Film Honors: 1990

My own personal choices for the year. They reflect not just necessarily what I think is the best or essential cinema, but perhaps resonate with me or inspire, both at the time, and still today. Other published Film Honors posts can be found at the menu at the top of the page.

NOTE CATEGORY CHANGES IN 1990 – Screenwriting broken into Adapted and Original



Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (Miller’s Crossing)
Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves)
David Lynch (Wild at Heart)
* * * Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) * * *
Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso)

Screenwriting Adapted

Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves)
Carrie Fisher (Postcards from the Edge)***
Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) ***
Donald E. Westlake (The Grifters)
Steven Zaillian (Awakenings)

I have no major qualms about the Oscars win for Dances with Wolves as the movie resonates personally with me. As far as pure, thrilling, bravura cinema goes though, Goodfellas should have been very tough to beat that year. Its a pulsating ride of a movie, that only takes the foot off the gas on it’s own terms. At the time of the release of Goodfellas, legendary film director Martin Scorsese was even then a force to be reckoned with. Each of his new movies would be met with an unquenchable enthusiasm. Where this gangster coming-of-age masterpiece is concerned we had more justification to trust our instincts than with many of his others. Goodfellas was great then, and is great now twenty-five years on. Scorsese’s artistic genius might not have been put to such good use since then, he’s throwing at us an often violent and piercing narrative traveling a hundred miles an hour, while perfectly telling a grounded, human story of wise-guys.

Actress Lead

Kathy Bates (Misery)
*** Adrienne Shelly (The Unbelievable Truth) ***
Anjelica Huston (The Grifters)
Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge)
Laura Dern (Wild at Heart)

Actress Support

Annette Bening (The Grifters)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas)
Glenn Close (Hamlet)
*** Diane Ladd (Wild at Heart) ***
Shirley MacLaine (Postcards from the Edge)


There’s an endearing quality to the the execution of dialogue in a Hal Hartley motion picture. The indie veteran directs his acting ensemble almost to appear they are amateur performers in rehearsal. It is a facade. Hartley’s debut The Unbelievable Truth also introduced us to the simply delightful, glowing Adrienne Shelly as Audrey – the pressures of adulthood beckon for her but she is more worried about the bombs. Shelly’s performance has slices of back-hand comedy, it has angst, it has balls, and she delivers it with a convincing, extroverted wit and charm. She brings vibrant color to not just the movie itself, but contributes to the rise of independent cinema in America at that time. Diane Ladd on the other hand in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart  delivered a crazed, compelling performance, encapsulating Lynch’s magnetic vision on screen, and pretty much stealing the ambiance of the central love story.

Screenwriting Original

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (Miller’s Crossing)
Hal Hartley (The Unbelievable Truth)
*** Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) ***
Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso)
Peter Weir (Green Card)

Also one of the front-runners of that great American wave in independent cinema was Whit Stillman, who although shared a certain wonderfully contrived style of dialogue with Hal Hartley, he was much more fascinated with near-pretentious character expression of thought and social class etiquette. Stillman is an observant, brilliant writer, his Metropolitan was nominated for the Original Screenplay Academy Award, allowing a tiny movie to sit with the big guns. It is an intelligent, rich script, telling a story about a loner not sure how to fit in – which apt. The Oscar nomination still remains a surprise, but is nothing short of deserved.


Blasco Giurato (Cinema Paradiso)
Philippe Rousselot (Henry & June)
Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves)
Vittorio Storaro (Dick Tracy)
*** Barry Sonnenfeld (Miller’s Crossing) ***

Prior to the master Roger Deakins, the Coen Brothers utilized the talents of Barry Sonnenfeld, who actually hung up his Director of Photography coat in 1990 to focus on actual directing his own movies (The Addams Family, Men in Black). The Coen’s third feature film Miller’s Crossing was much closer to where they have been stylistically in the last twenty or so years, and Sonnenfeld behind the camera was a huge factor in this. Clear, intricate framing, with swift, slick camera movements are just some of the elements we’ve loved about two of the best film-makers in the business. The hat shot alone is iconic.

Picture Editing

*** Cinema Paradiso ***
Dances with Wolves
Dick Tracy
Wild at Heart

Score Composing

*** John Barry (Dances with Wolves) ***
Carter Burwell (Miller’s Crossing)
Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands)
Ennio Morricone, Andrea Morricone (Cinema Paradiso)
Jack Nitzsche (Revenge)

Battling with various life-threatening illnesses prior to, and years after, his big-scale Dances With Wolves score, I guess nobody really truly knows if huge parts of John Barry’s work here were in any way reflective of a man both suffering and thankfully recovering. This was the pinnacle of his familiar broad string, romantic melodies. The enduring scope of the Kevin Costner western is crammed with high tempo or deeply emotional orchestral music, and ticks most, if not all, of the classic film score boxes.

Acting Lead

*** Robert De Niro (Awakenings) ***
Philippe Noiret (Cinema Paradiso)
Al Pacino (The Godfather Part III)
Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer)
*** Robin Williams (Awakenings) ***

Actor Support

Salvatore Cascio (Cinema Paradiso)
Albert Finney (Miller’s Crossing)
*** Al Pacino (Dick Tracy) ***
Joe Pesci (Goodfellas)
John Turturro (Miller’s Crossing)

Similar to Rain Man in terms of two lead male actors giving it everything from their acting guts, except the more physical, ailment-depicting role grabs the majority of the plaudits, Robin Williams and Robert De Niro are absolute equals in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings. De Niro plays a catatonic patient suffering with a form of encephalitis, demonstrating heart-breakingly frustrating symptoms so convincing here, even given his one-of-the-best status you are still in wonder at his acting. On the flip side, as the doctor trying out new drugs on the patients, Williams delivers a performance so sympathetic, encouraging, and human it is certainly among his best. Giving Joe Pesci a run for his ferocious money, Al Pacino explodes in Dick Tracy as the head villain Big Boy Caprice, seemingly having a great time while convincing as menacing and corrupt in the comic-book crime world.

Motion Picture

Awakenings (Penny Marshall)
*** Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore) ***
Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner)
Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton)
The Godfather Part III (Francis Ford Coppola)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
Metropolitan (Whit Stillman)
Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley)
Wild at Heart (David Lynch)


Who is Alfredo? Adult Toto has the poignant, nostalgic means to answer such a question, with a story about the wonders and woes of life and of cinema itself. Alfredo is a projectionist, a father figure, a mentor, a great man – and companion to Toto from when he was a small boy, discovering his love for the movies, and his journey to adulthood. Cinema Paradiso encapsulates movies in all their emotional glory and despair – Roberto Benigni clearly loves this movie too, borrowing much of it’s sentiment for Life is Beautiful. The cutting room floor censored footage of nudity, embraces, kisses, becomes one of the greatest montages you could see on a big screen, as Toto soaks up later in his life, that even in his absence Alfredo can still show him the magic of cinema. Wonderful.


3 responses to “Film Honors: 1990

  1. Love that you give so much attention to Awakenings (probably my favorite from that year – that or Dances with Wolves) and Metropolitan (also one of my favorites)! I also like that you nominate The Godfather III for Picture. It deserves that. (And I really need to watch Cinema Paradiso! Been meaning to for a while…)

    Liked by 1 person

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