Apollo 13 (1995)

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Starring: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan

Director: Ron Howard

Summary: When an explosion jeopardizes a moon mission, NASA scientists fight to bring the crew home safely

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Harris), Supporting Actress (Quinlan), Adapted Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Sound*, Art Direction, Film Editing*, Visual Effects

Extremely well-made film with good acting, a remarkable attention to detail, and about as accurate to reality as a movie based on real events is going to be. The obvious comparison here is the previous space race film The Right Stuff, and I liked this one better. It’s the story of accepting a dream unfulfilled, but also of incredible ingenuity, rational thinking and keeping cool in a life or death situation with the engineers as the heroes in a movie for once (this is a huge contrast to The Right Stuff by the way). I also thought it did a great job of showing everyone’s building exhaustion both through makeup/not shaving and facial expressions. The whole cast is pretty good, with Hanks being his likeable, approachable, high integrity-self as usual, filling his role as the modern-day Jimmy Stewart; he almost certainly would have been nominated but for having won the Oscar the previous two ceremonies.

I don’t know that I have a real specific critique here, but I feel like I admire the film more than anything else instead of it leaving anything I will really remember it for. It shows a lot of care, but it’s merely story that’s worth telling and doesn’t do enough with the characters to go anything beyond that. Still, solid movie.

Rating: B

Babe (1995)

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Starring: Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, James Cromwell, Hugo Weaving, Magda Szubanski (her first film), Danny Mann, Miriam Flynn, Roscoe Lee Browne (Narrator)

Director: Chris Noonan

Summary: Babe, a pig raised by sheepdogs, learns to herd sheep with a little help from Farmer Hoggett

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Cromwell), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

This was one of the first movies I remember watching on video as a kid, and you know what? It still holds up really well. While it is a “message” movie (about not accepting that roles society places on people are just the way things have to be, don’t make assumptions based on stereotypes, being open to new ways of thinking), they’re are presented with a light enough touch and the story is good enough that it never feels preachy. The voice acting is top notch (starring the late great Cavanaugh who was one of the best ever, most famous as Dexter from Dexter’s Lab and Chuckie from Rugrats) and Cromwell definitely leaves a mark despite not having all that many lines. The animal effects still look solid, being a combination of trained animals and animatronics from the Jim Henson company, and the score, while not nominated, was pitch-perfect for the tone. Still, this was way out of left field for a Best Picture nominee (or a Best Director or Screenplay nominee), especially considering how strong the competition was for 1995: this was a year when movies like Seven, The Usual Suspects, Toy Story, 12 Monkeys, Heat and Casino were not nominated, but a children’s film with a talking pig was. Nevertheless, Babe was quite enjoyable and is appealing to all ages.

Rating: B

*Braveheart (1995)*

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Starring: Mel Gibson, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Brendan Gleeson, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, Peter Hanly

Director: Mel Gibson

Summary: When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I

Other Nominations: Director*, Original Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Sound Editing*, Sound, Cinematography*, Makeup*, Costume Design, Film Editing

Boy, Mel Gibson sure loves his historical epics where the villainous group are all complete monsters…and loads of violence…and making a character’s righteous self-sacrifice be as brutal and drawn out as possible. Braveheart is about as historically accurate a historical epic as 300, but the way it’s done is so cartoonish that no one should have taken it seriously as factual and I didn’t have a big problem with that aspect; what really left me unsatisfied is just how hollow the movie is. For as great as the movie looks and sounds and as big as the scale is, it’s basically just a story about manliness with some romance and loads of violence. That’s perfectly fine, but 1)  not enough for a three hour movie and 2) not enough to deserve a Best Picture nomination, must less a win in a very strong year for American film.

I will say Gibson is very charismatic and is the glue that holds the whole movie together and that Patrick McGoohan is great as the evil bastard King Edward Longshanks. Overall though, even if I was never bored, it wasn’t anything special. I would have much rather seen a full-length version of Mel Gibson’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uOva_pZJ6Q.

Il Postino: The Postman (1995)

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Starring: Massimo Troisi (in his posthumous final role), Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Renato Scarpa

Director: Michael Radford

Summary: A simple Italian postman learns to love poetry while delivering mail to a famous poet, and uses this to woo a local beauty

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Troisi), Adapted Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score*

*Il Postino was released in Italy in 1994, but not in America until 1995, hence why it was nominated this year*

Of the 537 so honored with a Best Picture nomination, only eight others besides Il Postino (The Grand Illusion, Z,  The Emmigrants, Cries and Whispers, Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Amour) were not English-language films, and one of those was an American production. So why did this movie get singled out where so many others have failed? One, it got distributed by Miramax and no one ran Oscar campaigns like the Harvey Weinstein back then; and two, it’s star and co-writer Massimo Troisi put off heart surgery to finish the film, pushed through his fatigue during the production, and died the day after it wrapped of a heart attack. This “passion for the art” narrative made marketing it to Academy members and the general public easy.

As for the film itself? It’s fine, but nothing particularly memorable. Troisi has charm and also good chemistry with Noiret but I wouldn’t have nominated him. Winning for score surprises me, as it felt like pretty standard romantic Italian music to me. Really, not a lot stood out to me from any other romance film; it looked like it was heading in a really interesting direction for the last 25 minutes, showing the kind of postscript after most romance films end and re-contextualizing what came before it, but instead it went super sentimental and squandered what could have been unique and different. If you want to see a romance movie with pretty scenery from an island in Italy, it fits the bill, but as a Best Picture nominee, it wasn’t up to snuff.

Rating: C

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

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Starring: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise, Gemma Jones, Elizabeth Spriggs, Imogen Stubbs, Emilie Francois (her first role), Hugh Laurie

Director: Ang Lee

Summary: Jane Austen’s classic tale of two sisters with different romantic notions

Other Nominations: Actress (Thompson), Supporting Actress (Winslet), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Dramatic Score, Cinematography, Costume Design

It takes cues from the Merchant-Ivory playbook wholesale (featuring a fantastic English cast, beautiful sets and costumes and is based on a classic of English literature), but that’s by no means a bad thing. Emma Thompson is consistently excellent playing sensible and intelligent leads as always and Kate Winslet (in her breakout role) plays as a perfect wide-eyed romantic foil to Thompson’s more thoughtful and reserved characterization. The film (and of course the source novel it’s based on) is filled with a lot of the themes you tend to expect from a classic English novel like the difficulties of romance between people of different classes/wealth statuses and promises/keeping your vows leading to disastrous results. On a bigger level though, it’s an argument that you need both genuine passion and your heads in the right places for romance, and on a more personal level, it’s about two sisters who learn and grow from each other, and need to look out for each other, especially in a society where women have few rights and privileges. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and it ended up being my favorite of the 1995 nominees.

Rating: B+

1995 in Review

One Notable Film from 1995

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As mentioned before, 1995 was a fantastic year for film and I have a lot of options to pick from. I decided to go with the first movie I remember seeing in a theater: Toy Story.

Few movie have changed an entire genre overnight like Toy Story did when it proved 3D animation was viable for a feature length film-the characters looked good enough (well, maybe not the human ones), facial expressions were expressive enough to convey emotion, and it was feasible in terms of time and money. Not only did it look light years (no pun intended) better than anything before it, it had a great voice cast and it told a really creative story with two strong main characters. Despite it’s extremely troubled production (the rare case during that period where Jeffrey Katzenberg was actually a bad influence on an animated film), everything comes together and it really is one of the most memorable animated films of all-time.

What I want to talk about more than the film itself is what came out of the film’s success and what it meant for the animation industry. For Pixar, it made them huge players overnight and they somehow kept their near-perfect reputation for the next 15 years with a ludicrous consistency in quality. For Disney, even though they were partners with Pixar, it meant the first serious competition in years for their title was the gold standard in American animation and in a period of a couple of years, they were #3 behind upstarts Pixar and Dreamworks. Interestingly enough, the roles have seemingly reversed the last few years, with Disney back on top with a string of hits, and Pixar has had more forgettable films than hits since 2010. Most importantly, 3D animation showed it could be a success and since then it has pretty much killed off 2D animation for feature films in the United States (although it’s still used the vast majority of the time in Japanese animation). I’ve said it before, but I’m not a fan of 3D animation in general. Toy Story is one of the few cases where 3D animation makes sense-the look matches perfectly with plastic textures and it looks better than anything in 2D would. However, take a look at the movies being released by Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks/Illumination: even if they get better at details, they still all look the same: shiny, smooth, polished, clean.

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I want some variety! Compare Aladdin to The Simpsons:

Or Gankutsuo to FLCL:

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I don’t think the issue is that 3D animation can’t have art style variety, it’s just that the major studios refuse to take any sort of risk and it’s led to animation that looks very bland after a while after you’ve seen so much of it.

As an additional note, I will watch Toy Story and Toy Story 2 again before watching Toy Story 3 for the 2010 ceremony. I remember what I thought about Toy Story 3 watching it in the theater at the time, but my opinion might change after watching it in context of the other films.

Other Notable Films from 1995

GoldenEye

Seven

12 Monkeys

The Usual Suspects

Leaving Las Vegas

Small Faces

The Bridges of Madison County

Ghost in the Shell

Heat

Casino

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Before Sunrise

La Haine

Underground

1995 Nominees in Review

Sense and Sensibility: B+

Babe: B

Apollo 13: B

Braveheart: C+ (Won Best Picture)

Il Postino: The Postman: C

Braveheart’s Best Picture win has to be the most unlikely in modern history: Apollo 13 won Best Picture from the PGA, DGA and SAG; Sense and Sensibility won at the Golden Globes, National Board of Review, the BAFTAs, WGA for Adapted Screenplay and at the Critic’s Choice Awards; Braveheart only won the Original Screenplay from the WGA (and there it wasn’t competing against the other two as they were both adapted) and from the ACE (editors). Even Shakespeare in Love won the Golden Globe (for Musical/Comedy), the BAFTA, WGA for Original Screenplay and most importantly, the SAG. I really can’t see how it did or why (I had it as my 4th favorite out of the 5 nominees), although it does feel very similar to a future Best Picture winner, Gladiator. I will admit there was some foreshadowing for Braveheart’s win: Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility didn’t get Best Director nominations (despite the former winning at the DGA Awards), while Braveheart was;  since 1933, only 2 films (Driving Miss Daisy and Argo) have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination).

Really, it’s a shame that the field was just okay despite being an amazing year for film-you could make a far better field out of movies nominated for other awards but not Best Picture: Seven, The Usual Suspects, Toy Story, Dead Man Walking and Leaving Las Vegas. At least there was nothing outright bad here, and three of the five were genuinely good films.

For 1996: the first digitally edited film to win the editing Oscar; most of the movie doesn’t take place in the city that provides the title; Reebok paid $1.5 million for product placement and a commercial within the movie-they were none too happy when there was no commercial in the final cut, and one of the major characters says “f***Reebok!”; this movie was mostly unscripted and the actors learned of the revelations in the film simultaneously with their characters; and Geoffrey Rush re-learned how to play the piano so that there didn’t need to be a hand double for the main character.