Forrest Gump won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1994, and five others: Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. It lost in seven categories, two each to Ed Wood and Speed. The Hugo that year went to the final episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
For once – I think uniquely – I have seen all of the other nominees for Best Picture. They were Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show and The Shawshank Redemption. I have also seen Star Trek: Generations, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, The Madness of King George, the great Macedonian film Before the Rain, Kate Beckinsale’s gorgeous debut Uncovered, and Peter Capaldi’s Oscar-winning Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life. I liked all of these much more than I liked Forrest Gump. IMDB users show a rare unity between the two ranking systems, with both lists putting Forrest Gump third after The Shawshank Redemption in first place and Pulp Fiction in second, followed by Léon: The Professional in fourth and The Lion King in fifth (they diverge after that). Here’s a trailer.
A huge cast, but I spotted only no actors who had been in Doctor Who or previous Oscar winners, and a couple from Hugo winner, one a pretty big one: Robin Wright is the female lead, Jenny Curran, here, and seven years ago had the title role in The Princess Bride.
The other was Brett Rice, here the college football coach, four years ago a reporter in Edward Scissorhands.
I’ll be brief. The film is about Alabama-born Forrest Gump, who has a learning disability but gets into hilarious scrapes including encounters with three American presidents and much of the counter-culture of the 1960s, before getting back together with the girl he has always loved, who promptly dies. The end. Perhaps because of my family situation, I don’t find learning disabilities particularly funny, and perhaps because I am Irish, I don’t like people’s accents being used as markers of their stupidity, as Gump’s deep Southern drawl is here.
The film is not as sound on race as it thinks it is. Sure, Gump’s best friend Bubba is black, and Gump himself plays a sympathetic role in the integration of the University of Alabama. I noticed however that the population of his home town of Greenboro seemed to be entirely white, and Bubba’s family are in another part of the state. I also felt that a false equivalence was being drawn between the excesses of the Left and Right during the 1960s, where my heart is firmly with the former. I also thought the sequence of Gump running across America near the end was pointless and frankly not very good cinema, apart from the excuse to have some nice landscape shots.
Tom Hanks is OK as the lead, but as noted above I did not really appreciate the character. I thought Gary Sinise was very good as his friend Lieutenant Dan Taylor. (The following year, both were in Apollo 13, Hanks the lead again, Sinise as Ken Mattingly who gets bumped off the flight at the last moment.)
Now that I’ve got to Sinise, the one thing about the film which I thought superb: the special effects. Sinise’s character’s legs are amputated; the actor’s legs were not, but were removed from every frame in post-production. 1500 extras were filmed several times over to provide a crowd stretching along the National Mall. Forrest Gump meets three presidents, and John Lennon. I thought this was audacious and successful.
But it did not salvage the rest of the film for me. I’m putting it way down at the bottom of my list, 60th out of the 67 Oscar-winners I have seen so far, just below Patton and just above All The King’s Men.
As usual, I read the original novel as well. It is mercifully short. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
All this was durin the month of August, which in the state of Alabama is somewhat hotter than it is elsewhere. That is to say, that if you put a egg on top of your football helmet it would be fried sunnyside up in about ten seconds. Of course nobody ever try that on account of it might get Coach Bryant angry. That was the one thing nobody wish to do, because life was almost intolerable as it was.
I thought the book even worse than the film (with the exception that the ending is a bit better, Forrest and Jenny don’t actually get back together and he makes his peace with that). A particularly offensive section involves him being recruited for NASA for a space mission with a woman astronaut and an orang-utan; they crash on a tropical island where they are nearly eaten by cannibals. The film made some odd choices but leaving this out is understandable.
Next up is Braveheart, which is the second Oscar-winner to be based on a work of epic poetry.
1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011)