Honor roll: History films

Each of these History films has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

Film:The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields

Roland Joffé

This harrowing but rewarding 1984 drama concerns the real-life relationship between New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), the latter left at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge after Schanberg—who chose to stay after American evacuation but was booted out—failed to get him safe passage. Filmmaker Roland Joffé, previously a documentarist, made his feature debut with this account of Dith’s rocky survival in the ensuing madness of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal campaign. The script of The Killing Fields spends some time with Schanberg’s feelings of guilt after the fact, but most of the movie is a shattering re-creation of hell on Earth. The late Haing S. Ngor—a real-life doctor who had never acted before and who lived through the events depicted by Joffé—is outstanding, and he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Oscars also went to cinematographer Chris Menges and editor Jim Clark. —Tom Keogh

Film:Gandhi

Gandhi

Richard Attenborough

Gandhi is a great subject, but is Gandhi a great film? Undoubtedly it is, not least because it is one of the last old-school epics ever made, a glorious visual treat featuring tens of thousands of extras (real people, not digital effects) and sumptuous Panavision cinematography. But a true epic is about more than just widescreen photography, it concerns itself with noble subjects too, and the life story of Mahatma Gandhi is one of the noblest of all. Both the man and the film have profound things to say about the meaning of freedom and racial harmony, as…

Film:Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire

Hugh Hudson

The come-from-behind winner of the 1981 Oscar for best picture, Chariots of Fire either strikes you as either a cold exercise in mechanical manipulation or as a tale of true determination and inspiration. The heroes are an unlikely pair of young athletes who ran for Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics: devout Protestant Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a divinity student whose running makes him feel closer to God, and Jewish Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a highly competitive Cambridge student who has to surmount the institutional hurdles of class…

Film:The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

Philip Kaufman

Philip Kaufman’s intimate epic about the Mercury astronauts (based on Tom Wolfe’s book) was one of the most ambitious and spectacularly exciting movies of the 1980s. It surprised almost everybody by not becoming a smash hit. By all rights, the film should have been every bit the success that Apollo 13 would later become; The Right Stuff is not only just as thrilling, but it is also a bigger and better movie. Combining history (both established and revisionist), grand mythmaking (and myth puncturing), adventure, melodrama, behind-the-scenes…

Film:Kagemusha

Kagemusha: (The Shadow Warrior)

Akira Kurosawa

In his late color masterpiece Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) director Akira Kurosawa returned to the samurai film and to a primary theme of his celebrated career—the play between illusion and reality. Sumptuously reconstructing the splendor of feudal Japan and pageantry of war, Kurosawa creates a soaring historical epic that is also a somber meditation on the nature of power. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Kagemusha for the first time in its full-length version.

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