1998 is, as we all know, one of those Oscar years that is brought up as an example of all the bad the Academy represents; “The Academy being the Academy.” And, just like 2010, it’s one of those decisions that makes sense considering who they are and what they like, isn’t as bad as some other decisions because at least they choose a good film (it just might not have been the best film), and at least here (unlike 2010) they gave the other film Best Director. So it’s not that terrible a decision. It’s just not most people’s preferred decision.
As for the rest of the year — it’s filled with other not-so-good decisions, which makes the Best Picture decision feel worse. Shakespeare in Love, outside of this category, won Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow (talked about here), which is historically a terrible decision, but honestly, I don’t really know what woud have been a better one. (Yes, I know Cate Blanchett, but that film is just way too on-the-nose to give her an Oscar. It was a terrible category, is what it was.) It also won Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench (talked about here), which despite all the shit it catches for being so short on screen time, is a good decision.
Best Actor this year was Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful (talked about here), which I think we can all agree is one of, if not the single worst Best Actor decision in the history of the category. (But despite everyone’s opinion, Edward Norton was not the better choice, Ian McKellen was.) Best Supporting Actor was James Coburn for Affliction (talked about here), which is good in the sense that James Coburn is awesome, but terrible in every other way (Billy Bob really should have won this). And Steven Spielberg winning Best Director for Saving Private Ryan (talked about here) is one of the best decisions in that category.
Now, let me just say, before I talk about the films — this is really not that bad. Looking at it historically, there were much, much worse decisions. It’s only bad in context.
BEST PICTURE – 1998
And the nominees were…
Elizabeth (PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)
Life is Beautiful (Miramax)
Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks, Paramount)
Shakespeare in Love (Miramax/Universal)
The Thin Red Line (20th Century Fox) (more…)