Monday, October 9, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1991

The Contenders:

Beauty and the Beast
The Prince of Tides
The Silence of the Lambs (winner)

What’s Missing

1991 is a great film year, although I’d be the first to admit that most of the films that I really like from 1991 are films that won’t get much in the way of Oscar consideration for Best Picture. Movies like The Addams Family and the surprisingly charming Doc Hollywood would clearly fit in that category, as would Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Dead Again, Defending Your Life, and L.A. Story are all sadly forgotten and much better than a lot of other movies from this era that are still remembered fondly. On the foreign front, we have The Double Life of Veronique, Centre Stage, Raise the Red Lantern, and Delicatessen, the first of which seems very much like the sort of film Oscar loves. But we can ignore all of those because there is a group of five unnominated movies that could just about make for a completely new crop of nominations. These are (in no particular order), My Own Private Idaho, Thelma and Louise, The Fisher King, Fried Green Tomatoes, and most especially Boyz N the Hood, which earned nominations for both director and screenplay, but somehow was ignored here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The Prince of Tides is less a movie than it is a character study and an excuse for the audience to experience every possible set of emotions in every possible combination through the film’s running time. The best I can say for it is that it tries and tries really hard. It just doesn’t succeed for me at any level. Nick Nolte is fine in the lead role, but he’s no better than that and he’s clearly the best thing in the film. Everyone else is either miscast or is playing such a one-dimensional character that I have trouble caring about any of it.

4. Bugsy is a fine movie, but I’m not anywhere close to convinced that it’s a great one. I found that about halfway through. It’s all about the planning and building of a casino, and once we actually get to that part of the film, everything grinds to a halt. The romance, which is evidently supposed to be what drives the latter half of the film is entirely uninteresting and seems like a diversion from what should be the main point. I didn’t dislike Bugsy, but with the movies that were left off the nominations list, I can’t understand why it’s here.

3. Almost everything about JFK works for me, and that’s up to and including its excessive length. There are a lot of things about this film that shouldn’t work, and they all work pretty well. In a much weaker year, I could see JFK winning, but 1991 was anything but a weak year. It’s perhaps too invested in its conspiracy to be taken too seriously as a piece of history, but as a film, I think it’s surprisingly good, juggling a huge and impressive cast well. The problem is that I like two of the other films from this list more.

2. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie nominated for Best Picture, and I’d be hard-pressed to say that it didn’t deserve the nomination. I like this movie a hell of a lot, and that’s despite the fact that what is intended to be a beautiful romance can be easily interpreted as being misogynist and kind of awful. Ultimately, I can’t quite put it at the top because of its characterization of the Beast. Make him more like the version from Jean Cocteau’s version, and we can have a much different conversation here. Still, it’s got the best songs from any Disney animation, and that’s saying something.

My Choice

1. In many ways, The Silence of the Lambs is the best and most important film of 1991, so I don’t really have any objections to it winning. This is a rare instance of Oscar actually picking a film that has had far-reaching implications on the film industry for years after its release. With a different collection of films it might be a mildly different conversation, especially with Delicatessen (my only other five-star film from this year) in the mix. While I might personally prefer Jeunet’s film, I can’t argue that it’s more important or influential. In that respect, I’d be forced to say that even in an open field, this was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. L.A. Story is my wife's favorite movie, so definitely not forgotten around here. It's great.

    But I agree, Silence deserved the Oscar.

    1. Yeah, I really like L.A. Story a lot. It's the right blend of sweet and sardonic, and I like most of the cast.