Oscar bait tends to do a lot of hand-wringing about social causes, but in the case of Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields, it’s more than just the musings of limousine liberals. It depicts the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge and the horror show that followed, bringing the human cost of nationwide slaughter into sharp relief through the intimate relationships between its characters. It also scored three Academy Awards, including the first Best Supporting Actor Oscar given to an Asian (the late Dr. Hang S. Ngor, who actually survived the Khmer Rouge’s prison camps before escaping to America). The Killing Fields opened today in 1984.
We’ll shift gears with a couple of winners from the Disney/Pixar camp. Monsters Inc. continued Pixar’s winning ways with a tremendous story about the things that go bump in the night, and how they’re really just working Joes at heart. On top of the brilliant concept and masterful execution, it featured a pair of great vocal performances from John Goodman and Billy Crystal as best monster buds who get more than they bargained for when a little girl follows them home. (It’s also notable for losing the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar to Shrek… not something Pixar does a lot.) It opened today in 2001.
Wreck-It Ralph came from Dsiney, not Pixar, but it also occurred after Pixar’s brain trust (including John Lasseter himself) picked up stakes for the House of Mouse. Its feels very much of a kind with the efforts of the mad geniuses in Emeryville: the tale of a video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who grows frustrated by his lot in life and “jumps games” to find his purpose. It’s full of humor, insight and wonderful characters as you’d expect. It’s also a personal favorite. It opened today in 2012.