LIFE WITHOUT OSCAR: 1993 and 1994

Posted by · 4:52 pm · November 23rd, 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

1993 was the year I first became interested in making movies and tracking box office. There are two words responsible for both and they rhyme with Yourassic Lark. The director of that beast would also helm our Best Picture winner that year, finally earning the Academy’s respect. I’m talking about Steven Spielberg and “Schindler’s List” of course, but if you ask me, “Jurassic Park” is the better film.

Tom Hanks won Best Actor in both 1993 and 1994, becoming the first person since Spencer Tracy to take the prize two years in a row. I’d begrudge him the honor, but he’s just so darn likable. Honestly though, Denzel Washington should have gotten some love for “Philadelphia” too. This win marks the only time an acceptance speech was adapted into a movie (“In & Out”).

1993 is also personally notable as the first time I had seen one of the Best Picture nominees by the time of the ceremony (“The Fugitive”).

1994 was easily won by “Forrest Gump,” despite the presence of what IMDb users consider the greatest movie of all-time being in the mix. Really, IMDb users? “The Shawhsank Redemption?” It was also David Letterman’s one and only shot at hosting, which has been much-maligned but remains one of my favorite turns at the gig. Infinitely better than Whoopi Goldberg in 1993.

Uma. Oprah.

1993 – “Naked” (Mike Leigh)

The Academy was still a few years away from embracing Mike Leigh when he dropped this bomb on us. A two hour plus journey through the darkest alleyways of London with a lead character that’s either manic, socially retarded, annoying, intelligent, misunderstood or all of the above, depending on how you look at it. Needless to say, it’s a role of a lifetime filled in completely by a remarkable David Thewlis.

Imagine the surprise of unsuspecting moviegoers, drawn in by the title and ridiculously misleading sexy poster, only to find Thewlis babbling and bobbling his way through one particular evening. It’s the kind of film that could only work with interesting dialogue, a magnetic leading turn and an assured hand to move things along. “Naked” has all three in spades. Starting with David Thewlis, whose grizzled face and lanky frame are a perfect juxtaposition to his character’s intellectual curiosity and explosive outbursts. His Johnny is constantly thinking, fidgeting, circling an idea in his brain or in his mouth and you truly never know what he’ll say or do next.

The other characters mainly exist as either rubber or brick walls for Johnny to bounce his rhetoric off of, but are all the type of strong performances you expect in a Mike Leigh film. Katrin Cartlidge especially stood out to me as doing much with little, more than holding her own against Thewlis, despite a part that calls for passivity. I can’t say that I didn’t find Greg Crutwell’s skeazeball a bit overcooked, however, and any complaints about the film overall stem from him and Leigh’s depiction of that character.

Technically, the film is a small wonder, from the grimy, shadow-infested cinematography by Dick Pope to the rhythmic editing of Jon Gregory that expertly keeps pace with and maintains the flow of the dialogue. Never more so than in a virtuoso scene that I originally saw out of context in film school before watching the movie as a whole. It involves Johnny following around a late night security guard in an abandoned office building, spewing his theories about Revelations, consumerism and the future in general. The crux of the scene is played out in a wide shot of the two men completely silhouetted in an empty room. Nothing to latch onto visually, it’s the words that take complete command of our attention.

George Clooney uses a similar trick in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and says on the commentary that when you have words strong enough that people want to listen, you can put your camera a mile away from the actors and get away with it. “Naked” has words strong enough to listen to from a mile away and they’ve stuck with me long after Johnny disappeared into the sunrise and the film ended.

1994 – “Chungking Express” (Wong Kar Wai)

The first sentence of the essay by Amy Taubin that accompanies the Criterion DVD of Wong Kar Wai’s breakout film reads, ““Chungking Express” was the “Masculin Féminin” of the 1990s.” What I could try to accomplish in the next few paragraphs has already been said in that statement. Put in another way, this is the work of a filmmaker who is an out and out cinephile, but isn’t afraid to play with the conventions of the medium. Isn’t afraid to have fun.

By all accounts, that’s exactly what Wong Kar Wai was looking to do when making the film. In the editing room of his epic, “Ashes of Time,” he found that his creative juices were evaporated and he couldn’t make sense of the unfolding film in front of him. To clear his mind and regain his focus, he shot “Chungking Express” in 23 days with little to no time for second guessing or anything other than pure instinct. The story of two love-lorn police officers in Hong Kong doesn’t sound like it lends itself to a playful approach, and I don’t mean to imply that Wong Kar Wai doesn’t take these characters or their situations seriously, because he absolutely does. Rather, he chooses to manipulate the surroundings in a way that gives the whole thing a light touch.

American pop music, saturated pastel colors, blurry slow-motion all make the film feel like a fever dream and are, of course, hallmarks of the director’s style. In particular, the way he uses “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and Papas over and over again, to the point where it no longer represents a song on the soundtrack but something unfulfilled in its listener. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is typically luminous and the performances are all outstanding, but what else do you expect from Tony Leung? Has the man ever hit a false note?

The film has a distinct structure, separated into two halves that have conceptually very little to do with each other. Originally meant to have a third act, it was later turned into a feature on its own and became “Fallen Angels.” The dichotomy of the stories invite us to draw our own conclusions about what Wong Kar Wai is really trying to say. Something about the alienation of modern romance in Hong Kong? Something about the isolated nature of police officers? Something about the unifying nature of pineapples in a can and fast food stands? I don’t pretend to know anything other than the joy I feel in watching Wong Kar Wai become an artist who can play so eloquently with the canvas of film.

Those are my picks. What do you guys think?

[Photo: The Guardian]
[Photo: Photobucket]

→ 38 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Life Without Oscar

38 responses so far

  • 1 11-23-2010 at 4:59 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yep, that’s my pick for 1993 too — my favourite Leigh, and Thewlis’s performance surely one of the greatest the Academy never nominated. Well done New York Film Critics and National Society — at least those guys weren’t napping.

    That said, 1993 offers relatively few choices for this exercise, given that the Academy did spectacularly well by their standards that year. Still one of the best Best Picture lineups they ever assembled.

  • 2 11-23-2010 at 5:27 pm

    John said...

    1993–they missed three wonderful movies this year…
    #1–True Romance. Tony Scott should direct another Tarantino script. He finally found a writer whose words are as fast as his style.
    #2–A Perfect World. Kevin’s best performance, one of Clint’s best movies.
    #3–Groundhog Day. The original screenplay category wasn’t exactly overflowing this year. They had room!

    1994–The Ref. Denis Leary’s finds the perfect script, the perfect director, and the perfect acting foils for what he does. And a great Christmas movie to boot (so why they released it in March?)

  • 3 11-23-2010 at 5:38 pm

    Glenn said...

    Considering what you’ve chosen as some of your selections over time I’m surprised you didn’t mention, at least in passing, “Groundhog Day” for 1993. Another one would be “Bad Boy Bubby” (although I am unsure as to whether it was even released in America) and “Much Ado About Nothing”, which is probably Emma Thompson’s finest performance from the year in which she was nominated twice (for two different movies).

    1994 is my favourite year from the ’90s. Some great films that went unnoticed are “Priest”, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, “The Ref”, “Natural Born Killers”, “Shallow Grave”, “Muriel’s Wedding” (although I think that was released in ’95 in USA) and, deemed ineligible but whatever, “The Last Seduction”.

  • 4 11-23-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Andrew R. said...

    1993. Really strong year, I don’t know what I would I would have picked for Best Pic that year between Schindler’s List and The Piano, probably The Piano though if at gunpoint.

    For films without Oscar love, Naked is a great choice, although I’d like to single out Dazed and Confused. It’s drifty, warm feel is precisely the antidote I need when I’m hanging out at home by myself, doing nothing. Is there many movies that remind someone of summer more than this one? I don’t think so.

    1994. I’m so happy you picked Chungking Express, totally would have been one of my picks. Vanya on 42nd Street would be another. A peerless look at minimalist art, and any true fan of Julianne Moore needs to see one of her finest hours here, the beginning of her hot streak throughout the rest of the 90s. DVD is out of print though, so it’s going to be expensive and/or hard to find. So worth it.

  • 5 11-23-2010 at 5:57 pm

    Andrew Rech said...

    The Andrew R above is me, not to cause confusion with the other Andrew R. Am on a different computer and forgot to type my full name. Also! I wanted to mention for 1993 Three Colors: Blue. Completely blanked. Juliette Binoche’s finest performance? Certainly up there.

  • 6 11-23-2010 at 6:02 pm

    Keil Shults said...


    Dazed and Confused


    King of the Hill

    1994 (tie):

    Crumb / Chungking Express

  • 7 11-23-2010 at 6:07 pm

    Rashad said...

    ’93 – Jurassic Park should have been nominated dammit

    ’94 – Pulp Fiction should have won. Fresh is an underrated film too, as is Interview With The Vampire. One of Cruise’s best performance and definitely Oscar worthy.

  • 8 11-23-2010 at 6:10 pm

    Rashad said...

    oh for ’94 True Lies too. Cameron’s best action

  • 9 11-23-2010 at 6:25 pm

    Derek said...

    The Academy showed a rare sign of brain activity in nominating Kieslowski’s Red in a couple of categories in 94′, but that still doesn’t spare them from my wrath. The true best films of these two years are:

    1993: THREE COLOURS: BLUE (Krzystof Kieslowki)
    I chose this film for the reason of wanting to represent Krzystof Kieslowki’s Three Colours Trilogy, which is collectively in my mind the greatest cinematic achievement of the 90’s. This film in particular is something to worship onto it self in it’s exploration of pain and recovery while ultimatley finding the symbolic freedom of the Blue of the title and of the french flag.

    1994: SATANTANGO (Bela Tarr)
    An understandible snub by the academy, seeing that it is a seven hour hungarian black and white film thats well to the hell worth the numb ass. Bela Tarr that most eventful of artsy masters crafts a film of such weight and awe that to go on talking about it in such simple terms seems to be sacrilegious in the name of the Tarr.

  • 10 11-23-2010 at 6:37 pm

    Derek said...

    Oh yeah Chad great picks in pointing out 2 of the greats of there time. I just hope my subconsius allows me to dream of Faye Wong cleaning my room to the tunes of The Mama’s and the Papa’s and the Cranberries, now that’s Hong Kong Dreamin.

  • 11 11-23-2010 at 7:04 pm

    Marcus said...

    . Really, IMDb users? “The Shawhsank Redemption?”

    Yeah really, Chad Hartigan. Shawkshank is number 1 and should be. If it is not number 1 it is/should be close to number.

  • 12 11-23-2010 at 7:37 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    I totally agree with you Chad about Jurassic Park being a superior film to Schindler’s List. I like Schindler’s List, but Jurassic Park is truly a great film. Along with A.I and Catch Me If You Can, Jurassic Park is definitely one of Spielberg’s most critically underrated films.

  • 13 11-23-2010 at 7:58 pm

    James D. said...

    Hard to disagree with your choices, but thinking Jurassic Park is better than Schindler’s List? Maybe I am trapped into the thinking that the subject matter of List is more important, but I can’t see it.

    Schindler’s List was my favorite of 1993, so I can’t fault the Academy, but 1994 is when Bela Tarr’s Satantango came out. What a film.

  • 14 11-23-2010 at 8:23 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Schindler’s and Jurassic are apples and oranges.

    I found both to be phenomenal. But for my tastes, I’d go Jurassic. Was floored by that, and saw it multiple times in the theater.

  • 15 11-23-2010 at 8:25 pm

    Ibad said...

    I love your description of Thewlis’ performance. It’s quite an extraordinary achievement.

  • 16 11-23-2010 at 8:40 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Can’t really argue with Naked and Chungking Express.

  • 17 11-23-2010 at 8:45 pm

    Pete said...

    Let me submit two left field entries for consideration:

    1993 The incadescent Much Ado About Nothing. Branagh created a vibrant, luminous, sensual and enlivening Shakespeare adaptation that delighted the eyes and the mind.

    1994 Nobody’s Fool. One of the gems from the Paul Newman oeuvre that presents true American life in a small town during wintertime. This is certainly Robert Benton’s best film.

  • 18 11-23-2010 at 10:14 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Nothing left field about Much Ado About Nothing. It was very close to being my choice. As for Nobody’s Fool, it got Oscar nominations.

  • 19 11-24-2010 at 1:22 am

    Angry Shark said...

    Am I silly for not wanting to see Schindler’s List? The way people talk about it, it sounds so serious, and reverential, and, well, boring. Also incredibly depressing.

  • 20 11-24-2010 at 2:25 am

    Jeremy said...

    These are the years of John Dahl for me, as I’d probably go with “Red Rock West” for ’93 and definitely choose “The Last Seduction” for ’94. I’d also consider “Tombstone” (surprised no one’s mentioned that one) and “True Romance” for ’93.

    I really need to see “Naked”.

  • 21 11-24-2010 at 5:26 am

    Silencio said...

    “Clever girl…”

  • 22 11-24-2010 at 5:58 am

    Maxim said...

    “But if you ask me”

    I’m not asking. In fact, I am reminded why I stopped reading.

  • 23 11-24-2010 at 7:01 am

    Lance said...

    I see this argument on this site more than any other…”Really?” It’s brief and makes a big impact but I would actually prefer at least a sentence explaining your argument.

  • 24 11-24-2010 at 7:21 am

    JJ1 said...

    “Really?” has become the bane of my existence in social realms. I’m over it.

  • 25 11-24-2010 at 7:52 am

    RJL said...

    1993: Strictly Ballroom (or is it 1992?)
    1994: Shallow Grave

  • 26 11-24-2010 at 9:09 am

    evelyn garver said...

    Scorsese’s AGE OF INNOCENCE was a tad too cool for the Academy, but it holds up beautifully. PHILADELPHIA was a truly mediocre film with two great performances. [neither film made the cut] Film buffs will remember that DDL was offered the Hank’s part and turned it down. He gave two great performances in 93, in the Scorsese film and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER. Jim Sheridan’s film would be my runner-up to SCHINDLER’S LIST. Also, wish we saw more of the great Thewlis.

  • 27 11-24-2010 at 9:36 am

    Jeorge. said...

    Carlito’s Way for 1993.

    Chungking Express all the way for 1994.

  • 28 11-24-2010 at 10:50 am

    Keil Shults said...

    I know Dazed and Confused doesn’t seem like an Oscar-caliber film, and it probably isn’t right for that particular crowd, but it is certainly one of 1993’s few masterpieces. Surprised no one has backed me up on this yet.

    In addition to listing King of the Hill as a runner-up, I wanted to give a shout-out to Searching for Bobby Fischer (but apparently it landed a nomination for Cinematography). Menace II Society was also a pretty good, virtually ignored film of 1993, though I’m not as fond of it now as I was then.

  • 29 11-24-2010 at 11:27 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Jurassic Park is terrible these days. Schindler’s List was fantastic until the “I could’ve done more / saved more” I haven’t seen it in awhile but that was dramatically unnecessary.
    Sigourney Weaver gave the best female performance in a leading role in 1994 for “Death and the Maiden”, she also deserved notice for her supporting work in the comedy “Dave” from ‘93.

  • 30 11-24-2010 at 2:59 pm

    Maxim said...

    By the way, those who liked “Naked” miht want to check out David Mamet’s brutal “Edmond”.

  • 31 11-24-2010 at 3:58 pm

    Scott W. said...

    Shawshank Redemption IS entirely over-rated.

    I’m sure there are a couple films every single year that achieve and/or surpass the magnitude of that movie.

    And all that is without comparing it to the short story, which is in my opinion unarguably better.

  • 32 11-24-2010 at 7:13 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    ’93: Groundhog Day

    ’94: Leon

  • 33 11-24-2010 at 11:33 pm

    Zac said...

    My top 2 movies of all time come out in 1993 and 1994, yet I didn’t see either in their respective calendar years.

    Thanks to seeing it for a high school class, I didn’t see Schindler’s List until Valentine’s Day 1994. I still remember walking into the theater completely unaware of what was to transpire for the next 3 hours. When the credits started rolling, I tried to wipe the tears from my face before the lights came up. I failed. I had to get up with the tears still rolling down my face hoping that no one else saw me. That experience is what changed movies from a escapist pastime to a full-fledged obsession that continues to this day.

    I didn’t see The Shawshank Redemption until it hit video, something I’m sure 99% of it’s ardent admirers did too. Immediately after seeing Shawshank, my friends and I rewound the tape and watched it again, something I had never done before or since.

    All that being said, my picks for 1993 and 1994 Life without Oscar would be Dazed and Confused for 1993 and Clerks for 1994.

    Both movies were introductions for me to two of my favorite directors working today, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith.

    Dazed and Confused introduced a bunch of actors who were small-time then, more famous now. Actors such as Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Cole Hauser, Nicky Katt, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovivh, Joey Lauren Adams, Renee Zellweger and most famous of all, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey.

    The direction is as carefree as the plot and dialogue. It never feels like a movie, but rather a documentary about high school kids.

    As idyllic and carefree Dazed is, Clerks is profane and vulgar and I mean that as a compliment.

    There are few writers today who can insert swear word after swear word into a script and have it not sound gratuitous. Kevin Smith accomplishes this by creating dialogue that is grounded in reality. The dialogue is endlessly quotable, particularly stuff that comes out of Randall’s mouth.

    1993 and 1994 were pretty damn good years and these two movies were near the top of both years.

    Bring on 1995. I’ve got some words about a modern crime classic that was completely overlooked by the Academy.

  • 34 11-26-2010 at 9:55 am

    thespirithunter said...

    Absolutely on board with the Jurassic Park over Schindler’s List. Although both are great films. True Romance, Groundhog Day, Der Bewegte Mann. Although they had the odd nod, Fearless and Bobby Fischer were extraordinary.

    1994 brought Leon, Clerks, The Last Seduction, The Ref, and I love me the guilty pleasure of Maverick and The River Wild

  • 35 11-26-2010 at 10:24 am

    Rashad said...

    Angry Shark

    I was the same way, until I actually saw it. The the movie is light when it needs to be and the pace is great. More entertaining than most would lead you to believe.

    Jurassic Park is terrible these days.

    Complete and utter bullshit. The Cgi and robotics are still fantastic and the entire film is as thrilling as it was back then. I watch every single time it is one the plelthora of HBO channels.

  • 36 11-27-2010 at 6:34 am

    Nick Davis said...

    For 1993, I’d probably side with the person who mentioned King of the Hill above, though I’d also mention the un-nominated but indispensable documentary Silverlake Life and the British beauty The Long Day Closes, released in the U.S. in ’93.

    For 1994, I’m not sure Chungking should count? It didn’t bow in the U.S. till Tarantino convinced the Weinsteins to bring it out in ’96. But I think you’ve explained your criteria in the past. Anyway, I’d show love to Natural Born Killers (at least for Cinematography, my God…), Sundance champ What Happened Was…, and my favorite of the Three Colors trilogy, White.

  • 37 12-19-2013 at 12:16 pm

    Chad said...

    My picks for 1993 and 1994 are:

    Best Picture: Schindler’s List
    Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
    Best Actor: Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List
    Best Supporting Actor: Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List
    Best Actress: Holly Hunter, The Piano
    Best Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin, The Piano
    Best Adapted Screenplay: Schindler’s List – Steven Zaillian
    Best Original Screenplay: The Piano – Jane Campion

    Best Picture: Forrest Gump
    Best Director: Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
    Best Actor: Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
    Best Supporting Actor: Martin Landau, Ed Wood
    Best Actress: Jodie Foster, Nell / Winona Ryder, Little Women (tie)
    Best Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway
    Best Adapted Screenplay: The Shawshank Redemption – Frank Darabont
    Best Original Screenplay: Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary