Friday, August 20, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #3

3. Schindler's List (1993)

Is there anything I can say about this movie that people don't already know? Steven Spielberg's masterful Holocaust drama is widely considered to be the single greatest film of (at least) the last 30 years. Now, there are two questions people might ask when they see this film appear on a list such as this (a list of favorite films of all-time) and I would like to address both of them. Number 1: Why is this dark and (at times) disturbing film on a list of favorites? Yes, the subject matter of this movie is not the happiest of stories. It certainly does seem out of place alongside the lighthearted Disney movies and snappy musicals that dominate the rest of this list. But despite that, it really IS one the greatest pieces of cinema in my lifetime and therefore certainly belongs on anyone's list. Number 2: If it is so great, why is it only #3 and not #1? I will definitely admit that were this just a list of the greatest films of all-time (not including personal biases and such), this movie would most assuredly take the top spot. But, seeing as how this is my personal list, there is one genre that just tops anything in my mind: musicals (for those who know me, this is not a surprise). The two movies that rank higher than this one are the best of that genre, so Spielberg's brilliant picture has to settle for the Best Drama Film on the list (not a bad title to hold in and of itself).

The main point of any piece of Holocaust literature, media or documentation is one major rule: "Never to Forget." That was the key for Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor because of the efforts of one man, Oskar Schindler. Schindler, a Nazi party member through the monetary success of his metal factory, was able to save over 1,200 Jews from execution by the Nazis in the concentration camps within Poland and Germany. Pfefferberg devoted the rest of his life in America to bringing Schindler's story to cinematic life. After years of disappointment, Pfefferberg met author Thomas Keneally who, fascinated by the Schindler story, turned it into a successful (and award-winning) biographical novel in 1982. With the novel bringing the story to the foreground, Pfefferberg was able to gain interest from Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, who was unsure of his directorial prowess in the mid-1980's (for some reason!), tried for a couple years to get another director to film the novel (his talks with Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorcese were each unsuccessful). In the early 1990's, Spielberg (finally willing to take the project on) agreed to first direct #89: Jurassic Park for Universal Pictures if they would produce this daunting piece. Pfefferberg's dream was finally being realized (and there was more to come!).

As stated above, what can I say about this amazing film? Spielberg's direction is so iconic and filled with so many unforegettable moments and images (just look at the trailer above!). The cinematography (by photography master Janusz Kaminski) is a chilling black and white (with few hints of color) and there is the hauntingly gorgeous score by John Williams (complete with violin solos by the legendary Itzhak Perlman). The cast is absolutely first rate. Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler with such dramatic power and charm. He goes from amoral Nazi businessman to caring Holocaust hero over the course of the film with such emotional resonance (just watch his final scene when he says goodbye to his workers!). Ben Kingsley is a highlight as Itzhak Stern, the Jewish accountant who assists Schindler in his crusade ("The list is life."). And the phenomenal performance of Ralph Fiennes as the cruel and monstrous Amon Göth, the Nazi commandant of the concentration camp where Schindler's workers are forced to live, is so frightening and fitting for the feeling of the picture. The movie is a powerful piece of American cinema that (of course!) won 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, finally gaining award recognition for Spielberg whose usual "popcorn fare" had been dismissed by prestigious awards in the past.

Next Post: #2

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