8. An Oscar-winning movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
List Progress: 12/12 (+7)
While I will be busy trying to finish off my reading list up until midnight on the 31st, my film list for the year is actually complete! 2019 was apparently my year for cinema, and with 1991’s Oscar-winner for Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs, I have finished every category from my list. This category was actually difficult for my to choose which I wanted to watch. I’ve already seen some of the more accessible films that have won Best Picture, like The Return of the King, Forrest Gump and Titanic, and you couldn’t pay me enough to watch some of the Oscar-bait like Green Book. But being on a bit of a crime show kick, and having watched one and a half seasons of the television adaptation of Hannibal, this one made a lot of sense.
The Silence of the Lambs is a horror/crime thriller about an FBI agent-in-training, Clarice Starling, interviewing an imprisoned serial killer and cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, for his insights into the case of a current serial killer murdering women. While the story is technically about hunting down the new killer, Buffalo Bill, the interplay between Starling and Lecter is the main draw of the film. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins became renowned for these roles, and even knowing them through cultural osmosis going in, I was very impressed with the acting and how well they inhabited their characters, in the big flashy scenes (“fava beans and a nice chi-aaan-ti”) and in the quieter moments of manipulation. Both the film and Foster do a wonderful job with Clarice Starling, who gets a lot to work with and is able to stake her claim in scenes even when Hopkins is hissing and whispering and being a far more theatrical character. Her scenes navigating the gender dynamics of being a young attractive woman in law enforcement were just as engaging as anything else to me.
While the acting and film-making stand up, a lot of the depictions of the killers do not. Buffalo Bill is a horrible collection of transphobic tropes and fears and stereotypes. The film plays some lip service to him not being a “real transsexual” and that he clings to feminine roles out of a variety of mental illnesses, but that’s not really less insulting. You still are left with a deep-voiced male-bodied person mincing around half-nude in women’s clothing while acting out horrific sexualized violence. I do not blame people who would consider the film unwatchable because of him and the cultural impact that the character has had. I still found a lot to enjoy in the film, but I am a cisgendered woman and every viewer has to make that decision for themselves.
Stereotypes and characterizations aside, The Silence of the Lambs is also just a very slick piece of film-making. Setups and pay-offs are done very artfully, the cinematography is wonderful, and flashbacks are integrated naturally without taking over huge chunks of time. From a purely craft perspective, this is definitely deserving of being called a Best Picture.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but with trigger warnings for violence, gore and transphobia.