Forrest Gump: Best Picture, 1994

forrestgumpposter.jpgThe 67th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by David Letterman. Forrest Gump, definitely the star of the evening, received an incredible 13 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Supporting Actor (Gary Sinise), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup (I suppose it would have been easier to list the awards it wasn’t up for). Despite some minor overlap from great movies like Ed Wood and The Madness of King George, the other serious contenders were The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction, which covered 9 of the same nominations between them, including Best Picture.

Gump lost Best Supporting Actor to Martin Landau’s brilliant portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, which also won Best Makeup, Best Cinematography went to Legends of the Fall, Best Art Direction to The Madness of King George, Best Sound and Sound Effects to Speed, and The Lion King took Best Original Score. Forrest Gump was left with the remaining 6, while Pulp Fiction won only Best Original Screenplay and The Shawshank Redemption won nothing (more on that later).

Forrest Gump is the story of the life of its title character (played by Tom Hanks), a mentally-handicapped man who coasts through life on his mother’s (Sally Fields) homespun philosophy (“Life is like a box of chocolates,” “Stupid is as stupid does,” etc.). Along the way he manages to blunder his way into or through nearly every major event in American history and popular culture, from forced integration to Vietnam to Watergate, meeting with presidents and hobnobbing with Elvis and Lennon. The gag, of course, is that he never realizes the significance of his interactions. He only cares about a few meaningful people: his mother, his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright Penn), and Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise).

Tom Hanks is amazing. Tom Hanks is always amazing. He has deserved an acting nomination almost every year for at least the past 15, and he certainly deserved his win for Gump. Sinise, as the nomination indicates is excellent as well. I would also have nominated Robin Wright for her performance as Jenny, which is a complex and difficult role handled with sympathy and dignity. Forrest Gump has no shortage of quality acting.

And then there is the novelty of new technology which allowed the filmmakers to insert their character into scenes with dead presidents and other such archived footage. A cute trick, to be sure, and used to reasonably good effect. And yet, I was surprised, while watching, at how poorly dubbed the insertions are. The visual matching is all but flawless, and Hanks certainly appears to be in the scene, but when the others talk the movements of their lips bear no resemblance to the sounds coming out. Surely, in a movie which was nominated for Best Sound, this is unforgivable.

It also accentuates all the more that what we are seeing is really just a shallow illusion. Forrest Gump is an easy film to appreciate on several levels and from almost any angle, but this is only so because it has nothing of real substance to say. Viewers can see anything they want to see, and will get out exactly what they put in. I believe that the ultimate success of the movie lies in its pedestrian nature. This movie is shamelessly safe. It’s fun, but it’s fluff.

In contrast, consider the other three Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen:

Quiz Show is certainly not as memorable, but it serves up a fascinating and often quirky look at the value of ethics within the interesting surroundings of the infamous game show scandals of the 1950s. 4 nominations, no wins.

Pulp Fiction is pure poetry, surely among the most stylish films ever made. Its language, violence and drug use can be deeply troubling, certainly, but this is absolutely brilliant, complex storytelling with a redemptive moral of surprising depth and impact. 7 nominations, 1 win.

The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful, moving epic of crime and punishment full of fantastic characters and performances and thrilling twists amidst a memorable, fully-imagined setting. It is truly a great movie. 7 nominations, no wins.

I would submit that any of these candidates were more worthy, meaningful films than Forrest Gump. And I can think of few better examples of the Oscars gone awry than the year that The Shawshank Redemption left empty-handed.

~ by Jared on June 14, 2007.

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