***AFI WEEKEND*** #89. The Sixth Sense (1999)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

“She wanted me to tell you she saw you dance. She said, when you were little, you and her had a fight, right before your dance recital. You thought she didn’t come see you dance. She did.”

I was trying to think of another director in my movie watching lifetime who has had a critical, box office hit, that also completely defined their career, all in their first movie, like M Night Shyamalan. Sure, Tarantino has gone on to be more famous, more successful and make better movies, but as much as I love Reservoir Dogs, it was his second feature, Pulp Fiction, that was the critical, box office hit, that also completely defined his career. All that was to make a point about how amazing Shyamaln’s debut, The Sixth Sense, was in the impact it had the movie world and pop culture. But it turns out, The Sixth Sense wasn’t Shyamalan’s debut.

Before he made The Sixth Sense, he made two other movies that I am sure no one reading this has ever heard of. I think that’s even more proof of how big the impact of The Sixth Sense was. Usually, when some director appears on the scene with their first big hit, whatever they did previously at least gets some retroactive attention. But The Sixth Sense is such a landmark, watershed film, it’s like what came before was completely lost in its wake.

Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a child psychologist so good, he’s at home with his wife (Olivia Williams as Anna) celebrating after being given an award from the city of Philadelphia. But he’s not so good that a former patient hasn’t broken into their house, who then proceeds to shoot him. Sometime later and seemingly recovered, Malcolm begins working with nine year old Cole (Haley Joel Osment). Living with his single mother (Toni Collette as Lynn), Cole is an outcast at school and obviously troubled.

At first reluctant to open up to Malcolm, Cole eventually gives in and shares the reason for his closed off behavior, he sees dead people. At first, Malcolm obviously thinks Cole is delusional, but slowly, the evidence mounts up. That, combined with the guilt over his ex patient who shot him in the opening scene, and Malcolm becomes more and more determined to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to Cole.

The Sixth Sense gained its mammoth notoriety via two things; It’s twist ending and its uncovering of Haley Joel Osment, the eleven year old who gave one of the best performances of the year.

First, the twist. I know I’ve seen bits and pieces of this movie over the years, but I don’t think I’d ever watched the movie from beginning to end until now. I do know that I’ve been aware of the twist since the night Nathan Lane spoiled it with a pretty funny sketch in Letterman back when The Sixth Sense was still playing in cinemas. I’m of the opinion that if a movie is only as good as its twist, it’s probably not a very good movie. It needs to have more going for it than just that. And The Sixth Sense does. As a horror movie, it has plenty of great scares that work whether you know about the ultimate reveal or not. As a relationship drama, it has amazing and heartbreaking performances from Willis, Collette, and yes, Osment.

In a story about adult loves and regret, surrounded by a seasoned pro like Collette and a bona fide movie star in Willis, Haley Joel Osment blows them, and everyone else, off the screen. He didn’t get to age gracefully from child phenom into adult actor, but The Sixth Sense was a massive hit then, and a pretty enduring one now, all because of Osment and his performance as the kid who saw dead people.

The Sixth Sense
Directed By – M. Night Shyamalan
Written By – M. Night Shyamalan

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to American Beauty)
Best Director (nominated, lost to Sam Mendes for American Beauty)
Best Editing (nominated, lost to The Matrix)
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to American Beauty)
Best Supporting Actor (Osment nominated, lost to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules)
Best Supporting Actress (Collette nominated, lost to Angelina Jolie for Girl Interrupted)

6 thoughts on “***AFI WEEKEND*** #89. The Sixth Sense (1999)

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