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Who doesn’t love watching a great fairy tale on screen? But how often do new ones arise that make us think “Wow, that’s something new,” while also being deep, funny, engaging and gorgeous to watch?
1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” manages to do all these things. While it landed only one Oscar nomination (for Best Makeup), it manages to show the very best of filmmaking in innumerable ways and ranks among my favorite films of all-time.
First, we have the story, already alluded to. Capturing the themes of loneliness, innocence, growing up, family, self-doubt, doomed romance and the ironies of life, Tim Burton’s story hits on multiple human themes to which we all relate. It also managed to do this within heavy genre. Fairy tales have never been Oscar’s cup of tea, but they make for a great narrative. Of course, they have also been done to death, so coming up with a story that is old-fashioned yet completely modern and remarkably original while true to the genre is a feat that deserves special recognition.
That resonant themes, life lessons and a fantastical take on an ordinary childhood question (“Why does it snow?”) are worked into it in a way that is not cheesy makes it all the more remarkable.
And then there are the visuals. The makeup is just the tip of the iceberg here, with cinematographer Stefan Czapsky’s extraordinary color palette and Bo Welch’s glorious production design (now where was that Oscar nomination?) being loyal to the themes and the genre, in addition to bearing eerie resemblance to modern, sprawling suburbia in expressionistic ways original even for Burton.
Danny Elfman, of course, was not nominated for his luscious score, which I still maintain is the best of his career (Why does he never get nominated for his best work?). But to call it “classic” would not begin to do justice to its range in setting the mood and complementing what we see on screen.
Dianne Wiest, of course, gave us her Avon Lady charm, reminding us of what a wonderful character actress she is. Why doesn't she get more work these days? Winona Ryder continued her oh-so-promising rise, making us regret the mistakes that led to her downfall. Vincent Price wonderfully captured “The Inventor” as an appropriate swan song to his career, making us reflect on his extraordinary contributions to cinema.
And then we come to the stars: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Much has been made of this duo’s friendship and their collaborations with each other. In recent years, I have found that they have gone off into the realm of excessive style and gimmickry. But here, when they were just embarking on their relationship with each other, each brought his all and it was a potent essence.
Depp’s conveyance of naivety and innocence was always palpable. But he managed to have great comic timing, and despite rarely speaking – and at never more than a whisper – he kept us enthralled: laughing, crying and “feeling embarrassed” at just the right times. It was the essence of a fine leading turn.
As for Burton, his extremely personal film may have been sentimental, but never excessively so. Rather, its sentimentality was in the best of fairly tale ways. He brought together all these artists to make a film that varied in mood but always was true to itself, being original and creative yet never showing the excess that has marred some of his recent efforts.
In essence, all the elements of a great story are here with all the elements of a great film: directing, writing, acting, storytelling, visuals, music. It was all so original, managing to contribute something new to one of the oldest, classic genres.
If this is not what the Oscars, awarding “excellence in film,” were meant to capture, what is? Yes, of course they were not going to look past the fantasy stigma, but with just one nomination from the typically adventurous makeup branch, it sits as a blight on Oscar history to me. Every time I watch this movie, I continue to laugh, smile, cry and be in awe.
Sometimes, you can still catch me dancing to it.
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