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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1997-1998)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1997

As Good As It Gets

The Full Monty

Good Will Hunting

L.A. Confidential

Titanic

Analysis:

As Good As It Gets is James L. Brooks again. Though while his other ones were female-centric and about relationships — this one’s purely Jack Nicholson doing Jack Nicholson. And that’s not a bad thing.

Nicholson plays an OCD misanthropic author who is just an asshole to everyone around him. And, between his gay neighbor, the neighbor’s dog, and his favorite waitress at his local restaurant, he learns to open up to people.

It’s fucking wonderful. I love this movie. Shouldn’t have won at all and is a fourth choice in this category no matter how much I love it.

The Full Monty is another one of those charming British film phenomenons of the 90s.

A bunch of steel mill workers get laid off and can’t find work. After seeing a male strip show in town do crazy business, they decide to start one themselves. And of course they don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re all regular dudes — comedy ensues.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining movie that you can’t help but like. I really enjoyed this when I saw it, even though we can all agree that this wasn’t the right choice for the category. Fifth choice all around. Lovely film, but not the vote.

Good Will Hunting is not your fault.

Look, it was either that or apples.

We’ve all seen this movie. Somehow we all end up seeing this movie before college. And if not, there’s always that one friend in college who owns like five DVDs and this is one of them, and you see it with them at some point.

This movie is amazing. I love that it was nominated, and I can’t think of a reason to vote for it if you think it’s the right choice. It’s so good I want to look at taking it. But I’d never take it because of this next film and because between that and Titanic, I’d end up with one of those before I got to this. But it’s still great

L.A. Confidential is probably one of the top five neo noirs ever made. Chinatown will always be tops. But this is up there. This movie is incredible.

It’s about three cops. One is Guy Pearce, the son of a former star officer killed in duty, who is really ambitious and wants to make a name for himself and do his father proud. Another is Kevin Spacey, “Hollywood Jack,” the superstar cop who liaises with Hollywood and lives the glitz and glamour of the town without really getting deep into the police work. And then there’s Russell Crowe, the “blunt instrument,” who does all the dirty work and has a real desire for justice. He routinely beats up wife beaters off the books and is willing to bend the rules a bit to see the right thing be done. The three are soon involved in a major homicide, where someone shoots up a diner and a bunch of people are killed.

It’s GREAT. This movie is great. It shouldn’t have won and would never won, but this is my favorite movie in the category. This will be my vote, despite me knowing what the winner is and should be and knowing this film has no chance to win.

Titanic. You know this movie.

This is the choice this year. That doesn’t mean I’m voting for it, but anyone who was alive and cognizant in 1997 knows this was the only choice for this year. This was the biggest thing ever when it came out.

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The Reconsideration: There’s never any doubt about what should have won this. In 1997, there was no other choice but Titanic, and I understand that. Now, with three other great films in here that I like more than Titanic, I don’t feel the need to vote for the automatic winner. You know Titanic is going to win going in. There’s not even a question that it can lose. So at that point — why take it unless I truly loved it? Good Will Hunting is amazing. I want to vote for that. As Good as It Gets, I love. I want to vote for that. And L.A. Confidential — I’m going to vote for that. I really love that movie and think it actually could have been a decent winner on its own. Not that it would have won, but since it’s my favorite, that’s gonna be the vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Titanic
  2. L.A. Confidential
  3. Good Will Hunting
  4. As Good As It Gets
  5. The Full Monty

Rankings (films):

  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. As Good As It Gets
  3. Good Will Hunting
  4. Titanic
  5. The Full Monty

My Vote: L.A. Confidential

Recommendations:

Titanic. Really?

L.A. Confidential is essential. No self-respecting film buff gets this far without having seen this movie.

As Good As It Gets is essential. This movie is fucking wonderful. I’ve always assumed everyone saw this movie on their own, but now there’s like, young people around. People born after the millennium. People younger than The Matrix.

Good Will Hunting is a film you need to see. You don’t want to be goin’ around bahs and regurgigatin’ Gordon Wood all over the place, do ya?

The Full Monty is an awesome film. High recommend. One of those movies that charms everyone. Definitely worth seeing.

The Last Word: Titanic is the choice and objectively it’s one of the better, if not best, choices of all time. Sure, other films are good enough to be okay choices, but nothing would be as good as Titanic has been. To further prove my point, I’m going to provide you with a four minute sample what it was like to live in America between December 1997 and August 1998:

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1998

Elizabeth

Life Is Beautiful

Saving Private Ryan

Shakespeare in Love

The Thin Red Line

Analysis:

Elizabeth is a film about Elizabeth I, the “Virgin” Queen.

Cate Blanchett plays Elizabeth, and it’s a 90s version of those 60s costume dramas. That’s really all you need to know about it. Looks great, great performances, very much in that vein, making it easy to know what you’ll think about it.

The film’s fine. Mostly it’s about Blanchett’s performance. I wouldn’t even vote for this in the 60s unless I had to. Fifth choice all around for me. It’s solid, but it doesn’t make for a good Best Picture winner.

Life Is Beautiful is that movie that I hated with a passion for years just because… I don’t know, really. I hadn’t seen it for the longest time and it just had that element of — I think I felt it was overly cloying and it had that thing where everything feels it was a bad winner so you just take a disliking to it. I don’t know why I didn’t like it, because it’s a wonderful film. But, you know… youth.

It’s about Roberto Benigni and his family during the rise of World War II and the Nazis and all that. Eventually he and his family end up in a concentration camp, and, to shield his son from the horrors of it all, turns it into a game for him.

It’s one of those movies that just shouldn’t work at all. Somehow it does. One day it’ll make a great double feature with The Day the Clown Cried.

Anyway, this movie is fantastic. Easy nominee, solid film. But I’m not taking it. Fourth choice overall. I’d take three movies over this for sure. Maybe one day it becomes third, but I doubt it’ll ever go higher than that. It’s just not something I’d ever take. It also does fit right in with that run of foreign films that ended up on the Best Picture list throughout the 90s. Each decade has its own run of things that happened. I like that.

Saving Private Ryan is a war masterpiece. I know people have some issues with the third act, but that’s because the first act is so perfect.

Everyone should know the story, but it’s simple enough. A man’s brothers all die during the war, and as per policy, he is to be sent home. So Tom Hanks and a small squad is sent to find the guy and send him home.

It’s so good. The D-Day sequence alone practically won this award. And the rest of the film is so incredible. It’s always gonna be my choice. This is one of my favorite films of all time. We’ll get into how the category turned out, but for me, this is gonna be my choice every time.

Shakespeare in Love is a great film. You can’t really say it’s not. It’s incredible. Yeah, it’s fine to not like that it won, but it’s really entertaining.

It’s about Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet, and the woman who inspired him to turn it from some throwaway comedy into one of the greatest plays ever written.

The film is incredible. You put it on not knowing exactly what it is and you’re gonna love it. Honestly, take out the one film we think that should have beaten it and we’re all fine with this as a winner. But we’ll get to that in a minute. For now — love this movie, just wouldn’t take it over Saving Private Ryan. Most of us wouldn’t. Still great, just a second choice for me.

The Thin Red Line is Terrence Malick’s first film in twenty years.

It’s his version of the Battle of Guadalcanal. So it’s a war film shot like a Terrence Malick film. It’s really good.

I haven’t seen it in a while. I’m really due to watch it again. Though I do know, no matter how many times I watch it again, I’m not gonna take it over Saving Private Ryan. So it’s really the only difference of third vs. second place. I like this movie a lot, but it would never be my vote because I don’t think it’s the best war film in the category, let alone the best overall film.

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The Reconsideration: Well, it’s this one.

It’s Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan. Nothing else rates. The Thin Red Line is good, but it’s not the best war movie in the category. Elizabeth shouldn’t have won in 1968, let alone 1998. And Life Is Beautiful would have been a terrible winner.

Both of the choices are very good, and it’s really not that fair to deride Shakespeare in Love the film for having won. Hate the man who rigged the game, not the player.

That said, Saving Private Ryan is, and will always be, my choice here, and I’m taking it. My real purpose when talking about this category isn’t to try to make this a competition. They’re both great films. It’s really to try to tell people that despite all the hatred for how this one turned out, it’s really not that bad of a decision, even if most of us wouldn’t go there.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Saving Private Ryan
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. The Thin Red Line
  4. Life Is Beautiful
  5. Elizabeth

My Vote: Saving Private Ryan

Recommendations:

Saving Private Ryan. All-time classic. Must-see. All-around essential.

Shakespeare in Love is essential. It’s great and it won Best Picture. And, if you want to complain that it won, you need to have seen it. Must be seen by all.

The Thin Red Line is Terrence Malick. Everything he made up to Tree of Life is essential. The rest are negotiable.

Life Is Beautiful is essential. Because one, if you want to complain that Benigni won, you need to have seen it. Plus this movie is great. So must be seen.

Elizabeth is not essential, but solid. If you like these costume dramas like the ones from the 60s, then it’s worth a watch. If you want to discuss the Best Actress category from this year, you need to have seen it. Otherwise, you’re okay without it.

The Last Word: This is NOT one of the worst decisions of all time. Shakespeare in Love, on its own, is a great winner. Not like, top tier all time great. But a really solid choice. Against Saving Private Ryan, sure, it’s not the best choice. But it must be put into perspective that they didn’t just vote for a terrible film because they didn’t want to vote for the choice we all prefer and think is better.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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