Schindler’s List was like nothing that he had ever directed before and it was like nothing we had ever seen before. It moved me greatly as it did millions and so, for only time of the decade, I agree with the academy's choice for Best Picture. Schindler's List is like watching a train crash; you can't stand to watch yet you cannot bear to look away. Shot in black and white it has a kind of documentary quality, peering with an unblinking eye into one of the most horrific events in modern human history - how the Nazis could take lives without rhyme or reason and then how they were robbed of a small number of their victims through one man's kindness.
We meet that man Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) an alcoholic, a womanizer who joined the Nazi party because it was an easy way to fund his businesses through money given to him by throwing parties for high officials. He's a not a great businessman but he is a great wheeler dealer, a man who knows how to grease palms and smooth talk his way in or out of anything.
Many said that Schindler's List wasn't like anything else he had ever made. That's true in weight of the subject matter, but thematically it's is exactly the same as his other works. Schindler's struggle to save the Jews were really no different than the men battling the shark in Jaws, Indiana Jones tackling the Nazi's in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Elliot trying to save E.T. from the government officials, the scientists battling the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, all of these had external struggles but nothing ever came as close to the bone. He used his skill for stories about struggles in fantasy films and put it to use with one of the darkest chapters of human history. He always said that he waited until he grew up as a person and as a filmmaker before he was ready to make the film.
That's best because for a director known for his content, Schindler's List is a film in which he shows great restraint. He shows us the murders and the horror that befell the Jews but he also knows that there is only so much that we can take so he shows us just enough (most of the murders take place in long or medium distance shots). He shot the film in black and white partly because the murders in a color would be too much to bear. Most amazingly each murder happens differently, all of the actors die in a different fashion. Spielberg wants us to witness the atrocities in all their horror and he also wants us to understand that each was an individual, a person. At one point a woman is shot for speaking out and as the Nazis grab her she is pulled up to the camera so we can look in her eyes and realize that a worthwhile life is about to end.
One of Schindler's biggest obstacles is Amon Geoth (Ralph Fiennes) the commandant of the camp holding Schindler's workers. If Schindler used the Nazi Party as a cover for his business interests Geoth uses the party as a cover for his psychopathic tendencies. He murders Jews at will, using a scope to shoot them from the balcony of his villa. He uses a minor incident involving a stolen chicken to shoot a line of Jewish men dead. He forgives a young boy who failed to clean his bathtub properly and lets him leave only to shoot him dead a moment later. Schindler's advantage over Geoth is his tunnel vision and the fact that he is almost always drunk, a sober man with his attention at full would begin to spot
Philadelphia turned Hanks from a light comedian into a respected dramatic actor, but I think that his best work (and another Oscar) were still ahead of him. The actors who were nominated for Best Actor of 1993 played tough, hard-bitten characters facing storms of oppression and repression (except Fishburne's Ike Turner who is the perpetrator). In fact, most of the films nominated at the 66th Annual Academy Awards in all categories were deep, somber, heavy material with hardly a laugh among them. That's too bad because 1993 was a surprisingly good year for comedy. With Kevin Kline in Dave, Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon, Charlie Sheen in Hot Shots Part Deux!, John Goodman in Matinee, Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle and Richard Harris in Wrestling Earnest Hemingway, the academy had a chance to mix things up between the somber and the silly - they might have done this if they had opened the category up to 10 nominees.
The one performance that I think is criminally missing among the nominees is my choice for Best Actor of the year, Bill Murray for his great work as a weatherman who is forced to repeat the same day over and over in Harold Ramis' Capra-esqe fantasy Groundhog Day. It would seem odd to suggest that Murray's performance should have been named up there with Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day or Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father, but I think he works just as hard as they do, maybe harder.
Rita repeated rejections cause Phil to fall into a suicidal depression. But that doesn't end the cycle and he tries several means of killing himself until he decides that he must be immortal. He tells her that he believes that he is a god and demonstrates by telling her pieces of information about the townsfolk that he has accumulated. "Maybe the real God uses tricks" Phil reasons, "Maybe he's not omnipotent. He's just been around so long he knows everything."
He believes that since he has gotten to intimately know everyone in town through the daily repeats he can somehow make their lives better. He becomes a genial and good man, spreading joy, happiness and good will wherever he can. However, that only works up to a point. There is a painful moment when his God-complex is broken when he tries to save a starving homeless man from dying but realizes that the man’s fate is beyond his control. That becomes a turning point for Phil. Realizing that he is immortal but not infallable, he tries being the best man he can be. He learns as much as he can including piano lessions and ice sculpture and becomes an honored man in the town.
What has always come best from Bill Murray is a kind of flat, dead-pan delivery, a manner of looking at bizarre situations and sizing them up in a manner reserved only for the likes of people like W.C. Field, Bill Cosby or Groucho Marx. Remember in Ghostbusters when he comes to the apartment of his possessed girlfriend "I make it a point never to get involved with possessed people". Or the moment in Tootsie when his male roommate fusses over his girdle - "I think we're getting into a weird area here". Or as the dentistry addict in Little Shop of Horrors "I think I need a root canal. I definitely need a long, slow root canal."
Groundhog Day is right at home for Murray because it affords him at least two dozen moments like that. It is the perfect playground for his kind of humor. Yet, it is something more than that. Here he begins by playing a man who is smug and self-important and slowly transforms into a man who is happy. He has a difficult task of opening the film playing a perfect jerk, a role that in other hands might have made the film insufferable. What Murray does with the introductory scenes is present a man who is not boiling or screaming or lashing out but who has his resentment and cynacism burning just under the surface. It has become so ground-in that it has become his very nature.
What takes place after the daily repeats start is the reconditioning of his soul. He begins to learn, to contemplate, to theorize and finally he begins to learn things. As he runs through the gummet of bafflement, confusion, aggrevation, misery and despair, he finds that - much like Superman - he can make a difference but he can't do everything. It is more fulfilling, he finds, to be a good man.
I liked the five women nominated for Best Actress of 1993 but there were many more that deserved a chance that didn't get nominated. I wish they had found room for Michelle Pfeiffer as a divorcee in The Age of Innocence or Tilda Swinton as an English duke who survives four centuries and a change of gender in Orlando or Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her family in an accident and tries to throw it all away in Blue or any of the wonderful Chinese woman of The Joy Luck Club. THIS was the year of the woman. Out of all those performances I wish the academy had found room for my choice for Best Actress, Ashley Judd as Ruby Lee Gissing, a young woman who dreams of independence in Victor Nunez's Ruby in Paradise.
Judd was best known for being part of a musical family but she broke away and proved herself to be one of the most natural actors of her generation with this film before starring in a string of forgettable thrillers. As the movie opens, Ruby Lee is moving to Florida to escape an unsatisfied life and start over. She has no showbiz ambitions, she's not a budding athlete nor is she looking for a man. All she wants is to live on her own terms, working retail. To most this wouldn't seem to be much more than a dream but to Ruby Lee, she has her agenda and she's determined to live it.
She walks into a beachwear shop and asks for a job. Mildred, the proprietor, tells her that she doesn't need her because the store doesn't do much business in the off season. But Ruby is determined, she plants her feet and she makes the case that it's not necessarily about the money, it's about the work - she knows the business. Mildred eventually comes to respect this stubborn young woman but at first she doesn't think much of her. Her one rule: Employees are not allowed to go out with her son Ricky. Ruby does anyway and loses her job. That spins her into a troubled time in which she sees her dream crumbling and considers alternatives.
Judd has moments when her body language tell us all we need to know. During her low point she briefly considers being a stripper but puts that idea behind her. The movie never says it but to a thoughtful viewer we understand why she chooses not to. Aside from the prospect of demeaning herself, the money would be good but she realizes that making a great deal of money stripping would mean that once she got in, she couldn't go back. Its funny, in that scene I realized how many movies see strippers through the eyes of the male customers. Ruby is a beautiful woman and through Ashley Judd we understand how easy it would be for her to make a lucrative career through her looks. But she doesn't' want that, she wants a life putting her skills and her brain to good use.
Eventually she gets her job back because there was something in Ruby's head for business that Mildred needed. She takes her to a convention and there's a wonderful moment when Ruby sees another woman in a nice suit with a briefcase. There's a look in her eyes that somehow sees where she would like to be. With Judd it's all in the eyes, and her best moments are those when we just think we can read her thoughts.
Ruby in Paradise allows a woman to step into a genre that has been dominated by males. Like Sullivan's Travels or Five Easy Pieces, the movie lets a woman take to the road to find her destiny. There is often a far away look in Judd's eyes where she seems unwilling to settle for other's definition of what her life should be. She carries a quiet dignity and we realize that her beauty could carry her to easy money. But there's a reason that she doesn't: She doesn't want to.
What makes Judd's performance so special is that she allows us to see her learning from her mistakes. We get no sense that Ricky is any good and Ruby disappoints us by sleeping with him. She meets another guy, an environmentally conscious longer named Mike who seems to be a perfect match. But soon cracks begin to show in his personality as he seems lack ambition. Ruby possesses something that is missing from most movie characters: a learning curve. I am inundated with movies are about people who have things all figured out but the best ones find characters that are three-dimentional, that grow and change. Ruby Lee Gissing goes through a process of growing and changing and what's best about the film is that when it's over we sense that she will continue to do so.
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