THE Best Picture: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

By Christian DiMartino

So, I actually just wrote about The Silence of the Lambs back in February, to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary. Chances are, if you cared to read it, you know my opinion: I love it, and it’s amazing. So why did I bother to write about it, oh so soon, for my “THE Best Picture segment?” Well, I have a reason, and the reason is because its road to victory was such a pleasantly surprising one. The kind of underdog story you don’t hear of often, and never mind all that sports crap: this is the real deal (sort of).

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991. This isn’t just interesting because a film this dark and deeply disturbing was released on Valentine’s Day, but also, it’s interesting because typically February is so early in the year that Oscar voters tend to forget a movie. Nowadays, it’s becoming a little more popular, with movies like Black Panther and Get Out being released in February and gaining love. But often, Oscar season is in full swing from the month’s of September-December, and if something is released in January, it’s because it’s a December leftover.

So yes, a February release in 1991 getting Oscar attention is hard to come by, especially in a film year that featured Thelma & Louise, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Boyz in the Hood, JFK, Beauty and the Beast, Avalon, and so on. Yet in the end, The Silence of the Lambs was nominated for Best Picture, along with the aforementioned Beauty and the Beast, JFK, The Prince of Tides, and Barry Levinson’s Bugsy.

Many Oscars races are forecasted by their precursor awards, such as the Golden Globes, the BAFTA’s, and the SAG’s (the latter wasn’t an award until the mid-90’s). From this, well, The Silence of the Lambs did well in terms of nominations, but not so much in terms of wins. Jodie Foster won Best Actress- Drama for her all-time great performance as Clarice Starling. As for everything else, well, Best Picture-Drama went to Bugsy, Best Director went to Oliver Stone for JFK, Best Actor- Drama went to Nick Nolte for The Prince of Tides, and Best Screenplay (a combination of Original and Adapted) went to Thelma & Louise.

Things picked up a little more with the BAFTA’s, with both Foster and Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor and Actress, yet nobody really could’ve expected what was to come. That being, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award, which went to Demme. This award, very rarely, has failed to match up with the Oscars. Mind you, it JUST missed last year, with Bong Joon-Ho winning Best Director for Parasite over Sam Mendes for 1917. Before that, you have to go back to Ben Affleck’s DGA win for Argo (not even nominated for the Oscar) and before that, Rob Marshall’s DGA win for Chicago in 2002 (which ultimately went to Roman Polanski for The Pianist).

So with the DGA came the last-minute miracle: The Silence of the Lambs, on Oscar night of 1992, became the first film since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the third overall (along with It Happened One Night) to win the “Big Five”: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay (Adapted). How a February movie pulled off such a feat is a miracle, but here’s the thing: it’s one of the times where the Academy truly got it right. To be frank, I don’t understand how the precursor’s got it wrong… like, any of it. I enjoy all of the Best Picture nominees from that year, and some of the films that were in contention- some of those films truly are treasures. Yet Demme’s film is one for the time capsule. A masterpiece that haunts your dreams and disturbs your memories, and yet manages to bring back the fondest of memories. An exceptionally crafted and acted masterpiece that was perhaps a classic as soon as it was released, and especially a classic now.

The Silence of the Lambs: A+

Best Picture

Did Win: The Silence of the Lambs

Should’ve Won: The Silence of the Lambs

Best Director

Did Win: Jonathan Demme- The Silence of the Lambs

Should’ve Won: Demme

Best Actor

Did Win: Anthony Hopkins- The Silence of the Lambs

Should’ve Won: Hopkins

Best Actress

Did Win: Jodie Foster- The Silence of the Lambs

Should’ve Won: Foster

Best Supporting Actor

Did Win: Jack Palance- City Slickers

Should’ve Won: Palance (eh, to hell with it)

Best Supporting Actress

Did Win: Mercedes Reuhl- The Fisher King

Should’ve Won: Reuhl

Best Original Screenplay

Did Win: Thelma & Louise

Should’ve Won: Boyz n the Hood

Best Adapted Screenplay

Did Win: The Silence of the Lambs

Should’ve Won: The Silence of the Lambs

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