THE Best Picture: Forrest Gump (1994)

By Christian DiMartino

Alright, so for the next month or so, on every Saturday and Sunday until Oscar Sunday (April 25th), I’m going to discuss random movies that happened to nab the Best Picture Oscar, and I’ll dive into whether or not these movies were actually worthy/ what their competition looked like. Some of these choices were right on the money… others raised a few eyebrows. In any case, I thought this would be a little fun and a nice little stroll down memory lane… or, well, I’d have fun.

When talking about Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump from an Oscar standpoint, it seems as if people can’t make heads or tails of it. In other words, not everyone can see eye to eye. The film has its share of admirers, and is quoted on the daily. Yet the film also has its haters- some find it too saccharine, though if I was placing money on it, I think those people only don’t like it because it won Best Picture. Where do I stand? I love Forrest Gump. It’s wonderful, it’s charming, it’s funny, it’s moving. It’s great entertainment, and it’s a classic for a reason. In another year, this would’ve been the Best Picture. In 1994, well, I have to say otherwise.

Great of a movie as Forrest Gump may be, it shouldn’t have won Best Picture. Yet, sometimes when talking about a Best Picture winner, you have to stop and wonder: who the hell is still watching that? Dances with Wolves, for example. A very good movie, but who is still watching that? Martin Scorsese’s less Oscar-baity but brilliant Goodfellas, on the other hand, is still being watched. Forrest Gump is one that is also still being watched. I think some years, it just depends on the mood of the Oscar voters. Or really, it just depends on the viewers preference. There isn’t much wrong with Forrest Gump, and if anything, the main reason why people knock it is because it won Best Picture over two of the greatest movies ever made (more on that later). It was a tough vote, people.

Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Oscar here as Forrest Gump (he won the previous year for Philadelphia), and again, what a tough vote. He beat out the likes of Morgan Freeman for The Shawshank Redemption, John Travolta for Pulp Fiction, Nigel Hawthorne for The Madness of King George, and Paul Newman for Nobody’s Fool– all great performances. Yet there was no way Hanks could lose. He very much is this movie; part of the reason why Tom Hanks is such a treasure is because of this movie. Zemeckis’ film is a dazzling spectacle, if you really think about it, telling a huge, ambitious story over the span of many years… and yet the film never loses sight of Hanks because he is the heart of the film. He is part of the film’s magic.

Hanks is Gump, who is not a smart man, but he does know what love is (see? Quotable). Forrest Gump follows Gump, a small-minded (he has an IQ of 75) but caring and loving fella as he stumbles from historical event to historical event, from the presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, to the Vietnam War, to Watergate. Through and through though is the story of Forrest and how he reacts to all of these things. Not only that, the friendships and relationships he forms along the way. There is Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) who he befriends in ‘Nam. Then there’s his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright), who he adores despite her flaws, and she adores him despite her flaws.

I feel like Forrest Gump is one of those movies where any time it’s on TV, you kind of have to stop what you’re doing and watch a little bit. At least a little bit. Yet that’s just it: no matter what sequence you stumble into, you won’t feel very lost, and you’ll enjoy the ride anyways (well, some of us). I don’t think I’d seen Forrest Gump in its entirety until about ten years ago, and I didn’t mind, because I got a full sense of what it was I was watching, and I enjoyed myself anyways.

The film is, essentially, Zemeckis at the peak of his powers. He started out doing comedies (Used Cars), then branched out to high concept comedies (Romancing the Stone) then moved onto higher concept comedies (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Forrest Gump seemed like the next logical step, and it’s a wonder to behold. The film’s visual effects are honestly so good, you won’t even realize they’re visual effects. Not only that, he has a pretty large story, and he tells it beautifully. I’m glad he has an Oscar. Having Hanks do the heavy-lifting doesn’t hurt either (Sinise and Wright are also pretty underrated here).

Personally, Forrest Gump’s Best Picture win doesn’t bother me, because at least they picked a great movie. It just wasn’t the greatest movie. What are these two movies I keep yacking about? Well, they were mentioned above: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. Pulp Fiction has one of the funniest, boldest, greatest screenplays ever written (at least they had the decency to give it Best Original Screenplay). Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption didn’t win a single award, and wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, but I kind of excuse this one because people didn’t quite realize how great it was yet. For whatever reason, it took a few years.

Forrest Gump also beat Robert Redford’s overlooked Quiz Show, and Mike Newell’s Four Weddings in a Funeral, which if you know me, I’m a big Hugh Grant fangirl, but with two Oscar nominations total, that movie didn’t stand a chance in hell (it also took the spot that belonged to Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway). So on this particular occasion, the Academy happened to pick the third best film, in my opinion. That being said, some might say it was the Best Picture. That’s the beauty of movies- they’re all subjective. Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong, and even though it wasn’t quite THE best of these pictures, I still don’t think they necessarily made the wrong choice. Have a heart, it’s Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump: A+

Best Picture

Did Win: Forrest Gump

Should’ve Won: Pulp Fiction

Best Director

Did Win: Robert Zemeckis- Forrest Gump

Should’ve Won: Quentin Tarantino- Pulp Fiction

Best Actor

Did Win: Tom Hanks- Forrest Gump

Should’ve Won: Hanks

Best Actress

Did Win: Jessica Lange- Blue Sky

Should’ve Won: Lange or Jodie Foster- Nell (Oscar bait? Yeah, but I took it)

Best Supporting Actor

Did Win: Martin Landau- Ed Wood

Should’ve Won: Landau (but Samuel L. Jackson, Chazz Palminteri and Sinise are aces)

Best Supporting Actress

Did Win: Dianne Wiest- Bullets Over Broadway

Should’ve Won: Wiest

Best Original Screenplay

Did Win: Pulp Fiction

Should’ve Won: Pulp Fiction

Best Adapted Screenplay

Did Win: Forrest Gump

Should’ve Won: The Shawshank Redemption

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