Which is the Better Best Picture: The Silence of the Lambs or Casablanca?

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THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

The second big screen adaptation of one of Thomas Harris’ popular serial-killer novels (following Michael Mann’s Manhunter), Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs ratchets up the fear factor even further. The film is underpinned by an utterly captivating (and still, to this day, genuinely chilling) performance by Anthony Hopkins, whose psychopathic Dr. Hannibal Lecter chews up the screen — as well as his victims — with unbridled relish. But The Silence of the Lambs rides on the performance of Jodie Foster’s FBI agent-in-training, Clarice Starling. She might be having a tough time solving the case of finding the serial killer Buffalo Bill but Lecter is particularly taken by her and offers a deal of sorts: if she opens up to him during their conversations then he’ll review the evidence in the Buffalo Bill case.

While everyone will forever remember the bloody, violent sequences and Lecter’s infamous “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti,” it’s the tense interplay between Hopkins and Foster that has the most impact. And Oscar couldn’t have been more enthralled: Silence is only the third film ever to sweep the board in the main five categories (along with fellow bracket entrant It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest): Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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CASABLANCA

When Warner Bros. picked up the rights to the flop play Everyone Comes to Rick’s, they planned to cast one of their contract players, Ronald Reagan, to play opposite his frequent leading lady, Ann Sheridan. After a typical round of Hollywood casting roulette, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were handed the roles, and the title was changed to Casablanca. Bogart was the brusque, scarred Rick Blaine, Bergman was his lost love Ilsa Lund (“We’ll always have Paris”) and Paul Henreid was Ilsa’s husband, the noble leader of the anti-Nazi Resistance, all converging on French-occupied, German-dominated Morocco on Dec. 6, 1941. Directed by Michael Curtiz, from a script rewritten so furiously during production that Bergman said she didn’t know which man her character would end up with, Casablanca had a dream climax — it became the top-grossing movie of 1943, winning Oscars for Picture, Direction and Screenplay — and an even happier afterlife. It is the oldest entry on the Internet Movie Database’s all-time top 20, and third on the Zagat list of movie classics (behind the first two Godfather films).

Succeeding generations of fans are attracted by Bogie’s heroic fatalism, Bergman’s sanctified adultery (a big deal at the time) and timeless dialogue like “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” Film scholars have inferred or imagined that Rick is really F.D.R. on the eve of Pearl Harbor (casa blanca is Spanish for White House), and that the butch Rick and the flirtatious Renault are pursuing something more than “a beautiful friendship.” But most viewers respond to the picture for the same reasons their grandparents did: it’s a movie made without pretense but with serious wit, brisk glamour and eternal star quality. Then as now, if you were asked to summarize the glory of Hollywood filmmaking in one word, your answer would have to be Casablanca.

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