Honor roll: History films

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

Film:Titanic

Titanic

James Cameron

When the theatrical release of James Cameron’s Titanic was delayed from July to December of 1997, media pundits speculated that Cameron’s $200 million disaster epic would cause the director’s downfall, signal the end of the blockbuster era and sink Paramount Studios as quickly as the ill-fated luxury liner had sunk on that fateful night of April 14, 1912. Some studio executives were confident, others horrified, but the clarity of hindsight turned Cameron into an Oscar-winning genius, a shrewd businessman and one of the most successful directors in the…

Film:L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential

Curtis Hanson

In a time when it seems that every other movie makes some claim to being a film noir, L.A. Confidential is the real thing—a gritty, sordid tale of sex, scandal, betrayal, and corruption of all sorts (police, political, press—and, of course, very personal) in 1940s Hollywood. The Oscar-winning screenplay is actually based on several titles in James Ellroy’s series of chronological thriller novels (including the title volume, The Big Nowhere, and White Jazz)—a compelling blend of L.A. history and pulp fiction that has earned it…

Film:Apollo 13

Apollo 13

Ron Howard

NASA’s worst nightmare turned into one of the space agency’s most heroic moments in 1970, when the Apollo 13 crew was forced to hobble home in a disabled capsule after an explosion seriously damaged the moon-bound spacecraft. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton play (respectively) astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise in director Ron Howard’s intense, painstakingly authentic docudrama. The Apollo 13 crew and Houston-based mission controllers race against time and heavy odds to return the damaged spacecraft safely to Earth from a distance of 205,500 miles. Using state-of-the-art special effects and ingenious filmmaking techniques, Howard and his stellar cast and crew build nail-biting tension while maintaining close fidelity to the facts. The result is a fitting tribute to the Apollo 13 mission and one of the biggest box-office hits of 1995.

Film:JFK

JFK

Oliver Stone

Not a John F Kennedy biopic, but a film of New Orleans’ attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the President’s assassination, JFK is that rarest of things, a modern Hollywood drama which credits the audience with serious intelligence and ultimately proves itself a great film. Oliver Stone’s film has the archetypal story, visual scale and substance to match; not just a gripping real-life conspiracy thriller, but a fable for the fall of the American dream (a theme further explored by the director in Nixon and Any Given Sunday). JFK

Film:Elizabeth

Elizabeth

Shekhar Kapur

One of the big Elizabethan-era films of 1998, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth serves up a brimming goblet of religious tension, political conspiracy, sex, violence, and war. England in 1554 is in financial and religious turmoil as the ailing Queen “Bloody” Mary attempts to restore Catholicism as the national faith. She has no heir, and her greatest fear—that her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth will assume the throne after her death—is realized. Still, the late Queen Mary has her loyalists. The newly crowned Elizabeth finds herself knee-deep in dethroning…

Film:Amistad

Amistad

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s most simplistic, sanitized history lesson, Amistad, explores the symbolic 1840s trials of 53 West Africans following their bloody rebellion aboard a slave ship. For most of Schindler’s List (and, later, Saving Private Ryan) Spielberg restrains himself from the sweeping narrative and technical flourishes that make him one of our most entertaining and manipulative directors. Here, he doesn’t even bother trying, succumbing to his driving need to entertain with beautiful images and contrived emotion. He cheapens his grandiose…

Film:Mrs. Brown

Mrs. Brown

John Madden

A romantic drama in the Masterpiece Theater vein, this John Madden film looks at the relationship between Queen Victoria and John Brown, a commoner who, though a servant, becomes her closest friend and confidant. As such, he proves the catalyst to bring her back into public life and out of her private mourning for the late Prince Albert. But the closeness of their friendship sets tongues wagging about the impropriety of what appears to be an affair between queen and commoner (an issue the film never directly addresses). The film’s charm lies in the flinty…

Film:The Madness of King George

The Madness of King George

Nicholas Hytner

Nicholas Hytner had an international stage phenomenon with Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of King George, starring Nigel Hawthorne as King George III, the British monarch who lost the American colonies. But in this film adaptation, Hytner unfortunately yields to the old temptation to “open up” the piece with lots of arbitrary exteriors, rushed set pieces, choppy editing, and so on, robbing Hawthorne’s acclaimed stage performance of coherency and power on the big screen. Viewers are forced to fill in emotional gaps for themselves (and try to imagine what…

Film:Queen Margot

Queen Margot: (La Reine Margot)

Patrice Chéreau

A classic tale of intrigue and forbidden love, Queen Margot is the powerful hit universally acclaimed by critics! Thrown into a political marriage of convenience by her ruthlessly power-hungry family, the beautiful Margot (Isabelle Adjani—Diabolique) soon finds herself hopelessly drawn into their murderous affairs. It’s then she realizes that her only hope of escape lies somewhere between the heroic soldier who loves her and the enemy husband who could save her! Triumphant winner of 5 Cesar Awards the pretigious Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize—you’re sure to be entertained by this vivid portrayal of passion, revenge, and extraordinary courage!

Film:Glory

Glory

Edward Zwick

One of the very best films about the Civil War, this instant classic from 1989 is also one of the few films to depict the participation of African American soldiers in Civil War combat. Based in part on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, the film also draws from the letters of Robert Gould Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick), the 25-year-old son of Boston abolitionists who volunteered to command the all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Their training and battle experience…

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