The Fugitive (1993)

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Starring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Jeroen Krabbe, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore

Director: Andrew Davis

Summary: A man is forced to go on the run after being falsely accused of killing his wife

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Jones)*, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound, Cinematography, Film Editing

The Fugitive is an entertaining thriller that’s always driving forward with two outstanding lead performances who play really well off each other. Ford is his reliable intelligent every-man action hero self here, which is always great to see but the real standout is Jones who plays his character with all the determination and competency of Inspector Javert except that he has a soul. While it can certainly get implausible at times, it moves along quickly enough and with such energy and a great character dynamic that it doesn’t end up ever bothering you.

If I had a complaint, it would be that at 130 minutes, it feel a little too long; that, and there are one too many “you think the police are going to find Kimble but they’re actually going after another criminal” fake-outs. It’s consistently enjoyable and the lead performances and characters elevate what would have probably been just an average thriller.

Rating: B

In the Name of the Father (1993)

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Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, Don Baker (his first film), John Lynch

Director: Jim Sheridan

Summary: A man’s coerced confession to an IRA bombing he did not commit results in the imprisonment of his father as well

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actor (Postlethwaite), Supporting Actress (Thompson), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

The story of the Guildford Four is still extremely relevant today: a police department, judiciary and general public foregoing civil liberties and justice in favor of making sure someone, regardless of guilt or innocence, was held accountable for a horrible act of terrorism by any means necessary. Yet, this movie only really touches on this fundamental and central story that’s natural to its subject, and instead wants to focus on the relationship between a good father and his son who’s throwing his life away. That’s a perfectly fine story for a movie, but this is not the movie to tell that story, especially since the father and son in real life not only weren’t together in the same cell like in the film, but were rarely even in the same prison with each other. This would be like if Schindler’s List focused on a love triangle because that was the movie Spielberg REALLY wanted to make and didn’t care as much about that whole Holocaust thing. Furthermore, it doesn’t even really give all that much complexity to the father-son dynamic which basically boils down to “I did bad stuff to spite you dad because what I did was never good enough” and then the son eventually learns the error of his ways and reconciles.

I will say that certain scenes are powerfully executed, mainly the interrogation scenes which give the insight into how an innocent person could confess to committing an atrocity if they are pushed hard enough for long enough. I also thought Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite were both good in their roles and had good chemistry with each other. For me however, this movie feels like a missed opportunity, where they could have told the true story of how police, courts and society at large on a path for vengeance can erode or even destroy a critical aspect of a democracy, but instead wanted to tell a basically unrelated story about a father and son reconciling that wasn’t even that well executed.

Rating: C+

The Piano (1993)

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Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin (in her first acting role)

Director: Jane Campion

Summary: A mute woman and her daughter are sent to 1850s New Zealand for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, but is soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Hunter)*, Supporting Actress (Paquin)*, Original Screenplay*, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing

This is the very rare film where I really don’t know how to feel about it after watching it except that there’s a sort of strange magic to it. What the film gives you is an offbeat tale of lust and self-repression with great exterior trappings (like its cinematography, costumes and exotic scenery) and an excellent lead performance from Holly Hunter, the third woman to win an Oscar playing someone who’s deaf, a mute or a deaf-mute (after Jane Wyman who was amazing in Johnny Belinda and Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God). All the major performances are really good, although I am somewhat surprised that Paquin won; she’s very good for child actress standards, but I would imagine there was someone better in the nominee pool.

Overall, I…liked it? I mean, it’s well made and very well acted, and the story was unusual and unexpected, but it failed to fully connect with me. I will concede its merits and say that it probably wasn’t for me.

Rating: B-

Remains of the Day (1993)

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Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Peter Vaughan, Christopher Reeve, Hugh Grant

Director: James Ivory

Summary: A proper British butler sacrifices happiness to remain faithful to his position

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Thompson), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design

This is where Merchant-Ivory hit their absolute peak and delivered an absolutely stellar film about missed opportunities in life. For me, this is the best performance of Anthony Hopkins career, playing a butler who is trying to outwardly and even inwardly block out everything unrelated to serving his master; the irony of course being that in doing so, he wasted his opportunity to actually save his master (and himself) from his eventual ruin. He’s able to both give off a cold and unemotional exterior, while you can see glimpses of his subconscious wants in his eyes. Thompson is also wonderful here, and I really think she’s underrated as one of the best at her craft, reminding me in ways of Greer Garson with her combination of warmth and depth. The movie also features the best cinematography and score of any of the Merchant-Ivory films. This is an outstanding character study with excellent performances and a surprising amount of emotion to this beautifully-crafted tragedy. Highest recommendation.

Rating: A

*Schindler’s List (1993)*

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Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

Director: Steven Spielberg

Summary: In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Neeson), Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Sound, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Makeup, Costume Design, Film Editing*

There are two big things that made this both financially successful and artistically excellent. First, I will admit that it forsakes some depth and nuance in exchange for a narrative that still gets across what it needs to and would get a lot more people to the box office than for something like, Shoah; I would say this is an acceptable trade-off. Second, the entire presentation is outstanding and feels very unified, everything feeding into a more documentary feel. The sparse use of John Williams’ score works effectively, as any dramatic music cues would lessen the striiped-down documentary-style they’re attempting. The editing is excellent, making frequent use of long takes with many fewer cuts (along with a lot of match-cuts) which makes sense in this context-the faster the editing, the more aware you are that you’re watching something cinematic vs. real life. Finally, it’s in black and white which both evokes news footage of the period and accentuates facial expressions.

The storytelling holds up its end of the bargain as well. It does a great job of showing the escalation of the holocaust well, how a society will tolerate encroachments on freedoms bits and pieces at a time where they wouldn’t all at once, yet those small erosions add up until there’s nothing left. It also gets across the randomness of the cruelty, the lack of logic or sense involved. The arc of a playboy businessman who profits from the Nazi war machine but doesn’t want to get involved politically to a hero who saves the lives of over a thousand people (and by extension, their descendents) works, even if it’s not the “ideal” story to tell about the holocaust. By this, I mean that in a way, it’s like a white savior movie: it’s about a German gentile who rescues a minority population who mostly end up as background characters. I would say it’s less bothersome to me than other similar films because it’s made by a member of the minority population who wanted to film this specific story, instead of a studio who would only make a movie like this if the main character wasn’t a minority.

Finally, the performances are generally good, with Neeson being consistently solid and Fiennes being the standout as basically the physical embodiment of evil, a complete psychopath who has brief flashes of something resembling humanity only to be extinguished a moment later. While this is not a perfect film about the holocaust, I don’t think any fictional film could be and what it does bring to the table is incredible. A film worthy of the praise it received

Rating: A

1993 in Review

One Notable Film from 1993

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When I was growing up, I was into comics and watched all the animated series that came out around that time based on them like Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four; however, the one that really stuck out to me then and the one that is still great to watch now is Batman: The Animated Series. Released to coincide with 1992’s Batman Returns, it could have been a cheap piece of garbage that kids would have watched because it had Batman in it. Instead, they hired great writers, animators and composers, and put together one of the best voice acting casts ever and came up with something that could appeal to both kids and adults equally. They also were able to find the perfect balance between campy Batman and dark, gritty Batman, a balance that seems to elude most every other adaptation that goes too far in one direction or the other. In 1993, they came out with a movie that was originally meant to be direct-to-video, but was so good that they decided to release it in theaters: today, I’m going to talk about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

First, the animation and score are fantastic, a step above the already high standards of the tv series and really show off a kind of gothic style and beauty that I’ve never seen replicated with 3D animation; take this scene as an example: https://youtu.be/-4Q-MS_oFkw?t=1m21s. Second, Mark Hamill is always incredible as the Joker and here, he gets to show a slightly more vicious side to his characterization than was probably allowed for TV and and is extremely memorable. Finally, the story is on par with some of the best of the series which is saying a lot and is not afraid to deal with themes like love lost and real tragedy like many shows aimed towards kids. The only negative for me is that it’s very obvious from the beginning who the mystery villain the Phantasm is; even me as a 7 year old saw it coming. For me, the animated series was and always will be my point of reference for what Batman, the world and its characters “are”, and Mask of the Phantasm might be my favorite Batman film. If you’re a fan of comic book movies, give this one a watch if you can find it.

Other Notables

Philadelphia

Groundhog Dog

Jurassic Park

Farewell My Concubine

Cronos

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Dazed and Confused

Rudy

The Sandlot

Sleepless in Seattle

1993 in Review

Schindler’s List: A (Won Best Picture)

Remains of the Day: A

The Fugitive: B

The Piano: B-

In the Name of the Father: C

1993 was a really great year and a very difficult decision for me in terms of what I would have voted for Best Picture. On one hand, you have a tragic epic that is extremely well-crafted but lacks a little in depth and nuance in large part due to its scope and its director; on the other, a much smaller film (also involving WWII and Nazis), that’s a phenomenal character piece and features one of the best lead performances of the decade. While close, I chose the film that aimed a little higher and had a much higher risk of being a disaster on a number of fronts (remember Spielberg’s previous “serious” film, Empire of the Sun? Me neither). Besides just these two, you also had the very entertaining The Fugitive and the highly original and unique The Piano, making up 4/5th of an enjoyable field.

1994 features some of the most popular films of all-time, including three of IMDB user’s top 15 films of all-time. We have: a film whose popularity led to a seafood restaurant chain; the first Best Picture nominee to only get one other nomination since 1951; Robert Redford’s film about a famous 1950s TV scandal; a film where the f-word is used 265 times; and the first of two Frank Darabont adaptations of Stephen King prison stories that went on to be nominated for Best Picture.

The Crying Game (1992)

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Starring: Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson (his first film), Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Adrian Dunbar, Jim Broadbent

Director: Neil Jordan

Summary: An IRA terrorist befriends a British soldier he kidnapped and becomes drawn into the soldier’s world

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Rea), Supporting Actor (Davidson), Original Screenplay*, Film Editing

This movie is pretty much solely known these days for its big plot twist about halfway through, and to me that’s a shame because it’s a genuinely good movie. The first act which is mostly Rea and Whitaker talking with each other in a room where Whitaker is tied up, but their banter is surprisingly enjoyable to listen to and it all sets up the second part of the film where Rea meets Whitaker’s girlfriend. Speaking of Rea, he’s great here-while he looks half-asleep for most of the movie, his dry style somehow works really well for the character, a good man who is not cut out to be a terrorist even if he believes in the cause.

I thought that it treated the revelation and aftermath with a remarkable amount of taste and respect of everyone involved, especially given the time period when the movie was made. It actually goes on to explore the feelings of both parties in a way I haven’t seen another movie try to do since. Davidson’s role was extremely difficult to cast but Davidson does give a really solid performance, especially considering this was Davidson’s first acting role of any kind which is kind of unbelievable to me. The chemistry and camaraderie between Rea and Davidson is great to see-for a movie that was made on a shoestring budget with few sets and is mostly just dialogue between characters, the three major characters, the dynamics between them and the performances of them make for a very good movie.

Rating: B+