Starring: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, James Whitmore
Director: Frank Darabont (his first feature film)
Summary: A man discovers himself after he is sentenced to life in prison
Other Nominations: Actor (Freeman), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound, Cinematography, Film Editing
Memorable protagonists and villains, great set-ups and payoffs, a perfect ending, wide appeal and easy to watch-there’s a reason this is such a beloved film. This is actually an example of the Academy making an exceptionally good nomination: it didn’t make a dent at the box office, it only became one of the most popular films of the last 30 years through cable TV and rentals. The screenplay is fantastic for all the reasons mentioned above, but it also touches upon the subject of “what is there left for those who leave prison?” and why recidivism in this country is so high in a way that’s really effective; the scenes with Whitmore are especially excellent.
Morgan Freeman is almost always a winner and having him also be the narrator is the cherry on top, and Tim Robbins gives his performance the quiet dignity it needs. Robbins was actually the fourth choice (after Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt), but other than Hanks I don’t think any of those would have been anywhere near as good. The other standout aspects to me were the cinematography and score, which served as the first of a combined 27 Oscar nominations for Roger Deakins and Thomas Newman; sadly, at least as of this writing, they are a combined 0 for 27. I wouldn’t call it the greatest movie of all-time or even in my top 25, but I get why so many people love this movie so much.