When I was ranking these winners, I had some issue deciding where to place ‘Schindler’s List’. The vast majority of these films have some form of enjoyment factor to take into consideration. ‘Schindler’s List’ is not an enjoyable film to watch. It is not a piece of entertainment in the traditional factor. This film is more important than entertaining and therefore in order to place this film I needed to look at how well made I think it is.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it is the tale of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party who owns a factory, and uses this to save the lives of thousands of Jewish people in occupied Poland. The film tackles the individual story of this complex character as well as the legacy of the holocaust.
The film swept many of the categories at the Oscars but did not win any of the acting awards, which I think was a massive mistake. Liam Neeson, as Schindler, lost out to Tom Hanks in ‘Philadelphia’ probably my least favourite best actor win, but should have won. What makes is performance so wonderful is that he manages to create a character that is the hero of the story, but who is far from perfect. He uses his position to save thousands of life, but was vain and greedy and a member of the Nazi party, a party responsible for horrific atrocities. As this film is not about entertainment but realism, he does not overact once. Every look, every movement is believable and creates a wonderfully complex character.
Ralph Fiennes is superb as Amon Goeth, sent to Krakow to set up a concentration camp. He plays the part of the Nazi with such conviction, that you thoroughly believe that he is this evil. Truly villainous, but also truly believable, and that is what makes him such a superb actor.
There are other good things to focus on, but I am going to look at the one thing about this film that prevents me from placing it a bit higher. The direction. I am not a fan of Spielberg’s work. For me, all his films are very obvious: he wants to scare, he wants to entertain, he wants to make you cry… whatever his mission is, he pulls out all the stops to get the desired effect. However, he never seems to want to make the viewer think. For the most part, ‘Schindler’s List’ is carried by other things: the acting, the cinematography, the music, but occasionally, I can see that this is a Spielberg film, and it ruins it a little. The worst example of this is the ending when Jewish survivors place stones on Schindler’s grave. I realise that this film is in many ways a tribute to his legacy, but as a viewer we have just watched three hours of his story and the ending cheapens it a little. I think a different director could have done a better job. A more subtle approach to certain elements would have been more effective.
Back to the positive: I have touched on the cinematography in the previous paragraph. It is a beautifully filmed picture. The wonderful use of black and white was a brilliant idea: it shows the gravity of the subject matter whilst still enabling a beautiful experience in other ways. Then the use of colour with the girl in the red coat, enables the film to focus on the individuals involved as well as the overall theme of the holocaust.
In short, ‘Schindler’s List’ is a massively important film. It is not perfect, but includes some of the best acting seen in the past twenty years and balances a serious subject matter with some beautiful elements, and should be watched by all.