Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homage to the Great Films of 1991

While I am waiting to make my plans to see this year's Oscar nominees, I have been contemplating this year's ramping-up-to-Oscar night "project". This started five years ago when my brother and I kept dragging our feet about seeing that year's nominees. I wasn't quite up for the brutal intensity of the Departed, and wasn't particularly rushing out to read subtitles on Clint Eastwood's 2 1/2 hour Letters from Iwo Jima. So we decided to rent some Academy Award winners from previous years we haven't seen. We managed only one - Midnight Cowboy - which ended up being the last thing the two of us did together before he died. Then two years ago, I was deeply committed to a month-long Meryl Streep-a-thon. This year, I've decided to re-examine particularly special years of great filmmaking.

1991 is my personal favorite year of film. While I don't want to take the charm out of it by over-intellectualizing, I am curious. Is it because I was 21 and found my appreciation shift and deepen? Was it that there happened to be more serious female-centered stories produced that year? Or did it signal a shift in pop culture as a whole.

So much for not over-analyzing...

The Academy Award for Best Picture that year went to the Silence of the Lambs. The big deal, Oscar-wise, about this film is, first, it was released in February, a huge no-no for a studio wishing to get any Oscar buzz (watch, after the telecast, there will be veritable wasteland of cinema until summer...) It is also still one of the few films to sweep Best Pic, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress (you can look it up). While it's a difficult watch, I continue to love Silence of the Lambs on many levels, but mostly because I find Clarice Starling to be the greatest female character in film history. Pretty big statement, it's true, but she's an archetype - an intelligent innocent on a true hero's journey who ends up slaying a dragon and saving a princess in her smart and quiet way (without having to wear pleather pants and tote an Uzi...)

I genuinely love all of the films for Best Pic nominated that year - The Prince of Tides, JFK, Bugsy, and Beauty and the Beast (which caused a huge stir for being the first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture - and directly lead to a separate category). Along with a heap of other worthy contenders - Thelma & Louise, the Fisher King, the Commitments, Boyz in the Hood, Rambling Rose, Delicatessen, Barton Fink, and City Slickers (okay, that last one is technically not Oscar material, but charming nonetheless... and got Jack Palance some worthy attention for doing one-armed push-ups on stage when he accepted his award for Best Supporting Oscar...)

Consider any of the above solid recommendations when trying to fill in your depleting NetFlix queue.

What I remember most about that year's Academy Awards is that I was in my last year of college and the telecast fell on the night of one of my friend's 21st birthday. Because we were college students used to going out around 10:00 or later, I got to watch most of the show at my apartment before heading over to the friend's, where five of us would ultimately go out. I can remember us standing around the living room mesmerized by the ceremony, continually aborting our ill-attempts at leaving for the bars. There were arguments over whether or not Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis would ultimately cancel each other out for Best Actress or whether they might share it if one one over the other (as I remember correctly, I was rooting for Jodie Foster the whole time). The birthday girl was itching to get out of the house and I can't remember if she successful in getting us out before the final award or surrendered to the flurry, but it was a good year.

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