I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Monday, October 29, 2012

Schindler's List, 1993

Rated R

This is one of those films that everyone needs to see at some point, and preferably more than once. It is a powerful masterpiece that is incredibly eye-opening, moving, and influential. It is a historical dramatization (based on Keneally’s novel from 1982) about the Third Reich’s Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler ended up saving the lives of more than 1,000 Polish Jews (because of his infamous list).

The three hour-long epic recreates the period during World War II when Jews, living in Nazi-occupied Krakow, are taken from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and placed in impoverished ghettos and forced labor camps, only then to be relocated to concentration camps, damned for execution. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and war profiteer, becomes an enamelware factory owner and appoints a Jew, Itzhak Stern (played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley), as his accountant and right-hand man. Although he has his faults, one can see the glimmer of a conscience starting to grow. Stern is keen on his somewhat softening heart and when plans of relocating and refitting the factory are made, helps Schindler create a list of “necessary” employees they’ll need. They both know that their employees’ jobs are the only things keeping them from the gas chambers. Schindler starts to add more and more names (with Stern’s advisement) in an effort to save more and more lives from their inevitable fate, all the while either bribing Nazi officials or going behind their backs. In an incredibly powerful scene near the end, after Schindler has lost his fortune and is now a fugitive, he breaks down, wondering how many more he could have saved had he just tried even harder.
This is all juxtaposed to the character of Amon Goeth, a soul-less and despicable human being (played by the nominated Ralph Fiennes), who exerts his power over the Jews without restraint or remorse. It is sickening to know that there were/are people in this world capable of such unbridled hatred of others.

Most people remember the pop of color in this black & white film... Before the evacuation of the ghettos, Schindler watches as a little girl walks down the street wearing a red coat. Much later, when piles and piles of clothes and shoes are being burned, Schindler catches that same coat in one of the piles. I’m sure this was a deliberate decision to make this more personal to the viewers… you immediately recognize it and frown. It suddenly snaps you back to the reality of it all in case you were starting to go numb from the sheer volume of unnecessary deaths. It’s not just a pile of coats. Each coat represents a real innocent person. The fact that the coat was a child’s makes you ache even more. (It is her arm that is depicted in the movie poster above.) That is one example of the deservingly award-winning cinematography, in addition to its interesting uses of contrasting light and shadows and some cinema verite (hand-held camerawork).
A random note about the award-winning music… I recognized the song “Gloomy Sunday” being played at times throughout the film so I looked into it a little more to understand its significance. It is a Hungarian “love” song written around 1933. The original instrumental version was titled “End of the World” until a lyricist told a story about suicide and translated the new version to be “Sad Sunday”. It didn’t become famous in America until Billie Holiday sang it (with slightly different lyrics in English) in 1941 (the version I’m familiar with). It is such a pretty song for being so depressing and it is an interesting addition to the film.
Billie’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBIqLqUenz0
I think Bjork’s version adds a certain je ne sais quoi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCEJtUNe90A

“Schindler’s List” won seven of its impressive twelve nominations that night, considering it was the second highest-grossing film this year. This film’s competition was “The Fugitive” (the highest-grossing), “In the Name of the Father”, “The Piano”, and “The Remains of the Day”. Spielberg finally won his first Best Director award; this was his sixth nomination. He also won three technical-advancement awards for another box office hit he produced this year at the opposite end of the spectrum: “Jurassic Park”. A film that I feel got snubbed a nomination is “Philadelphia”- a moving film about a man, diagnosed with AIDS, who is fired from his conservative law firm. Tom Hanks won the Best Actor award for his role in that film, edging out Liam Neeson as well as Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. Another memorable film that came out this year (and especially meaningful for me since I have a sister with mental retardation) is “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” with one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performances earning him the film’s only nomination (at only 19 years old!).


It’s wrong to say I have a “favorite” scene in a movie about the Holocaust, so I’ve renamed this section.

One of the most powerful scenes for me was the very very end. I was crying so hard I could barely see the screen. The camera (in full color now) focuses on Schindler’s grave and slowly pans out to show a moving line of people coming to pay their respects by placing a rock on his gravestone. These people are known as the “Schindler Jews”- those whose generations were saved by this man simply marking their name down on a piece of paper. It wasn’t until about halfway through the line, when I started recognizing actors, that I realized each survivor (or descendant) was being escorted to the grave by the actor who portrayed them in the film. It was incredibly moving and respectful and an appropriate ending to the film.

Spielberg paid homage to the millions of victims of this atrocity by making a movie in their honor… the least we can do is watch it.


Truly, one man can make a difference.

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