Graeme Robertson on why JFK should have won Best Picture at the 64th Academy Awards…
The Oscars celebrating the best of 1991 was a little more business as usual when compared to the stellar line-up of a year like the 1976 nominations. We had some good films, but not many that would go on to be iconic. The winner for Best Picture at this ceremony was The Silence of the Lambs, a win that I love because it demonstrated that even horror films could be Oscar worthy – and don’t go saying it’s a thriller, it’s a horror film. End of story.
However, while I love The Silence of the Lambs and the actors were more than deserving of their statuettes, I still feel that it wasn’t deserving of the top award.
In my view, the film that deserved the award was Oliver Stone’s controversial political thriller JFK.
JFK follows the story of former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and his investigation into the mystery surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. After speaking to various figures who claim to have been privy to all manner of shadowy meetings, Garrison comes to the conclusion that the President had been killed as part of a grand conspiracy involving military leaders, wealthy businessmen and even the Vice President. Garrison eventually sets his sights on Louisiana businessman Clay Shaw and launches the first and only court case directly prosecuting an individual in connection with the death of the President.
Now let’s get this out of the way early, I don’t buy the theory that Stone tries to promote in this film about the death of President Kennedy. My personal views on the matter are that the president was likely murdered by the mafia due to his efforts to crack down on organised crime, but again we’ll never really know.
Although I don’t believe in the theory that Stone promotes in the film, I can’t deny that it might have you damn near convinced that the death of Kennedy was indeed orchestrated by a mysterious cabal of politicians, right-wing groups and business types.
The editing is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film, with it quickly cutting between the actors, to various pieces of archive footage related to the topic being discussed, before cutting to a reconstruction of, for example, the assassination of Kennedy itself, before cutting back to the original actors.
The opening credits sequence is a masterpiece of editing in its own right, giving us a quick crash course of the Kennedy years beginning with President Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, before culminating on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963, with John Williams ominous Oscar-nominated score building in intensity and malice before the shots are fired.
The reconstruction of events like the assassination itself are truly incredible, with Stone managing to perfectly mix newly shot footage with original archive filmed on the actual day itself, cutting between colour and black and white photography, all the while even managing to squeeze in all the various details that conspiracy theorists love to point out, like the mysterious “man with the umbrella” or the “man on the grassy knolls”.
It’s this fast-paced, rapid-fire precision that makes the film so enjoyable to watch, with the films over 3-hour runtime just racing past, always keeping you on your toes with little to no lull in between.
Kevin Costner gives one of his finest performances as Jim Garrison, a determined man eager to uncover the truth behind what he sees as a sinister conspiracy behind the death of his President. The scenes of Garrison in court are Costner’s finest scenes as he passionately attempts to convince a jury that the accused Clay Shaw is responsible for Kennedy’s murder, with him shedding tears as he does so.
Costner is not the only actor on fine form here, with an all-star cast on hand to provide stellar support; seriously you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t in the film. We have fine turns from *deep breath* Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Candy, Michael Rooker, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon and in a scene stealing cameo Donald Sutherland as the shadowy Mr X who gives one of the biggest dumps of conspiracy babble this side of Alex Jones.
Now it’s easy to bash this film because it does promote a conspiracy theory about one the most horrifying events in American history, and this event has hundreds of conspiracies with conspiracies within them (seriously there are theories that blame the Bush family or aliens for the Kennedy murder because why the hell not).
However, I like to see these theories discussed, especially when they are presented with such vigour and passion as they are here. The assassination of Kennedy, while horrifying, is a truly fascinating topic to examine and the various theories, no matter how plausible or mental, are fascinating to discuss.
This is a film that once it’s over could generate hour’s worth of discussion and debate over its merits and over the validity of its theories.
JFK is Oliver Stone at is crazy conspiracy peddling best and represents the last truly great film that the veteran director has made in my view.
While I love The Silence of the Lambs, in my mind, it is nowhere near as masterful in its execution as JFK which I feel should have been named as the Best Picture of 1991.