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Sunday Classics Matinee: The Shawshank Redemption

by Robb Reel

And so we begin with the best picture to not win Best Picture:

What's that you say?  You've seen The Shawshank Redemption?  Oh, but it was sliced and diced for basic cable or regular TV?

Then you haven't seen The Shawshank Redemption.

To avoid any spoilers for the six of you who have never seen any part of the film, Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker in the 1940s.  The story opens with Andy on the stand, accused of murdering his wife and her lover.  Despite protests of his innocence, he is sentenced to life in a Maine prison.

That's where he meets Ellis Boyd Redding, played by the unparalleled Morgan Freeman.  He's "a man who knows how to get things."  Why do they call him "Red"?  "Maybe it's because I'm Irish," said as only the Morgan Freeman voice can.  The rest, well... is a cinematic masterpiece.

Much as Stand by Me was before it, the film is based on a short story by Stephen King.  In fact, Rob Reiner made a pitch to also adapt "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" but Frank Darabont held onto the rights for himself.  It would not be the only time he would write and direct an adaptation of a King prison story [The Green Mile].

For a while now, I have declared this film the best picture not to win Best Picture.  To be fair, it lost to Forrest Gump which, had the vote gone for Shawshank, I would be calling the best picture not to win Best Picture.  I should note that Pulp Fiction was also in that category that year, making it one of the toughest races of all Oscar-dom.  What blows my mind, though, is that Shawshank went 0-for-7 nominations.  Thomas Newman was nothing short of robbed for his immaculate musical score, losing to **gag** The Lion King, scored by Hans Zimmer.  Moreover, Darabont was not nominated for Best Director, though he was for Best Adapted Screenplay, nor was Robbins for Best Actor, though Freeman was [deservedly so].  Perhaps the biggest slight was the omission of James Whitmore -- an actor Darabont would use again in The Majestic -- for Best Supporting Actor as Brooks Hatlen.  I have never left a job at a radio station without emblazoning "Brooks was here" somewhere on the premises in his honor.

You owe it to yourself to go back and watch this masterpiece uncut.  The entire subplot of The Sisters is far more menacing unedited.  There's also just something disingenuous about a prison movie that doesn't contain the F-word.

It's one of the best films I have ever seen.  It is certainly one of the most quotable I have ever seen.  I could end with plenty of memorable lines, but I'll go with the one that sums up the entire movie:

"I hope."