Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hindsight Oscars: 1997

Best Picture
As Good As It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
Titanic (winner)
Should have won: TITANIC may be a grander entertainment, mixing old-school melodrama with cutting-edge effects, but L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is, pound for pound, the superior movie. Acting, directing, writing, production values- everyone involved is firing on all cylinders here.
Should have been nominated: The Academy never would've touched David Cronenberg's infamous auto-erotica classic CRASH with a pole of any length. But in words of Wooderson, it woulda been a lot cooler if they diiiiiiiiiiiid.

Best Lead Actress
Helena Bonham Carter, Wings of the Dove
Julie Christie, Afterglow
Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown
Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets (winner)
Kate Winslet, Titanic
Should have won: Before TITANIC, DiCaprio was the fan-magazine anointed golden boy, while Winslet was the corset-wearing arthouse starlet. But Cameron's mega-hit made it clear that its leading lady had enough charisma- and acting prowess- to go toe to toe with Leo, and to carry the biggest movie ever (circa 1997) on her capable shoulders to boot. Too bad she had to wait another decade to win the Oscar she deserved here.
Should have been nominated: 1997's Oscar-bait movie that wasn't, THE ICE STORM contained a number of great performances, none more so than Joan Allen as a suburban mother trying to keep her head in the free-for-all world of the 70s. Allen doesn't engage in any of the histrionics of AMERICAN BEAUTY's Annette Bening (in a similar role), and her performance is all the more heartbreaking for it.

Best Lead Actor
Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
Robert Duvall, The Apostle
Peter Fonda, Ulee's Gold
Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog
Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets (winner)
Should have won: Nicholson was fine, but let's not kid ourselves- the voters honored him because they dig the Jack thing so much. Duvall, on the other hand, was positively inspired, giving an outsized performance that works so well because it comes from so deep inside. Even more impressive was that he directed himself, with the knowledge of just far he should push without going over the top.
Should have been nominated: It's become a cliché by now that the Academy almost never recognizes comedies. But in creating WAITING FOR GUFFMAN's "leading man" Corky St. Clair, Christopher Guest gave one of the funniest and most priceless turns of the decade. Too bad the Oscars didn't make an effort to notice.

Best Director
James Cameron, Titanic (winner)
Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty
Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter
Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential
Gus van Sant, Good Will Hunting
Should have won: For all its problems, let it not be said that James Cameron doesn't direct the hell out of TITANIC, The sheer grandeur of the film is impressive enough, but considering the massive scale of the production, it's a testament to Cameron's strength of vision that it stayed afloat at all, let alone turn out to be a rousing success.
Should have been nominated: It was almost a running joke in the 90s that the Academy's documentary branch neglected better movies than they recognized. But even if the documentarians didn't want to nominate FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL, why couldn't the directing branch have recognized what a singular achievement the film was?

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
Anthony Hopkins, Amistad
Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets
Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights
Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting (winner)
Should have won: Forster was the least-known actor of this bunch, and he gave the most low-key performance. It was also the best, inhabiting a seemingly ordinary man with such empathy and bone-deep weariness that he doesn't so much steal the movie as quietly take control of the movie and win the sympathy of the audience.
Should have been nominated: LOST HIGHWAY is Robert Blake's last film to date, which is understandable considering what's happened since then, but it's also kind of a shame since he's just killer as one of cinema's great creepy villains. But then, the Academy didn't nominate Dennis Hopper in BLUE VELVET either, so maybe they just couldn't handle Lynch's taste in baddies. Their loss.

Best Supporting Actress
Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential (winner)
Joan Cusack, In & Out
Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting
Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights
Gloria Stuart, Titanic
Should have won: There are several worthy performances in this bunch- Cusack's a screamin the otherwise forgettable IN & OUT- but Moore just breaks your heart as a woman who takes it upon herself to be a mother figure for other lost souls because she's so definitively failed as a biological mother.
Should have been nominated: OK guys, I know somebody saw THE SWEET HEREAFTER. After all, it got a Best Director nomination. So what's with overlooking Sarah Polley's performance as a paralyzed accident victim with a secret agenda, a role that practically screams "Academy catnip" (she even performs several songs on the soundtrack). But I guess that since she doesn't drop a necklace in the ocean that doesn't matter, does it?

Best Original Screenplay
As Good As It Gets
Boogie Nights
Deconstructing Harry
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting (winner)
Should have won: BOOGIE NIGHTS, which not only balanced a dozen or so major characters with verve and wit, but also served as the Hollywood coming-out party the colossally talented Paul Thomas Anderson.
Should have been nominated: By any yardstick, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is a bitter pill to swallow. But its unsparing, darkly comic look at corporate drudgery and gamesmanship is magnificently written by first-timer Neil LaBute.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Donnie Brasco
L.A. Confidential (winner)
The Sweet Hereafter
Wag the Dog
Wings of the Dove
Should have won: Strong cases could be made for both L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and THE SWEET HEREAFTER, which translate well-regarded novels to the screen skillfully even if they don't quite stick their respective landings. But I also have been OK with DONNIE BRASCO, which de-emphasized high-octane suspense and violence in favor of tangy, jargon-heavy dialogue and vivid character development.
Should have been nominated: Now that Quentin Tarantino has made it his mission to mount one big-budget fanfiction after another, it's easier to appreciate what an achievement an anomaly JACKIE BROWN was in his career. Tarantino was able to sublimate his own voice in order to accommodate an equally strong one- that of writer Elmore Leonard- and it works so well that one wishes he'd try it again sometime.

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