Sunday, January 31, 2010

Top 100 movies of the '90s: #3

3. Schindler's List, 1993
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson

The inclusion of Schindler's List on here is probably the most obvious no-brainer that everyone could see coming. Nobody should be surprised by it being on this list, or even being in the top 5. I doubt anybody is. This is just one of those de facto-type picks. A movie that almost a general consensus can agree on - that this is one of the finest, and one of the most important, movies ever made.

Steven Spielberg's movie of a man's decision to save so many Jews during a time when they're all being exterminated is very emotional, very poignant, and it's a testament to the human spirit. That there is someone out there like Oskar Schindler just proves that there will always be heroes out there in the harshest of times. But, unlike fictional heroes, someone like Oskar Schindler isn't perfect. He probably does not consider himself a hero and some people may look at his story and think that he was just looking out for himself the whole time. That might be true, but if looking out for yourself involves saving a bunch of people from being killed... then that can slide, right?

The movie won seven Oscars, but surprisingly did not win for best actor or supporting actor. It's surprising to me considering how important Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are to this movie. Liam Neeson, of course, plays Oskar Schindler perfectly. He's just a German businessman who is just looking to capitalize on the ongoing war by making army mess kits. He realizes that hiring Jewish workers is cheaper than hiring Poles, so he does so. Thus, both directly and indirectly saving them from being sent to concentration camps.

On the other side, you have the evil Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) who kills Jewish people for fun. Standing on his balcony, aiming his gun at random Jewish people, and shooting them. He is a ruthless, cold-blooded person and shows that just as there can be real heroes out there in the world, there can just as well be ruthless villains. Ralph Fiennes is so good, he's terrifying in this movie.

Technically, Steven Spielberg's film is absolutely a marvel of cinematic artistic achievement. The starkly beautiful black-and-white cinematography gives this film a type of documentary-like authenticity that it definitely needs. Spielberg pulls all the right punches with this movie and once again proves that he is a man that knows how to make both entertaining films and important films. And he can make them good, or in this case, great.

Terry Gilliam once quoted Stanley Kubrick in saying that Schindler's List is about success and the holocaust is about failure. I don't think Kubrick was saying that disparagingly, but I think Gilliam was. And while Terry Gilliam is definitely a proven cinematic master, what he may have failed to realize when he said that is... the Holocaust isn't a movie. The events of the Holocaust, alone, do not and should not, warrant a movie alone. People already know that what happened during the Holocaust was deplorable. In such tragedy, I feel, people need to know that there are bright spots somewhere. Obviously, Spielberg isn't saying what Oskar Schindler did makes up for another six million Jews being slaughtered. In fact, Schindler is beside himself at the end, bemoaning the fact that he wasn't able to help more Jews. But he did the best that he could. To me, Schindler's List is more than about success, it's just a tiny layer of hope that is caught in the middle of despair. Sometimes that tiny layer of hope is the only thing that people need in order to get by.

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