Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #67 Awakenings
Box Office: $52.1 Million
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Amazon Prime, The Roku Channel
Penny Marshall directed A League Of Their Own in 1992. That's not her best film of the 1990's. It's Awakenings.
When this came out, it was a modest hit earning over $50 million dollars domestically. It also earned three Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. In fact, Robert De Niro was nominated for an Oscar that year but it wasn't for Goodfellas. It was for his role in Awakenings. Despite all of this, I am guessing many younger readers have never heard of this movie. It's one of those movies that have seemed to slipped through the cracks and has been somewhat forgotten about it. Because of that, I'm not going to give spoilers on how it ends. If you haven't seen this, check it out. It's very good.
Instead, I'll focus on the movie as a whole and look at certain elements of it that I enjoy. The greatest piece of this are the performances. De Niro is fantastic but should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination, not a Lead Actor nom. You can make the same case for Goodfellas. This is really Robin Williams' movie. He's wonderful in it playing Dr. Malcolm Sayer. He's really playing Dr. Oliver Sacks who wrote the true story that this is adapted from.
I prefer Robin Williams the serious actor so much more than when he does comedies. For me, his best movies are Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia and Good Morning Vietnam. Few actors have ever shown so much caring just in their eyes. You even see it when he is Mrs. Doubtfire and loves his kids so much. His warmth jumps off the screen and when he is sad on screen, you want to reach through the screen and give him a hug.
It should come as no surprise that De Niro is also fantastic here. His story is so bittersweet and he plays each emotional swing perfectly and relatable. If you told me I could only pick one decade of Robert De Niro films to watch, I'd pick the 1990's. I love his performances in the 70's (Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver) and the 80's (Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy) so it's less an indictment on those decades than ultimate respect for his work in the 90's. This is only his second appearance on the list (Cape Fear was 77th) but I can assure you, he'll pop up a bunch more.
Another reason this movie is so effective is the brilliant screenplay by Steven Zaillian. This was only the second film he wrote but since then has written Mission: Impossible, Gangs Of New York, Moneyball and The Irishman. He also won an Oscar for writing Schindler's List. That's quite a resume and it's his humanity that shines through in the script for Awakenings.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie was moderately successful at the box office. It never hit number one but that's only because it came out in the winter of 1990 when Home Alone dominated the box office until Spring. It's a movie many critics adored (Roger Ebert gave it four stars) but it's rarely brought up when discussing the careers of De Niro or Williams. The movie takes place 20 years before it was shot and because of that, it ages really well. I suppose everything will slip away entirely from public consciousness after long enough but it does seem that the quiet dramas are the first to go. It doesn't matter how well they are made.
69. Toy Story
70. Home Alone
71. Jerry Maguire
73. Billy Madison
74. Apollo 13
80. 12 Monkeys
81. Stir Of Echoes
83. Total Recall
84. Quiz Show
87. Men In Black
90. Three Kings
98. Any Given Sunday