Winner of six Oscars, including best picture, actor and director, this comedy drama was a box-office blockbuster in America, though its simple-minded patriotism was greeted with a certain cynicism in Europe. Gump, played by Tom Hanks, is a chump: a semi-literate everyman who drifts through recent American history (Vietnam, the civil rights movement, assassinations, Watergate) and emerges triumphant. He’s an athlete, war hero and hokey southern savant, a one-man palliative for a nation’s political and moral bankruptcy. His personal credo is “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get”, and that’s as profound as the movie gets. But Hanks’s performance is truly remarkable and, this being a Robert Zemeckis film, the effects are stunning: Gump meeting people such as JFK and Nixon is amazingly believable, and Gary Sinise as an amputee combines brilliant acting with state-of-the-art technology. One can sneer at it, but one can’t ignore it.
This bewitchingly oddball “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale from director Tim Burton is a superlative masterpiece and one of the best fantasy films ever made. Its haunting power, exquisite charm and dark romance are a match for the spellbinding work of Hans Christian Andersen, while Johnny Depp’s sensitive performance as scientist Vincent Price’s “Punkenstein” creation is a revelation. Humanoid Edward’s inability to touch the things he loves because of his razor-sharp fingers makes for potent symbolism of the highest mythic order. The finale packs an unforgettable emotional wallop, assisted by Danny Elfman’s gloriously magical score.
Acclaimed by critics and film-makers alike, Citizen Kane has topped Sight and Sound’s decennial “all-time top ten” since 1962 (and was only toppled in 2012 by Hitchcock’s Vertigo). Not bad for the feature film debut of 25-year-old Orson Welles, whose experience up to that point lay in theatre and radio (most of the actors in Kane were colleagues from his Mercury Theatre company), and who claimed his sole preparation was to watch John Ford’s Stagecoach 40 times. In fact, Welles considered a movie studio (his contract at the time was with RKO) to be the biggest train set a boy ever had. Unhindered by preconceptions, he proceeded to experiment with sound, camera angles and movement, and deep focus in a way few had even conceived of. Aided by cinematographer Gregg Toland, he brought visual drama to every shot, brilliantly disguising the picture’s shoestring budget (it required a record 116 sets). In addition, Welles turned in a magnificent performance as Charles Foster Kane, the press baron whose torrid life was so similar to that of real-life press baron William Randolph Hearst that the latter broke the film at the box office through negative publicity. Utterly unmissable.