The 66th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 1993. The nominations were announced on February 9, 1994 and the awards were held on March 21, 1994.
Best Picture: Schindler’s List
- In the Name of the Father
- The Remains of the Day
- The Piano
- The Fugitive
Most Surprising Omission: The Age of Innocence
Best Eligible Film Not Nominated: The Age of Innocence
Rank (out of 83) Among Best Picture Years: #12
The Race: All of it was just a warm up. From the start of the year, everyone knew that Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s long-await Holocaust film would be coming out and that Spielberg was likely headed for the Oscar that had long eluded him. The only question about was what films were going to be along for the ride.
While Spielberg himself ruled the summer with Jurassic Park, which was definitely headed for several technical Oscars, there were two other films that earned considerable critical success to go along with their gross. The first was In the Line of Fire, with Clint Eastwood starring as a Secret Service agent trying to prevent the assassination of the president. The other was The Fugitive, a new film version of the beloved sixties television show. In the Line of Fire had the better reviews but The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford in the lead, was the film that ruled the box office – spending twice as many weeks at #1 as Jurassic Park had.
The serious Oscar season began with the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence in September. Though set in a different era of New York than Scorsese was accustomed to (the 1870’s), the drama about forbidden romance and repressed emotions earned solid reviews. It seemed more like a Merchant / Ivory film – but they were back with their own film, again teaming Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in an adaptation of the Booker Prize winning novel, The Remains of the Day. The reviews were great and it looked all involved were headed for consecutive Oscar nominations, and that this time they were taking Hopkins along for the ride.
But the most talked about movie of the fall, capitalizing on the opportunities before Spielberg’s release, was The Piano. Helmed by New Zealand director Jane Campion, it had tied for a win at Cannes and then wowed critics at the New York Film Festival. And, with the Academy having announced the “Year of the Woman” the year before in a year that turned out to be anemic for great female performances, here was Holly Hunter blowing everyone away and a chance for only the second female director to ever get nominated by the Academy.
But finally Schindler’s List opened and the critics were just as impressed as they were expecting to be. Spielberg had waited ten years to make the film – wanting to wait until he felt he was ready. He had chosen to use a mostly unknown cast and to film in black-and-white. All of his choices had paid off as the reviews were phenomenal all across the board.
Right from the start, Schindler’s List started winning every Best Picture award (in the end, it would sweep every award). It seemed that the critics were determined to spread the wealth around as well, though. So while the L.A. Critics, with the first awards out of the gate, gave Schindler Best Picture, The Piano took home Director and Screenplay (as well as Actress and Supporting Actress and tied Schindler for Cinematography). In the next few days, Schindler would also win Best Picture at the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics, but Spielberg himself would lose to Scorsese at the former and Campion again at the latter.
The National Board of Review’s Top 10 films also highlighted some last minute releases that were confusing the mix a bit. First, there was Philadelphia, the Tom Hanks vehicle about AIDS that seemed made to get him an Oscar. But then there were two films guaranteed to throw a wrench in the Best Actor race – In The Name of the Father, re-uniting My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan with Daniel Day-Lewis, the star of Age of Innocence. Then there was Shadowlands, which had another Oscar-worthy performance, and indeed the first two critics groups had cited Hopkins for both performances. But it remained to be seen if any of these films could become the serious fifth Oscar contender to join Schindler’s List, The Piano, The Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day.
The Golden Globe nominations didn’t quite sort things out. In the Name of the Father was the fifth Picture – Drama nominee, but The Fugitive was the fifth Director nominee and The Age of Innocence missed out on a Screenplay nomination in favor of Philadelphia and the new Robert Altman ensemble piece Short Cuts. Schindler’s List would go on to win all three awards while Mrs. Doubtfire, which no one could take seriously as a contender won in the Best Picture – Comedy category, so the awards themselves didn’t make the picture any clearer. And Spielberg himself finally won an award to go with another Best Picture win at the National Society of Film Critics.
The guilds didn’t quite sort it out either – The Fugitive made it as the fifth DGA nominee. But The Age of Innocence failed to get nominated at either the PGA or the WGA, with, instead, The Fugitive and In the Name of the Father making it into both races. So, now, instead of two films competing for the final spot, it was a three film race between The Age of Innocence, The Fugitive and In the Name of the Father to for the final two spots alongside Schindler’s List, The Piano and The Remains of the Day.
The Results: Scorsese was out – not just in the Director nominations, but out of the Best Picture race as well. Schindler’s List, as expected, had dominated the nominations (12) – followed by The Piano and The Remains of the Day, with 8 nominations each. And Campion had become the first female ever to have her film nominated for Best Picture and to earn a Best Director nomination as well. But In the Name of the Father (7 noms) had earned Picture and Director nominations, while The Fugitive had earned the final Best Picture nomination. Ousting Scorsese in the director race was Robert Altman, the first Director to earn back-to-back nominations without Picture nominations since Billy Wilder in the mid-50’s and the first Director to be the sole nominee for his film since Scorsese himself in 1988. Every nominated film had at least 7 nominations – tying a record set three times before, most recently in 1967.
But the suspense was now over. Schindler’s List would win the PGA, DGA and WGA (with The Piano winning the Original Screenplay) and would take home 7 Oscars. The Piano would take home 3 major Oscars – Actress, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay, but they were all in categories that Schindler was not nominated in. The other three films would combine for only 1 Oscar – Best Supporting Actor for The Fugitive. Spielberg had finally won Academy approval.
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Writer: Steven Zaillian (from the novel by Thomas Keneally)
- Producer: Steven Spielberg / Gerald R. Molen / Branko Lustig
- Studio: Universal
- Stars: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz
- Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Actor (Neeson), Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
- Oscar Points: 570
- Length: 195 min
- Genre: Drama (Historical)
- MPAA Rating: R
- Release Date: 15 December 1993
- Box Office Gross: $96.06 mil (#9 – 1993)
- Ebert Rating: ****
- My Rating: ****
- My Rank: #1 (year) / #18 (nominees) / #6 (winners)
- Nighthawk Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Supporting Actress (Davidtz), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
- Nighthawk Points: 660
- First Watched: Opening day at the Lloyd Cinemas
The Film: On December 23, 1992 I walked away from Brandeis University as a student. But I took time before leaving to walk across the campus, limping along with a contusion on my leg that looked like I had grown another kneecap, and I found the on-campus memorial to the Holocaust. And I left a stone. I don’t know where I had learned the Jewish custom, but I knew it and I left my stone. And almost a year to the day I sat in the theater and watched the end of Schindler’s List and saw the long line headed for the grave and I knew what they were there for. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I didn’t know to react. And watching it again, on Rosh Hashanah of all days, I found myself again, overwhelmed by emotion.
That stone was not for the 6 million who died. It was for one. Here is what I wrote a year and a half ago: “It seems like every rock is Anne. She is the weight of history, the weight that bears me down until the next grave where another rock will stay to mark my presence. Because I am still here to leave the rock and she is not.” In that same review, I mentioned the query in Sophie’s Choice. “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?” The answer, of course, is: “Where was man?” It echoes the famous Edmund Burke quote: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” At Auschwitz, all through the Holocaust, so many good men did nothing.
And then there was Oskar Schindler. Schindler could hardly have qualified as a good man. That is one of the great strengths of Spielberg’s film – that he does not attempt to hide this fact. Schindler was a complicated man, a man who would deal behind the lines, who would make friends with the most horrific of evil, who would take on the Jews in his factory because it was cheaper than paying the Poles. He only cares about making money – ironically, since the only time in his life he was ever truly successful was during the war – and he does what he has to keep things going. But slowly and surely, he begins to be influenced by Itzhak Stern, his accountant. Stern keeps finding ways to keep men alive, faking documents, coming up with excuses. Stern alone did so much. But he needed a man like Schindler – a man who had the connections, a man who had the audacity to kiss a Jewish girl in front of the Nazis, a man who could stroll through the gates of Auschwitz and take with him what people he could. Because of his audacity, because of his quick thinking (he complains about the children to Stern, but then, thinking quickly with the Nazis, explain how their hands are small enough to polish the inside of a shell), because of his belief in himself he did more than an entire country could, and now there are more descendants of the members of his famous list than there are Jews in Poland – formerly the country with the world’s largest Jewish population. He was the man and this film does a remarkable job of portraying his journey through this world and his change from a man desperate to make money to a man praying for salvation for not saving more.
“The list is life.” That is what Schindler is told early on and that is the counter to those who would criticize the film. Yes, as some critics put it, only Spielberg would have women go into the showers at Auschwitz and actually have water come out rather than gas. But they are missing the point. This film is not about the 6 million who died. It is about the 1100 who lived. The list is life and the film is about life. There are those who die carelessly and needlessly, and we are never spared the barbarity of the Holocaust in general and the frightening banality of Amon Goeth’s evil (played, in one of the greatest performances of all-time by Ralph Fiennes; a performance that instantly made him a force to be reckoned with as an actor). But the film is about those who lived.
This is all encompassed in the leading performance by Liam Neeson. Neeson is one of the very few actors alive who could convincingly play both sides of Schindler’s life – the careless recklessness, with money, women and even lives, but also the sincerity and determination to do everything he could to save “his” Jews. Nor is his the only remarkable performance in the film – with the other standouts being Ben Kingsley as Stern and Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, the maid whom Goeth lusts after. In fact, the relationship between Schindler and Goeth, and between Goeth and Hirsch leads to one of the most disturbing scenes in the film – that Goeth could believe himself capable of absolving someone of their sin – that he really held the power of life and death and even forgiveness within himself.
This is a truly remarkable film – amazing in all of its technical brilliance. Spielberg, normally so flashy as a director, does exactly what he needs to do here, stepping back and letting the story be told on its own. By using black and white and the actual locations, it feels like a documentary or a film close to one like The Battle of Algiers, but the presence of stars like Neeson and Kingsley allow us not to suffer the shock of watching real life horrors like in Night and Fog. John Williams’ score, one of his best, rightfully won him yet another Oscar and the piano is haunting throughout. The cinematography and editing are exactly what they need to be – close when we need it, far back when it spares us. Just look at the scene where the boy is shot, how he walks away, being fired upon, then the close-up on Stern with another shot, and he simply walks past the dead boy. We are spared the actual killing shot, but we know what we need to know.
Then there is the ending. Nothing could have prepared me for that. I watched them all, the actors and those still alive, the living monuments to Schindler’s achievement, walk forward and leave those stones on Schindler’s grave. And I thought once again of Anne. As I said then “I carry the weight of her history. I find it a better fit than faith.” And I watched the film and then I walked out and I could look around the world and watch the same thing happening again in the Balkans. And I wondered if we ever can learn. And that more than anything made me realize why I have no use for God. I’d rather believe in Anne.
In the Name of the Father
- Director: Jim Sheridan
- Writer: Jim Sheridan / Terry George (from the book Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon)
- Producer: Jim Sheridan
- Studio: Universal
- Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson
- Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Postlethwaite), Supporting Actress (Thompson), Editing
- Oscar Points: 255
- Length: 131 min
- Genre: Drama (True Story)
- MPAA Rating: R
- Release Date: 31 December 1993
- Box Office Gross: $25.09 mil (#61 – 1993)
- Ebert Rating: ***
- My Rating: ****
- My Rank: #3 (year) / #112 (nominees)
- Nighthawk Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Postlethwaite), Supporting Actress (Thompson), Editing, Original Song (“Thief of Your Heart”), Original Song (“In the Name of the Father”)
- Nighthawk Points: 320
- First Watched: Opening day at the Westgate with Deborah Quay
The Film: What a different film this is today than it was it January of 1994. Not that the film is any less well-made, not that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is any less intense, any less deserving of an Oscar. Not that the two songs written by Bono that bookmark the film – the intense, almost violent “In the Name of the Father” that begins the film with a (literal) bang or the quiet, haunting dirge “Thief of Your Heart”, which he wrote for Sinead O’Connor – are any less brilliant and any less worthy of the Oscar nominations that they somehow didn’t get (so that the Academy could nominate crap songs from Beethoven’s 2nd and Sleepless in Seattle). Not that Pete Postlethwaite, whose performance as Guiseppe Conlon finally made him break through as the great character actor he always was and would remain up until his final film, is any less driven and amazing. Not that Emma Thompson, whose performance in this film as the driven lawyer, combined with her amazing work in The Remains of the Day and Much Ado About Nothing mark this as one of the best years in any actor’s career, is any less perfect.
What makes this such a different film is not that the film has changed. It’s that the world has changed. Specifically, it is that our would has changed, those of us in the United States who watched this film then and who look back at it now. Gerry Conlon was a young man who was just in the wrong place. He was Irish, he was poor, he was in Guildford when the pub was bombed. In a world fraught with terrorism, the police felt they had to do something. Conlon was the type of person who was easy to pin this on – he fit their profile and they could batter him until he confessed and they could make it stick in a British court and the police and the public could walk away feeling good. Never mind that he didn’t do it, never mind that the police knew he didn’t do it. It was never about his guilt. And these things are so easy to see happening today – a terrorist act, arrests based on profiles, torture, convictions that have nothing to do with guilt. Suddenly, this world, which looked so much like a foreign nightmare back then, looks so possible right now and the film takes on a whole new meaning.
This film is not a documentary. The filmmakers move things around to fit the dramatic arc of their story and it works perfectly. It makes this more than just a case of the wrong man going to prison – it becomes the story of redemption – for a son who finally gets to understand his father, for a father to understand his son, and for a son to fight for the redemption, first for himself, then for his father. And it works, because of that connection between father and son, augmented by the screen chemistry between Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite. And it works because Thompson, rather than fighting it out in dramatic courtroom scenes, is hard at work in the evidence files, trying to find anything she can that will clear her client. The passionate intensity of the three main stars carries through in every minute on-screen.
But most of all this film works because of Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most talented actors to ever make a film. He didn’t win another Oscar here, though he should have, as he makes the journey from careless, carefree young man, desperately afraid as he is told to pull down his pants (a nice detail – so fibers from the jeans won’t infect his bullet wound) to the serious man who is so determined to make everyone understand that he did not do these horrible things and he will not be held accountable for them. And Day-Lewis’ intensity and passion give it one of the most satisfying endings of any film. Not that the Guildford Four were released – that is satisfying enough. But the way the scene is put together so well, the way his case is dismissed and the music from O’Connor’s wonderful song comes in and Day-Lewis stands, walks across the aisles and says that wonderful line that works so well because it comes from the depth of his passion: “I’m a free man and I’m goin out the front door.”
The Remains of the Day
- Director: James Ivory
- Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro)
- Producer: Mike Nichols / John Calley / Ismail Merchant
- Studio: Columbia
- Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Christopher Reeve
- Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Thompson), Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design
- Oscar Points: 265
- Length: 134 min
- Genre: Drama
- MPAA Rating: PG
- Release Date: 5 November 1993
- Box Office Gross: $23.23 mil (#66 – 1993)
- Ebert Rating: ***.5
- My Rating: ****
- My Rank: #6 (year) / #161 (nominees)
- Nighthawk Nominations: Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Thompson), Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design
- Nighthawk Points: 205
- First Watched: Opening week at the Westgate Theater with Deborah Quay
The Film: Leave it up to a Japanese writer to have to find the core of English repression. This is perfect in two different ways. The first is that the English themselves find it hard to understand that core of reserve at the heart, that thing that will make a man look at the woman he clearly loves and let her walk away. The second is that Japan, with its own society of quiet reserve, is the perfect place to find someone who could empathize and sympathize with the cold repression that locks away the flames of emotion.
The year before Remains of the Day was released, the same team had made Howards End. That film was about the ways in which relationships can spring from the strangest moments, how sometimes emotions are put aside for practical reasons and how sometimes the emotions overwhelm you and you must act on them. The novel was graced with epigraph “only connect . . .”. You could make one for this film that says “only fail to connect.”
Look at the two stars. In Howards End, Anthony Hopkins played an arrogant well-off man of business. In Shadowlands, released just after Remains, he played a man who finds a woman and a young boy that deeply touch his heart and change his very outlook on life. Here he is the very height of British repression – a butler who tends perfectly to the large manor that he is employed in. He is indispensable to the running of the house – a man so in command that his employer even asks him to explain the facts of life to a nephew who clearly doesn’t need such instruction. And Emma Thompson in Howards End played a young woman who makes choices that are smart even as they reduce romance and love to practicality. In the same year as Remains, she plays the headstrong, witty Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and a fiercely determined lawyer in In the Name of the Father – both miles away from the housekeeper here who so desperately needs a little love and attention in her life, knows where she wants it from and nothing in the world can crack the facade that keeps it from her.
The Remains of the Day is about how these two people come so close to finding each other and then let it slip away. The best moment is when Thompson tries to find out what Hopkins is reading – he retreats and she pushes forward until they are standing in the corner, inches away from each other. Here is where lesser filmmakers would succumb to temptation and let them find each other’s arms and lips and passions. But that is not what this story is about.
For Hopkins is not just repressing his love for the housekeeper. He is repressing everything about his life. He stays at his post rather than attend to his father’s last moments. He ignores the course of disaster that his employer is taking – both as a leader in his country and as a man. He shies away from any attempt to pull forth any opinion or thought. He is there to serve and he will serve and everything else will fall away. And what we learn, and he learns, is that he is the perfect servant but he becomes somewhat less of a man. He thinks so poorly of the underbutler who runs away for love, but perhaps also wishes it was something that was in his character.
This is one of the best films from a core group that stayed together for decades – producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. It is phenomenally acted, wonderfully directed, written with wit and style and made with perfect artistry. It is a perfect example of the class with which their films shone.
- Director: Jane Campion
- Writer: Jane Campion
- Producer: Jan Chapman
- Studio: Miramax
- Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Sam Neill
- Oscar Nominations: Picture, Director, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Actress (Hunter), Supporting Actress (Paquin), Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design
- Oscar Points: 350
- Length: 121 min
- Genre: Drama
- MPAA Rating: R
- Release Date: 12 November 1993
- Box Office Gross: $40.15 mil (#38 – 1993)
- Ebert Rating: ****
- My Rating: ***.5
- My Rank: #16 (year) / #249 (nominees)
- Nighthawk Nominations: Actress (Hunter), Supporting Actress (Paquin), Cinematography
- Nighthawk Points: 90
- First Watched: Opening week at the KOIN Center
The Film: In spite of the way I tell the story, I was not actually with my best friend John when he saw this in the theater – he was in California and I was in Oregon. But we both watched and both pretty much had the same reaction, though he actually acted on his reaction – standing up in the middle of a packed theater and saying, quite loudly, “I don’t get it.” I still feel that way. Over the years, I have come to admire the craft of the film and have to come to rank it higher than I used to. But I don’t give its script the high accolades that so many others do and I still feel that I really don’t get it.
There is much to admire in the course of the film itself. The performances, for one. Though I don’t give Holly Hunter my Nighthawk (she finishes a close second), she did pretty much take every award for her remarkable performance as a mute woman – one who chooses not to speak rather than from a physical defect. Her force of will is amazingly strong – even when he finger is chopped from her hand, she does not cry out – rather giving us the full range of expressions in her eyes alone. There is also the performance from Anna Paquin – also an Oscar winner and also a close runner-up in my own awards and certainly one of the best pre-teen performances in the history of film. That these two women give such amazing performances make those from Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel flitter into the background but they are both good as well.
Then there is the technical skill that is obvious in every shot. There is the amazing cinematography – deservedly Oscar-nominated. There is the magnificent score by Michael Nyman (surprisingly not Oscar nominated). There are the costumes and the sets, away in the dense New Zealand forests. And there is the direction by Campion herself – her skill behind the camera has never been in question.
But there is Campion’s script and it always bothers me. There is the little girl who lies so awfully and then betrays her mother – a betrayal that seems to be glossed over by the script and by the betrayed herself. There is the story arc of the film – understandable in that a woman discovers herself, and that, surprisingly, as she points out, she chooses life. But it leaves you wondering what the hell it was all about. What did she gain from her relationships – with her husband, with her lover, with her daughter? It always reminded me of another film from 1993 whose high opinion I did not share in – Farewell My Concubine.
Note: I must admit, it was odd watching this film again. Here’s why.
- Director: Andrew Davis
- Writer: Jeb Stuart / David Twohy (from characters created by Roy Huggins)
- Producer: Arnold Kopelson
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Stars: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano
- Oscar Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor (Jones), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Sound Effects Editing
- Oscar Points: 225
- Length: 130 min
- Genre: Suspense
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Release Date: 6 August 1993
- Box Office Gross: $183.87 mil (#3 – 1993)
- Ebert Rating: ****
- My Rating: ***.5
- My Rank: #19 (year) / #252 (nominees)
- Nighthawk Nominations: Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
- Nighthawk Points: 60
- First Watched: Opening day at the Evergreen Parkway Regal
The Film: There was never going to be any question that this film was going to be a huge success. It had one of the most bankable stars in the world. It appealed to younger viewers through the casting of Harrison Ford and older viewers through the revival of what had been one of the biggest television shows of the sixties (they even re-aired the third episode, where you find out why Kimble was on the run and the final two episodes just before the movie premiered). What was surprising was how good it was and it caught people so off-guard that it ended up sweeping its way in for an Oscar nomination over better films.
To be fair, this is a first-rate thriller. The casting of both Ford, the perfect everyman trying to find out who murdered his wife, and Jones, a great character actor who is so perfectly in character here, was brilliant. It is expertly directed, extremely well-made and has a couple of really great special effects shots (the train crash just after the opening credits and the leap from the waterfall). It never lags and it keeps the suspense moving at all times.
But most of all what it does is that it moves so quickly, so smoothly, that you never realize how ridiculous a lot of it is. Characters find out exactly what they need to know – hints come together perfectly. Just look at one major detail – Kimble hides in the hospital and cuts off his beard – but he’s recognized almost instantly even without it.
But it’s the craft of the film that keeps it working. Look at how Ford is picked up by a woman and the next scene is the marshalls talking about the fugitive with a woman and they’ve tracked him to a house. What we don’t know is that this is the other fugitive who escaped, and the film does a great job keeping us in suspense. Even at the beginning, where we see all the shots from the murder, we never know for certain that the one-armed man is there – the film keeps the key items out of frame. Or look at the performance of Ford in the early shot when he is being questioned by police, when he slowly realizes that that they think he murdered his wife, and the slow burn of righteous anger that comes into his face. This was kind of a swan song for Ford – he’s never been in a really good film since. So we should appreciate this one, even if it doesn’t really belong on this list – especially since one of the films better than it in 1993 was In the Line of Fire, another great suspense film with an aging actor from that summer.