The Oscar race for Best Picture in 1993 was essentially over as soon as its winner that year was released: Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, the heart-wrenching Holocaust drama starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kinglsey, and Ralph Fiennes. Released to great reviews and solid box office, List won just about every movie award there was.
It’s certainly a deserving winner, no question. My experience with Schindler’s List is the following: I saw in the theater and haven’t seen it again. I’ve said many times in recent years that I want to watch it again, but let’s be honest – that’s the kind of movie you really have to dedicate your time to watching again. And also prepare yourself for its weighty subject matter. I remember how great it is and know Spielberg totally threw himself into researching that horrible time in history. It’s brilliant directed. Truth to be told, it’s also not a movie you want to view multiple times.
Obviously, the other four nominees didn’t stand a chance, but they were James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day, with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Just one year before, James Ivory’s Howards End with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was nominated too. As I wrote in the Oscar History: 1992 blog post, I don’t remember much about Howards End. I recall a bit more about Remains, especially Hopkins’ fine performance as a repressed butler. Still, not gonna pretend I remember it well. If you’ve figured out Merchant-Ivory British costume dramas aren’t totally my cup of tea (get it?), you’d be correct.
Another nominee: Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father, a top-notch drama starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, and the late Pete Postlethwaite. Sheridan and Day-Lewis had teamed up in 1989 for My Left Foot, in which Day-Lewis won his first Oscar (of a soon-to-be-likely three). If you haven’t seen it, check it out to see yet another brilliant performance from its lead actor.
Jane Campion’s The Piano starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and Anna Paquin was another nominee. I know it got rave reviews and Hunter’s performance is supposed to be spectacular, but I’ll get this one short: I haven’t seen it.
The fifth nomination was a bit unconventional: The Fugitive, based on the 1960s TV series. Starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive received rave reviews and did huge box office. That translated to some very rare Academy recognition for an action movie. It’s certainly a deserving pick and it’s one of my favorite action flicks in the last quarter century. It’s just a shame the Academy didn’t recognize some others that are even greater, like 1987’s Lethal Weapon and 1988’s Die Hard.
Having ran through the five nominees, it must be said that 1993 was a very solid year for movies. Since I haven’t seen The Piano, it’d be unfair to put something in its place (same could be said for Remains because I don’t remember it too well). But I’ll just list some other films I loved that year: Tony Scott’s True Romance. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Brian DePalma’s Carlito’s Way. Wolfgang Peterson’s In the Line of Fire. Steve Zaillian’s Searching for Bobby Fischer. And if the Academy could make room for an action movie, I would argue they could have done something even more rare for them: nominate a comedy. And in 1993, one of my all-time favorites was released: Groundhog Day, which is easily in my Top Ten comedies ever.
Just as Best Picture was an obvious pick, Spielberg would win his first Golden Guy for Schindler. The other nominees included Jane Campion for The Piano, Jim Sheridan for In the Name of the Father, and James Ivory for Remains of the Day. It was Fugitive director Andrew Davis who was left out even though his movie was nominated. Instead, for the second year in a row, legendary director Robert Altman got nominated for Short Cuts. In 1992, he was nominated for The Player, even though the film was not.
In the Best Actor race, the Academy would honor what may be the greatest ever transition for a comedic actor into dramatic territory: Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Starring as a brilliant lawyer who is diagnosed with AIDS and fired from his job, Philadelphia was a hot button movie that featured Hanks in his first “serious” role. We all knew he was great in funny movies, but Philadelphia proved he could do drama too. Sounds strange to say now since Hanks has stuck with the serious stuff for the most part for the last two decades, but it his performance really was a revelation in 1993.
The other four nominees: Hopkins in Remains of the Day, Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father, Neeson in Schindler, and Laurence Fishburne for his terrific portrayal of Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It? Very strong group that year. I would’ve given strong consideration to the incomparable Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Also, while its Supporting Actor would win, Harrison Ford was the anchor that kept The Fugitive moving along.
I mentioned I haven’t seen The Piano, but Holly Hunter’s portrayal of a mute who experiences repressed love (or something like that) would earn her the Gold, against Emma Thompson for Remains, Angela Bassett who was wonderful as Tina Turner in What’s Love…, Debra Winger in Shadowlands, and Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation.
As I hinted, Tommy Lee Jones would take Best Supporting Actor for The Fugitive. It’s a great performance, but I wouldn’t have picked him. Maybe more than any other year I can recall – this category was amazing in 1993. The other four nominees all gave wonderful performances: John Malkovich for In the Line of Fire, Pete Postlethwaite for Name of the Father, Ralph Fiennes in Schindler, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Of those five, I probably would have gone with Fiennes. There were actually two other performances I might have made room for: Sean Penn’s amazing performance in Carlito’s Way and Val Kilmer’s unforgettable turn as Doc Holiday in Tombstone.
For the second year in a row, a major upset would occur in the Best Supporting Actress race. The front runner was Winona Ryder for Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. If she didn’t win, it was expected to go to Rosie Perez for Peter Weir’s Fearless. The other nominees were Emma Thompson in Name of the Father and Holly Hunter for The Firm (great actress, but undeserving nominee for this role). The winner called that night: 11 year old Anna Paquin in The Piano. We all know her now from X-Men and “True Blood”, but her win truly was a shock, making her the second youngest winner ever after Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon (1973).
Another note: not only did Spielberg have immense Oscar success with List, he also directed the blockbuster Jurassic Park that year. Between Schindler and Jurassic, his two films in 1993 won a total of ten Oscars. Beside Picture and Direction, List would win for Adapted Screenplay, Score, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing. Jurassic would receive well-deserved awards for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects.
My Oscar history will continue soon with 1994, where one winner from 1993 would get more Oscar love and the Best Picture winner happened to be the surprise blockbuster of that year, even though two other films released that year are now held in higher regard. Stay tuned!