Did you see The English Patient? Did you enjoy it? Did you understand it?
Think about the early 1990s and the string of films that won best picture:
69th Annual Academy Awards - The English Patient
68th Annual Academy Awards - Braveheart
67th Annual Academy Awards - Forrest Gump
66th Annual Academy Awards - Schindler's List
65th Annual Academy Awards – Unforgiven
Then think about the films that won best picture that followed:
72nd Annual Academy Awards - American Beauty
71st Annual Academy Awards - Shakespeare in Love
70th Annual Academy Awards - Titanic
It was almost as if Hollywood had said, enough with art. We made The English Patient, and now we’ll give them dog food.
Ann Althouse is right. The English Patient is one of those films you either "get" or you don’t. For those who get “it” each viewing is looking at a different part of the picture, and the picture asks us to look at a different part of ourselves. How selfish are we? How much pain do we unintentionally cause others? If a man sets himself above and apart from the world, what is the cost?
And then the next year, Titanic?
The other film is The Talented Mr. Ripley. Terribly underrated as a movie. Written by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the Hitchcock classic, Strangers On A Train. The Talented Mr. Ripley takes off where Strangers would not go. Again we have a film about identity and even brutal violence. Ripley also captures the gender confusion of the conflict as well, only with less subtlety.
But what made the film great, and here we must credit the director, were the performances. Matt Damon was fearless as Ripley, but Jude Law was absolutely perfect as Dickie Greenleaf. Law is capable of just walking through a movie (see Holiday on DVD yet?) but Minghella drew a performance out of Law that made us envy the carefree character and we, too, wished we could know Dickie. Law makes us understand Ripley’s jealousy.
The director for both of these films, Anthony Minghella, died today from a fatal hemorrhage following surgery. He was 54. From the Associated Press:
The 1996 World War II drama "The English Patient" won nine Academy Awards, including best picture, best director for Minghella and best supporting actress for Juliette Binoche. Based on the celebrated novel by Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje, the movie tells of a burn victim's tortured recollections of his misdeeds in time of war.
In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Minghella said too many modern films let the audience be passive, as if they were saying, "We're going to rock you and thrill you. We'll do everything for you."
"('The English Patient') goes absolutely against that grain," he said. "It says, `I'm sorry, but you're going to have to make some connections. There are some puzzles here. The story will constantly rethread itself and it will be elliptical, but there are enormous rewards in that.'"
Minghella (pronounced min-GELL'-ah) also was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay for the movie and for his screenplay for "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
His 2003 "Cold Mountain," based on Charles Frazier's novel about the U.S. Civil War, earned a best supporting actress Oscar for Renee Zellweger.
The 1999 "The Talented Mr. Ripley," starring Matt Damon as a murderous social climber, was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. It earned five Oscar nominations.
What could an experienced Minghella hand have accomplished?