern is my #5 but Midler doesn’t even make my Top 10.  My other nominee is Juliet Stevenson, who earns a BAFTA nomination for her great performance in Truly, Madly, Deeply.  The rest of my list (6 through 10) is unheralded: Emma Thompson in Dead Again, Irene Jacob in The Double Life of Veronique, Gong Li in Ju Dou, Mimi Rogers in The Rapture and Isabelle Huppert in Madame Bovary.

Best Supporting Actor:  Harvey Keitel wins the consensus award without much of a consensus, scoring victories from the National Society of Film Critics and Chicago Film Critics and nominations from the Oscars and Globes for his performance as Mickey Cohen in Bugsy.  This gets him ahead of Jack Palance, who beats Keitel at both the Oscars and Globes.  Next up is Michael Lerner, with a win from the LA Critics and an Oscar nom for Barton Fink.  Three people tie for the final two spots – Tommy Lee Jones in JFK (Oscar and BAFTA noms), Samuel L. Jackson for Jungle Fever (New York Film Critics Award) and Alan Rickman for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (BAFTA).  Rickman is my own winner, over Steve Martin for Grand Canyon, Ice Cube for Boyz N the Hood, Ben Kingsley for Bugsy (Oscar and Globe noms) and Lerner.  My 6 through 10 aren’t as appreciated: Tony Lo Bianco for City of Hope, Alan Rickman for Truly Madly Deeply (BAFTA nom, but as lead), Laurence Fishburne for Boyz N the Hood, Keitel, and then Keitel again for Thelma and Louise.  It’s a year of very good, but not great performances.  None of them would have finished higher than 3rd the year before and higher than 4th the year after.

Best Supporting Actress:  Just like with Best Actor, there is a little bit of role confusion.  Mercedes Ruehl easily wins the consensus and Nighthawk Awards for her performance in The Fisher King by taking home the Oscar, Globe, Boston Society of Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics and LA Film Critics Awards.  But the last of those was actually for Best Actress.  The Supporting Award in LA went to Jane Horrocks for Life is Sweet; she also wins the National Society of Film Critics Award and finishes third in the consensus list even without an Oscar nom.  Finishing ahead of her is Kate Nelligan for playing the mother in Prince of Tides, winning the National Board of Review and the BAFTA and earning an Oscar nom (though her BAFTA Award was actually for her performance in Frankie and Johnny).  The last two consensus nominees are Jessica Tandy for Fried Green Tomatoes (BAFTA, Oscar, Globe noms – though the BAFTA nom is for the lead) and Judy Davis, who wins the New York Film Critics Award for Naked Lunch and Barton Fink.  I go with the consensus list over the Oscars.  Davis is my #2 for Naked Lunch and my #4 for Barton Fink, while Horrocks is my #3.  My fifth nominee, with no accolades from anyone, is Annette Bening for Guilty by Suspicion.  The Oscar nominees show up in the second half of my list – Nelligan, Juliette Lewis for Cape Fear and Diane Ladd for Rambling Rose (Lewis and Ladd also had Globe noms).  My final two picks are Angela Bassett for Boyz N the Hood and Nelligan again, this time for Frankie and Johnny.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  The crime novel descended from the pulps would beat the cult classic.  With Oscar and WGA wins and Globe and BAFTA noms, Silence of the Lambs just barely wins the consensus award over The Naked Lunch, which wins award from New York, Boston and the National Society of Film Critics, but no awards groups.  They are followed by JFK (Oscar, WGA, Globe, BAFTA noms), The Commitments (WGA nom, BAFTA win) and a tie between Prince of Tides and Fried Green Tomatoes, both of them earning Oscar and WGA noms.  The only other film in the mix is Europa, Europa, which snagged the final Oscar nom away from The Commitments, probably so it could get some kind of recognition from an Academy that wouldn’t consider it for Best Foreign Film.  My own top five are Silence, JFK, Europa Europa, The Commitments and Beauty and the Beast – which didn’t earn anything because while an animated film had finally broken through to the Oscar race, it wouldn’t be until Toy Story that people would start considering how well written many of them were.  The rest of my list (6 through 10) are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, La Femme Nikita, My Own Private Idaho, Prince of Tides and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Best Original Screenplay:  It is one of the best years for Original Screenplays in film history.  Things are funny like that.  Many of the years that I rank the best for Original Screenplays don’t rank that high for Adapted Screenplays.  The years that I rank the highest for Originals (in order) – 1999, 1991, 2001, 1974, 1994, 1996 – don’t rank very high for the Adapteds.  And the best years for those – 1997, 2002, 2000, 1940, 1993, 1957 – don’t do as well with the Originals.  Only 1989 makes the Top 10 in both lists and it doesn’t make the top 5 in either.  My top 5 is very close to the consensus, Oscar and WGA top 5, though in a different order.  Their list is Thelma and Louise (Oscar, WGA, Globe wins, BAFTA nom), Bugsy (Oscar, WGA, Globe noms, LA Film Critics win), The Fisher King (Oscar, WGA, BAFTA noms), Grand Canyon (Oscar, WGA, Globe noms) and Boyz N the Hood (Oscar, WGA noms).  But here’s the thing – Bugsy is a good script and in some years would make my top 5.  In 1991, it doesn’t even make my Top 10.  My top 5 are The Fisher King, Grand Canyon, Boyz N the Hood, Barton Fink and Thelma and Louise.  All of them are great and they would all be winners in a lot of years.  But that list is so good that it keeps out all the following fantastic scripts (in order): Truly Madly Deeply, Dead Again, Guilty by Suspicion, City of Hope, Life is Sweet, Homicide, Bugsy, Ju Dou and The Double Life of Veronique.  It isn’t just the top 5 that makes this year so great for Originals, like some of those years listed above.  It’s the depth of the competition.  Life is Sweet – my #10 Original Screenplay of the year would have been #2 in 1990.  It’s just the luck of the draw.

Guilty by Suspicion (1991) - the human cost of the blacklist

Under-appreciated Film of 1991:

Guilty by Suspicion  (dir. Irwin Winkler)

My under-appreciated film for 1956 was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and I used the opportunity to write about the blacklist and what it did to writers.  Then, for 1976, I wrote about The Front, and the human cost of the blacklist.  Now I have come full circle and back to where I began.  This is the film that I watched, on opening weekend, which opened my eyes to a part of the past.

When I first watched this film, I had good hopes for it would be doing come awards season.  Here we had a film with a serious subject matter (the blacklist), that was extremely well-made and with a fabulous Oscar pedigree – indeed, the film is directed by Irwin Winkler and stars Robert De Niro and Annette Bening with a bit part played by Martin Scorsese.  It opened 10 days before an Academy Awards ceremony in which all four of them were nominees.  But other things got in the way.  By the time awards season actually came around, it was Cape Fear and Bugsy that De Niro and Bening were getting nominated for and this film slipped through all the cracks.  Indeed, how likely were awards voters to remember a film that just barely slipped into the list of the Top 100 films of the year at the box office and which had been out of theaters for months?  So it didn’t earn a single nomination.

But the voters missed their chance, and I’m betting all of you missed your chance at seeing it – after all, it made less than half the money in its entire theatrical run, than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, opening the following weekend, made in its opening weekend.  And it meant that the Academy goofed for the second year in a row.  De Niro was nominated for the second year in a row, and for the second year in a row, the Academy went for the showier performance (Awakenings and Cape Fear), rather than the deeper, more nuanced, quite frankly, better performance (GoodFellas, Guilty by Suspicion).  And Annette Bening, who had amazed people the year before in The Grifters, but couldn’t quite pull off the screen chemistry with her off-screen lover Warren Beatty in Bugsy, was ignored for the performance, as the estranged wife of De Niro who lets him back into her life when the blacklist comes hounding him, that should have earned her a second straight Oscar nomination.

It was a bit of a risk to begin with.  At a time when America was headed back to war, here was a film reminding us of one of the most shameful parts of our past.  And it had a first-time director in veteran producer Irwin Winkler.  Rather than producing and having Scorsese direct, he was instead directing and Scorsese was playing a director modeled very much on Joseph Losey, who fled to Europe rather than deal with the pain and shame of the blacklist.

But one of the things about this film, when you think about, is that it lets you realize the complexities of the blacklist.  After all, who is the person most often vilified for turning his back on his former friends?  It’s Elia Kazan, of course.  And who was it that introduced Kazan when he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1998?  Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.  They, and the film, realize that there are complexities to every situation.  Look at one great scene in the film.  He is filming a Western and when it comes out that he has problem with HUAC, it looks like he will be fired.  But the lead actor, who makes it clear that he is no communist, comes to his defense.  The whole thing is reminiscent of what happened between Carl Foreman and Gary Cooper when making High Noon, when Cooper, who has testified before HUAC as a friendly witness, was determined to help Foreman stay working, even if it would cost him his reputation.  The sad thing was, even Cooper didn’t have enough power to do that.  But it was a reminder that there were people who were determined to try to make things right.

This film also reminds us of the stark human drama of it all.  De Niro plays a director who is asked to name names, but when pressed to name his friend Bunny (played quite well by George Wendt), he refuses.  This makes it all the more poignant when, later in the film, Bunny gets down and begs De Niro to let him name him so that he can work.  It is a reminder that it wasn’t just a question of country or friendship.  Sometimes it was a question of friendship or being able to put food on the table.

What I didn’t know when I watched this film was that this was also a part of my own history.  I didn’t know then about my parents’ friend Dannie Mainwaring.  It would be several years before I heard the story of her and how her father Daniel, the screenwriter behind Out of the Past and The Phenix City Story and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, had been blacklisted and forced to work under pseudonyms or take work out of the country.  But really, it’s part of all of our history.  And it’s a part that should be remembered.  It’s films like this and The Front that allow us to remember them.  That’s reason enough, even aside from the solid script, even aside from the performances, why you should watch this film.  And remember.

Advertisements