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The Silence of the Lambs

Next on our tour of Oscar winners is 1991's big champion, The Silence of the Lambs. Don't be shocked, it really did win. Even when it was made it was a surprise winner. Not many people would have put their money on a thriller sequel to Manhunter, a 1986 movie that grossed $8 million on a $15 million budget. About everything in this movie is shocking, right from the start. I mean the absolute start, the part where they show the Orion logo. This movie was released less than a year before Orion declared bankruptcy and they nearly didn't have enough money to make this one. In fact, the money troubles at the studio helped out in the end. The Silence of the Lambs was initially slated for release in December 1990, but the studio wanted to spend what little money they had on the Oscar push for Dances with Wolves, so they moved the release back a month. In the end, the two movies didn't have to vie for Oscar attention, and as a result both ended up winning the big prize. Not that it mattered for Orion, since they filed for chapter 11 by the end of the year anyway. The other odd thing is how much people mis-remember things. Dr. Lecter is considered one of the great villains in movie history. Guess what, he isn't the villain. Buffalo Bill played by Ted Levine is the serial killer the FBI is trying to catch throughout the whole thing. Lecter is just the captured serial killer who used to be a psychologist who plays mind games with the FBI trainee. And in fact Buffalo Bill is a hell of a lot creepier than Lecter. Sure Lecter eats a census taker's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti, but Buffalo Bill inspired one of the more memorable South Park lines with "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." The mind games between Clarice and Lecter are well played, with great acting from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. It's a bit of a stretch to think an FBI trainee would get so much leeway, and be able to conduct one-on-one interviews with a serial killer, but it wouldn't have been much of a movie if it centered around mind games between Hannibal Lecter and Jack Crawford, the FBI instructor played by Scott Glenn, who is distinguishable from any other character Scott Glenn has ever played only by his hairstyle, which requires about a gallon of gel. Of course John Hinckley would tell you anything if you sent Jodie Foster to talk to him, so you never know. (and yes, this is a movie that involves Jodie Foster and a couple psychopaths, so I couldn't not make a John Hinckley reference.) Now not everything here makes total sense. Buffalo Bill imports moths from Asia and sticks them in the throats of his victims, but no one happens to notice this until Clarice finds one on the third victim, and it is never explained why he does this. And then we have Dr. Lecter's escape. He kills two guards, switches clothing with one of them, cuts off that guard's face, throws the rest of his body on top of an elevator, all before anyone else notices something is wrong. The man works fast. That's a bit too fast for me to believe it. The Academy voters made the right choice, but then, it was a very easy choice. The other nominees that year were Prince of Tides, JFK, Beauty and the Beast, and Bugsy. Rarely have I seen such an uninspiring group of nominees. Outside of Boyz n the Hood, Backdraft, Terminator 2, and Barton Fink, none of which I really like all that much, you don't even have a good list of movies not nominated. The Silence of the Lambs became the third movie after It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to win the Oscar grand slam, best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay. Jonathan Demme did a wonderful job directing, and it is unfortunate that the only notable movie of his career since has been Philadelphia. Writer Ted Tally has an even less impressive resume. Hopkins and Foster have had remarkable careers, and this is the movie that both can be very proud of. The Silence of the Lambs won five Oscars total, and deserved every one.

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