1987 wasn’t a great year for movies, what with these 5 nominees in the running for Best Picture – THE LAST EMPEROR”, “Broadcast News”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Hope and Glory”, “Moonstruck”. Not a bad bunch of films but none of which really stood the test of time, although I would still call Broadcast News a minor classic and far and away the best picture out of the bunch. However what the Academy failed to do then, and are still guilty of doing now, was not nominate a fantasy movie that ultimately became a classic (“Edward Scissorrhands”? “The Holy Grail”? “King Kong” “Pan’s Labyrinth”? . Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride starts off what will be a weekly column for me as I will go through a film a week from 1987-2011 that never got nominated for Best Picture but should have had a shot at the big prize. There are plenty of contenders for every year and I encourage you to give your own choice in the comments section below.
One can understand why Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride was such an enigma when it first came out in the fall of 1987. Here was a film that was supposed to be primarily aimed at a younger audience but ended up pleasing all ages with its deadpan, Monty Python-esque humor and a bold, satirical narrative that never took itself too seriously. That is not to say that we don’t fully invest ourselves in its fairy-tale like storytelling and genuinely good natured morals. In fact one is touched by the love story deftly told by a grandfather to his ill grandson about a beautiful princess called buttercup who gets kidnapped and needs to be rescued by her brave, young fiancée Prince Humperdinck.
What works in Reiner’s tale is that every character is a delight to watch, there isn’t a dull one in the bunch. From Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini –“Inconceivable !”- to Andre The Giant’s gentle Fezzik all the way to Billy Crystal’s hilarious cameo as Miracle Max, an old, Jewish wizard that disapproves of his wife (played by Carol Kane) and refuses to help Humperdinck in his voyage to save Buttercup. But most of all, the true heart of the story is Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya a heroic swordsman with a secret –“Hello My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” It’s an undeniably powerful line that brings real, humane feeling to Reiner’s screenplay and, with the depth Reiner brings to Montoya’s story, packs a wallop on the viewer’s emotions.
It’s not easy making a children’s tale these days and allowing adults to be as enchanted by it as the kids. Pixar has made it a habit year by year with its original tales and it is no surprise that their latest, “Brave”, had shades of Reiner’s film in some of its colorful, imaginative frames ditto “Shrek’s” fairy tale, satirical edge and –of course- the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” movies which didn’t have half the imagination of Reiner’s classic yet made 10 times the money by rehashing some of its ideas. “The Princess Bride” ran on an overdone, age old concept but brought freshness to its edges. It is a cliché to say that a movie, from start to finish, was a magical, transcendent experience but that is truly what this movie is. The laughs come with a sting and the world that we enter is so rich and mesmerizing that it is hard to have explanation of its surreal, dreamy impact. The fact that this wasn’t nominated for Best Picture only makes it a better movie, it was a mistake not giving it its due in 1987 but it has stood the test of time and beyond. Inconceivable !