“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.
“I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it.”
Whenever I see list of greatest movies of all time, or greatest albums, or greatest anything, I’m always suspect of the quality of that list if I see too many recent releases on there. When it comes to making the list of the greatest whatever, I think things shouldn’t even be eligible until their 20 years old. 10 at the very least. Not because I think older things are better by definition, but because I think we need a little time for these things to settle, to gain enough context and perspective to see how this latest thing really fits in with everything that came before it.
When The Dark Knight came out in 2008, it skyrocketed to number one on the IMDB top 250. It has since slipped to number four and I assume it will slowly but surely slide down to where it belongs over time. When I looked at the AFI Top 100 that I’ve been using for this countdown throughout 2015, with only one of its top 10 made in the last quarter of a century, it immediately had a little more credibility with me. And when the single movie made in the last 25 years is something as phenomenal as Schindler’s List, that credibility is pretty hard to question.
At the height of World War II, Nazi party member an industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) moves to Krakow for a little of the ol’ war profiteering. With the Polish Jews on offer as slave labour, he opens a factory manufacturing enamelware. His first hire is Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). While Schindler lives the life of a playboy, he leaves the day to day operations to Stern. Taking advantage of Oskar’s hands off approach, Stern employs as many Jews as possible, to stop them from being sent to concentration camps. Schindler is happy to turn a blind eye to Stern’s efforts, as long as his factory makes money.
Things get a little more complicated when SS Lieutenant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) arrives to oversee the construction of a concentration camp in Krakow. Ruthless to the point of psychotic, Goeth is the kind of guy who sits on his balcony, overseeing his prisoners building their own prison, while taking pot shots at them with his rifle. It’s Goeth’s arrival that opens Schindler’s eyes to the real evils of the Nazi party, and he begins to see the persecuted Jews as more than just a slave labour means to his financial ends. Soon, he’s helping Stern invent more and more reasons to hire more and more Jews.
On paper, this looks like the most obvious, blatant and nausea inducing Oscar bait ever committed to film. But in execution, Schindler’s List is nothing short of a masterpiece. And it earned Steven Spielberg his first Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture. Before watching it for this review, I’d only seen Schindler’s List once, over a decade ago. And I couldn’t believe how much of it was still so vivid in my memory. This is a movie that sticks with you, that makes you remember terrible things, but also makes you know they need to be remembered.
I’m not the biggest Spielberg fan in the world, but if anyone ever wanted to accuse him of being a mainstream hack who only makes big, dump popcorn movies, I’d point them to Schindler’s List, then kindly ask them to go fuck themselves. This is serious, high end, prestige film making. And it delivers its punches to the gut so heavily an effectively, that it really is impossible to question Spielberg’s legitimacy as a serious, high end, prestige film maker, based on this movie alone.
Best Director – Spielberg
Best Actor (Neeson nominated, lost to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia)
Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes nominated, lost to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive)
Best Adapted Screenplay