The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1997
Sometimes the Academy is the Academy, and there’s really no other way things can turn out. This is one of those times. When a film like Titanic comes along — no other film has a chance. Big, epic, romantic, makes the cry — it has it all. The quintessential Oscar film. It also having broken every box office record also helps.
Outside of the relative sweep for the film (it won 11/14 Oscars, losing Actress, Supporting Actress and Makeup), which included Best Director for James Cameron (talked about here), Best Actor and Best Actress went to Jack Nicholson (talked about here) and Helen Hunt (talked about here) for As Good as It Gets. These are both generally regarded as weak decisions, given the nature of the film, but I’m okay with them. Titanic was gonna overshadow everything else anyway, and seeing as how Nicholson’s main competition was Robert Duvall (I don’t buy the Fonda thing at all), and Nicholson was gonna win one anyway, I think this was acceptable (unless of course we don’t want Adrien Brody winning in 2002). And Helen Hunt — the category was terrible. I know Judi Dench, but I hate voting for on-the-nose performances (meaning: costume dramas) in this era. Then Best Supporting Actor went to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting (talked about here), which he was overdue for and makes sense, and Best Supporting Actress went to Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential (talked about here), which really wasn’t a great performance, but at least the film got recognized. The performance that should have won (Joan Cusack), at least, to me, anyway, was never going to win. So that’s an acceptable substitute, I guess.
I guess I’ll use this space to say, even though Titanic was always going to win, L.A. Confidential is such a great film. Even though we’d all have preferred for it to have won, it’s better that it worked out this way. Sometimes it’s better to think positively about the “what if” than live with the reality of it happening.
BEST PICTURE – 1997
And the nominees were…
As Good As It Gets (TriStar)
The Full Monty (Fox Searchlight)
Good Will Hunting (Miramax)
L.A. Confidential (Warner Bros.)
Titanic (Paramount, 20th Century Fox)
As Good As It Gets — Jack Nicholson is a horribly misanthropic writer. Ironically, he writes romance novels. But, he hates everyone. He’s very OCD, and is a major germophobe. Pretty much anyone who meets him would say he’s the most miserable man who ever lived. He has a habit of making everyone he meets dislike him. He goes to the same restaurant every day for breakfast, and demands that the same waitress (Helen Hunt) wait on him. He likes her, since she’s the only one who can tolerate his behavior.
One day, his gay neighbor (Greg Kinnear) is assaulted. Kinnear’s agent (Cuba Gooding Jr) threatens Nicholson into caring for Kinnear’s dog (which Nicholson had already thrown down the garbage chute), and also volunteers him to drive Kinnear to go ask his parents for money (he’s a painter, and the stuff he was gonna sell was destroyed during the assault). Nicholson asks Hunt to come along, to make it less awkward. She agrees, because she feels indebted to Nicholson, who, when she wasn’t at work one day to care for her sick son, paid for top-of-the-line medical care for him (not to be nice, just so he could have his breakfast as always). So the three of them go on a road trip, and — well, things happen. Nicholson gains respect for Kinnear, Hunt falls in love with Nicholson, Kinnear has that awkward “You’re why cavemen pained on walls” exchange.
The film kind of peters out by the end, becoming a standard romance. But honestly, that’s really the only thing that can happen with a movie like this, so I don’t really hold that against it. It’s a fun film. You can watch it over and over. And I have. This film, I could swear, was shown on TNT at least twice a week between 1999 and 2006. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times.
I think the film is terrific, and, while it absolutely shouldn’t have won this category, I don’t mind it being nominated. It’s kind of weak, since it’s not really a film that should win, but in a category with The Full Monty, I think it’s perfectly acceptable as a nominee. Still, Titanic and L.A. Confidential are clearly better choices.
The Full Monty — I was amazed at how much I liked this film. And in that, I realized how it got here. The Academy, despite being really obvious and always going with the classic Oscar bait, and also going with the films that make them cry, also always go with the really big crowd-pleasers too. Look at Four Weddings and a Funeral. This. Little Miss Sunshine. Even Rocky, in a way. The films that make everyone (well, Four Weddings and a Funeral…) smile. They eat that shit up. In fact, were there 10 nominees in 2002, I’d guarantee you that My Big Fat Greek Wedding would have been a Best Picture nominee. Guarantee it. They love that stuff. Especially when it makes money.
This film is about a bunch of out of work British guys who, in order to raise some money, decide to perform a strip show for their town. They notice that all their wives love to go to see the strip show when its in town with all the hot firefighter-looking guys, so they figure — if we do it, and it’s us making asses of ourselves, why wouldn’t they show up to laugh at us? So they start practicing a routine, and of course, it’s comical. And there are subplots with all the men — standard comedy stuff.
It’s a great movie. I went in, thinking, “Oh great, another one of these nominees.” I really thought I’d be completely indifferent toward this. But then as I watched it, I saw how entertained I was. I got into it. I fell in love with this movie. And I knew exactly how this got nominated. That doesn’t mean it should be here, but I understand how it got here. It’s clearly a #5, though. Let’s be serious now.
Good Will Hunting — This film, and I hate to provide a synopsis for people who haven’t seen it because it just sounds so “…really?”, is about a genius. Matt Damon is a man with a genius IQ who runs away from his gifts by working as a janitor at MIT. See what I mean? You read that without knowing anything and go, “Are you serious?”
And Damon hangs out with his friends, who are regular schmucks. They go out drinking every night, hang out, get in trouble — that sort of stuff. And Damon also secretly answers these difficult proofs left on blackboards for students to answer. And one day, one of the professors, Stellan Skarsgard, catches Damon answering the proof. And he tracks him down, and (with leverage from an arrest for assault Damon had, as he and his buddies beat up a couple of other guys) gets Damon to go see Robin Williams, a psychiatrist and former classmate of his. And Damon and Williams have these court-ordered sessions, and over the course of the film, they get closer, and we find out why Damon is the way he is. It’s a terrific film. It really is.
It’s totally understandable that this got here, because this really was one of the best films of 1997. It’s one of those films, though, that’s great and should be nominated for Best Picture, but once you reframe it within the context of the Best Picture category, it’s one of those films that’s just not something you think should win. Kind of like — I don’t know, recent examples would be, The Fighter, Up in the Air, Milk, Michael Clayton, all films that are terrific, but once you put them against the other films on the Best Picture list, they always end up hanging around the middle of the pack. That’s what this film is. A #3 at best. It just wasn’t strong enough to win. Great film, though.
L.A. Confidential — What a film. It’s kind of like the Chinatown of the 90s. Not to compare the two films, since they’re clearly very different, but they’re both neo-noirs, set in the 30s/50s (still similar, despite the time gap), dealing with police corruption. I feel like the comparison will get lost in the whole, “This isn’t as good as Chinatown” argument that I know is coming from the people that can’t think past the surface, so I’ll just stop.
The film is about the L.A. Police Department, after a multiple homicide at a diner on Christmas Eve. And we follow three policemen, Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, each very different with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. And — well, it’s actually better to just see the film. It’s the kind of film where either you explain everything or stop before you get too involved. I have a hard time thinking anyone hasn’t seen this movie. If you haven’t, just watch it. The rest of us can’t believe you haven’t seen it.
It’s a perfect movie. Pretty much everyone considers this the best film of 1997, and it’s widely regarded that without the giant sinking ship in the room, this would have swept the Oscars. Shit happens. Either way, I’ll be voting for this, simply because I liked it best. I know it would have never won, but I don’t care. When has that stopped me from voting for something?
Titanic — This will be quick. It’s about the sinking of the Titanic, set between a frame story of Bill Paxton searching the wreckage of the ship for a diamond, and around a love story between rich Kate Winslet and poor Leonardo DiCaprio. Don’t act like we didn’t all love this when it came out. It’s a great movie. It’s just become trendy to hate on this because of how on-the-nose and obvious the whole thing is. It’s James Cameron. I know. I know all the arguments against this. But I won’t listen to them. Wanna know why? Because this has everything the Academy likes in a movie, and there was no way this wasn’t going to win Best Picture. So it doesn’t matter what any of us think, since it was a sure thing. (Note: Definitely not a “shore” thing, though.) I won’t be voting for this, but it’s obvious it was going to win. Live with it.
My Thoughts: Yeah, we all know Titanic was going to win, but L.A. Confidential is my favorite film on this list, so it’s my vote. That’s how it is. Always vote your favorite. What’s the worst thing that happens? It wins? Oh no! So L.A. Confidential is my vote, even though Titanic was clearly the far and away winner.
My Vote: L.A. Confidential
Should Have Won: Titanic
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. I know it’s not — there are problems to be had, but yes, it’s an acceptable decision. Let’s not waste time on this.
Ones I suggest you see: Titanic is essential. You need to see it. End of story. I have a friend who refused to see it because it was the highest grossing film of all time (at the time). That’s stupid. Just see it.
L.A. Confidential — if you love movies, why haven’t you seen this already? This is one of the first fifty films everyone sees when they start getting into movies. See it. Nobody dislikes this movie. It’s amazing. And essential. (Don’t be the person who hasn’t seen this.)
Good Will Hunting — another film that everyone’s seen. And it’s great. So you kind of need to see it if you haven’t. (Seriously, how have you not seen this movie already?)
As Good as It Gets — it’s a great film. Say what you want about it as an Oscar contender/winner/nominee, but the film is very entertaining. Nicholson is spectacular. And it’s Jim Brooks. The man knows what he’s doing (most of the time). This is one of his best movies. This, Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News. Seriously, don’t be a schmuck. See this if you haven’t.
The Full Monty — what a delightful film. It should be nowhere near this list, but it’s amazing. You really need to see this. It’s so damn likable! What a fun time at the movies this is.
5) The Full Monty
3) Good Will Hunting
2) As Good as It Gets
1) L.A. Confidential