The Silence of the Lambs: Best Picture, 1991

silenceofthelambsposter.jpgThe 64th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by Billy Crystal. The Silence of the Lambs was nominated for 7 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Sound. In the Best Picture category it bested Oliver Stone’s conspiracy-minded JFK, Warren Beatty gangster movie Bugsy, Barbra Streisand’s drama-laden The Prince of Tides and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (the first and only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture).

Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter won over Robin Williams’ performance in The Fisher King and Robert De Niro in Cape Fear. Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling beat both Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) for her award. Jonathan Demme took Best Director from Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise) and Oliver Stone. The Silence of the Lambs also won Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost Best Editing to JFK and Best Sound to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The five awards it did take, however, (picture, director, screenplay, actor, actress) constitute an Oscar “grand slam,” making Silence the third of three films to achieve this tour de force. (The other two are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Interestingly, Silence was originally slated for release during the fall of 1990, but it was pushed back until January of the following year so that Orion, the distribution company, could focus more attention on promoting Dances With Wolves for Oscar consideration (it went on to win Best Picture). Orion was in deep financial trouble at the time (in fact, it almost passed on Silence), and declared bankruptcy the following year (it was eventually bought by MGM in 1997). Despite being bankrupt, however, Orion still managed to dredge up $200,000 for the Silence Oscar campaign.

In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling is called upon by her mentor Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to approach imprisoned mass-murderer and former psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Crawford hopes that Lecter will help them profile and capture another serial killer, “Buffalo Bill,” who has been kidnapping and killing young women. Lecter and Clarice soon develop a vaguely creepy teacher-pupil relationship even as Clarice struggles to establish herself as a competent female investigator in a masculine profession. Gender issues continue to take centerstage when it becomes apparent that Buffalo Bill is not simply killing his victims, he is removing portions of their skin in order to construct a “woman suit.”

The Silence of the Lambs popularized a now well-established breed of forensic thrillers, combining accurate depictions of modern police investigation techniques and titillating close-encounters with deranged criminals. Aside from spawning multiple sequels and prequels of its own, the success of Silence may well have paved the way for the later success of movies like Se7en as well as the multitude of CSI spin-offs and wannabes that clog prime time television today. The film has a very grainy, low-budget, made-for-TV feel beginning right at the opening credits, but the script is smart and suspenseful and very straightforward by more recent thriller standards. Hopkin’s chilling but sophisticated Dr. Hannibal Lecter is nothing short of legendary, a pop culture icon recently voted the #1 film villain of all time by the AFI.

Interestingly, The Silence of the Lambs is, to date, the only “horror” film to receive Best Picture, and it was nominated against Beauty and the Beast, the only animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. (Although, come to that, nothing G-rated has won Best Picture since the late ’60s.) All that to say, if there was another production that year that deserved Best Picture, I’d say Beauty and the Beast is it. Perhaps the best film produced during Disney’s quality revival of the early ’90s, it was the first Disney cartoon to enter the National Film Registry since Fantasia in 1940. It may be the best shot any animated movie ever has at a Best Picture Oscar.

~ by Jared on August 16, 2007.

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