Tuesday, October 31, 2023

1998: Best Picture

Nothing was more certain in 1998 than Saving Private Ryan's Best Picture Oscar. It had nearly swept all the "precursors," it was the second-highest-grossing film of the year, it was Spielberg - it was inevitable. But those in the know already heard the buzz going about. Saving Private Ryan is uneven, it was six months ago, what about a movie that makes you happy to be alive? And so came the surprise winner of the night:

And people still debate the two. Are you for Private Ryan or Shakespeare? The Greatest Generation or the Elizabethan Age? "Earn this" or "It is a new world"? 

Here's where I stand:

Monday, October 30, 2023

1998: Best Director

Of course, the big story in 1998 was the return of Terrence Malick.

I'm going by Oscar Wars (incredible work by Michael Schulman) and Inside Oscar 2 (incredibly bitchy work by Damien Bona) when I give these details. Malick was beloved by critics, artists, and cinephiles for his 1970s releases Badlands and Days of Heaven. Then he left for Paris, just dropped out, doing the odd uncredited rewrite here and there but otherwise kept out of the whole Hollywood thing. Producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau coaxed him out after 19 years, and The Thin Red Line is the result. It would be another 13 before he would follow up with The Tree of Life, and now the man can't stop churning them out! By his standards, anyway.

Malick's return was a triumph critically and Oscarally - nominations-wise, at any rate. Because, at least in Best Director, there was no stopping the inevitable:

Was the inevitable the right choice, though?

Friday, October 27, 2023

1998: The Screenplays

Was it last year or earlier this year when Kyle Turner asked whether people who discuss/nominate/award screenplays actually read the screenplays, or do they just go off the vibes of the finished film? 

Anyway, ask this he did, and I felt directly indicted because, while I tried in 2007 and 2008 to only nominate screenplays I'd read, I stopped this because...well, mostly, it's difficult to find them the further back you go, but also because, ugh, the time and the energy. But he's right. If we're going to discuss screenwriting, we can't just look at the finished product with all the edits, rewrites, performances, etc, that interpret the work. We have to look at the source of all this, the blueprint. Is it a 1:1 transfer? Did the final product let down the promise of the written word; did it improve on it? Are script and film completely different? How much could the actors, crafts artists, director work from?

These are the questions I asked as I went through these nominees and reflected on how much reading determined the wins for Shakespeare in Love and Gods and Monsters:

Where available, I've linked to the available drafts (and for the real students of all film craft, Ian McKellen's official site has his Gods and Monsters script scanned page by page - with his notes!).

We start with Adapted Screenplay:

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

1998: Best Actress

Best Actress 1998 is a heated one. The winner was Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love:

And it's a win that's gone through all the phases of backlash, backlash-to-the-backlash, mild "not a bad performance but shouldn't have won" criticism, etc. And to be fair, even at the time there was no guarantee that Paltrow would triumph. Yes, she won the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Musical/Comedy Globe, but Elizabeth's Cate Blanchett won the BAFTA and the Drama Globe and had genuine "a star is born" notices, while Central Station's Fernanda Montenegro was lauded by the National Board of Review and the LA Film Critics (the New York Critics went for...Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary). 

Even today, the conversation continues: when Fritz And The Oscars polled "Film Twitter," Montenegro was the overwhelming favorite, and just three years ago Glenn Close brought it all up, concurring with the chorus of Montenegro support. Still others (including the Guest GMs on the 1998 Mini-Mega episode of Screen Drafts) rhapsodize over Blanchett's "a star is born!" performance. Few stick up for Paltrow, and has essentially become a much-debated, three-way race.

Which side do I fall on? I was surprised...

Monday, October 23, 2023

1998: Best Original Song

Was Best Original Song the most competitive category at the 71st Academy Awards? It feels that way. Of the five nominees, only two were also nominated for the Golden Globe: The Prince of Egypt's "When You Believe" and Quest for Camelot's "The Prayer" which won. The other songs nominated were "Uninvited" from City of Angels, "The Mighty" from The Mighty, "Reflection" from Mulan, and "The Flame Still Burns" from Still Crazy.

Too, only two were nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Film or TV - in separate years, due to the Grammys' weird eligibility calendar. Armageddon's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" lost to Titanic's "My Heart Will Go On," in a lineup that also included, from 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies' "Tomorrow Never Dies", and from 1998, the aforementioned "Uninvited" and Mulan's "True to Your Heart." A year later, The Prince of Egypt's "When You Believe" lost to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me's "Beautiful Stranger," in a lineup that also included, from 1998, A Bug's Life's "The Time of Your Life" and, from 1999, Music of the Heart's "Music of My Heart" and Tarzan's "You'll Be in My Heart."

And what actually charted? Looking solely at the Top 40, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was the #3 song of the whole year, while "When You Believe" charted at #16. Any other movie songs? Unsurprisingly, two from the Spice Girls film Spice World make it: "Too Much" at #37 and "Viva Forever" at #27. Another City of Angels track, The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" hit #8 - how many people remember that that song is from City of Angels? Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page's collab for Godzilla, "Come with Me," was #35, though the fact that it's basically Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" with Puff Daddy lyrics would have made it ineligible for any Original Song categories. And"Ghetto Superstar (That is What You Are)" was #15 for the year - the single made its debut in the Warren Beatty political satire Bulworth, of all things. Also, while Faith Hill's "This Kiss" was not written for Practical Magic - indeed, it came out a full eight months before the movie - once you see Practical Magic, the song forever becomes part of Practical Magic. And yes, it falls just outside the Top 40 at #41, but who doesn't want to see this?:

So what actually was at the Oscars? Here:

Sunday, October 22, 2023

1998: Best Actor

Another week of 1998 Oscaring begins! We've covered James Coburn's late-career Oscar triumph, Judi Dench's brief screen time resulting in the win, and an unusual music split. Today, we look back at Best Actor, won for the first time by non-English-language performance:

Some people - mostly the cinephiles and Oscar folks - look back in retrospect and just cannot believe Life is Beautiful was such a triumph: not just seven Academy Award nominations, but three wins! This does not happen with non-US/UK films. In the 25 years since Benigni's win, only two "foreign language" performances have been nominated for Best Actor, Javier Bardem in Biutiful and Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory. Neither were from Best Picture nominees, neither won (two other bilingual performances have been nominated, too: Demián Bichir in A Better Life and Steven Yeun in Best Picture nominee Minari; again, neither won, and both are US productions about the immigrant experience). That Benigni could break through on such a level ... it's a testament to tenacity of US distributor Miramax, run at the time by Harvey Weinstein, but those of us who were around 25 years ago remember how genuinely popular it was. My own fourth-grade teacher talked about it, my aunts recommended it, Ebert gave it three-and-a-half stars...it was a hit! Trust me, no one had heat going into Oscar night like he did.

But was his the best performance? Let's talk...

Friday, October 20, 2023

1998: The Scores

To close out the week, we're looking at two categories: Best Original Musical Or Comedy Score and Best Drama Score.

The Best Original Musical Or Comedy Score has its antecedents, of course, in the Original Song Score, Original Musical Score, and Adaptation Score categories, categories separate from Original Score or (briefly) Original Drama Or Comedy Score to delineate between wholly new compositions, orchestrations of previously existing music, and musicals written for the screen. The last time any of these were used was 1984, when Prince won for Purple Rain. Just 11 years later, the Academy, reportedly in response to Disney's domination of the Song and Score categories since 1989's The Little Mermaid, once again came up with an alternate honor for musicals. The weird thing is, comedies were mixed in this time, even though they're not similar approaches at all: a score for a comedy is still a score, different from composing music and lyrics that are later adapted into underscore. The category only lasted four ceremonies, with this one being its last:

Listen to the scores and you tell me who should've won:

Thursday, October 19, 2023

1998: Best Supporting Actress

Following James Coburn's triumph in Best Supporting Actor, Gwyneth Paltrow named her Shakespeare in Love cohorts the winners for Best Art Direction, while fellow Elizabethan drama Elizabeth walked away with Best Makeup. "Election Night (Valgaften)" and "Bunny" were named Best Live Action Short and Best Animated Short, respectively. And now comes Robin Williams to present Best Supporting Actress.

Did the right one win? My thoughts:

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

1998: Best Supporting Actor

Having discussed many of the yeat's releases, we finally get down to the 71st Academy Awards, starting with the first award of the night: Best Supporting Actor. Everyone here won something: Duvall got the Screen Actors Guild honor, Thorton won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award, Rush would win the British Academy Award a month later, Harris won both the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review, and Coburn, the man who'd spent 45 years in the business, won the Oscar. A surprise to him, clearly:

A deeper look at the nominees:

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

1998: Final Four

Say what you will for last-minute release dates, all four of these films went to be nominated for Oscars - impressive especially for Affliction, considering it first screened at the 1997 Venice Film Festival the previous September! That's a long time to keep the buzz going, but hey, it made it.

Mighty Joe Young
release: December 25
nominee: Best Visual Effects

Christmas continues, this is the fourth release for the day! Remake of the 1949 film about a large gorilla and the girl who grew up with him; here, to protect him from poachers, he is moved to a Los Angeles animal sanctuary - but of course, a villain from the past returns. The VFX hold up impressively: I truly believe that giant gorilla is there playing hide-and-seek with Charlize Theron. Theron, of course, has great chemistry with the much older Bill Paxton, but they are two of the most charismatic screen presences - as witness the wonderful way they perform against the CGI Joe. Solid big studio entertainment.

Patch Adams
release: December 25
nominee: Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

The true story of a medico who wanted to heal chiefly through personal connection - including, yes, laughter. Didn't think it was so bad, just rote, then they invented a fictional girlfriend that gets murdered and while inventing drama for a "true" story is par for the course, surely inventing trauma and a full murder goes beyond the pale, especially as it relates to people struggling with mental health issues? Gross!

release: December 30
winner: Best Supporting Actor (James Coburn)
nominee: Best Actor (Nick Nolte)

A small-town cop with demons starts to suspect bigger things are afoot in his community as he investigates a hunter's death. The story of a man so terrified of becoming his father that he is determined to try to prove himself a good man, the only man who can stand up for and uncover the truth...even as his obsession drives him deeper into a despair that, of course, draws him closer to his father than he'd like to be. An involving portrait of mental disintegration.

Hilary and Jackie
release: December 30
nominee: Best Actress (Emily Watson), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Griffiths)

Bio of sister musicians Hilary and Jackie du Pré, with Jackie and her struggle with loneliness, fame, and multiple sclerosis being the central focus. Never heard of them before, movie does a poor job making them interesting, impressive considering they share a husband for a season. Anand Tucker does some whoo-ee things with the camera to keep things interesting, but it's more distracting than anything. The actors are doing their job. Not a good movie.

That just leaves the five films nominated for Best Picture. And we'll get to them, eventually. First, let's take a look at the individual nominees, starting tomorrow with Best Supporting Actor: James Coburn (Affliction), Robert Duvall (A Civil Action), Ed Harris (The Truman Show), Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare in Love), and Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan). 

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Monday, October 16, 2023

1998: Holiday Hits

Past years, you can see a good spreading of the wealth when it comes to release dates for Oscar nominees. As we go further along through the 90s and 00s, you'll notice a lot of nominees come from the last two months of the year...the time when ballots go out and so whatever's fresh in the memory gets their box ticked. Of the following 14 films, seven were nominated for Academy Awards. Deservedly so? You tell me...

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

1998: Wilde Things

I had wanted to begin in the month of April, when Lost in Space - starring William Hurt, in his third of four 1998 films - finally dethroned Titanic to take the #1 spot at the weekend box office. But, timing and availability difficulties worked against me, and so now I must skip a William Hurt film and go straight to May, beginning with...

Monday, October 9, 2023

1998: The Year Begins

With this 1998 retrospective, we complete what we started over a year ago: watching every Shakespeare film nominated for Best Picture. Shakespeare in Love is not based on the Bard directly, of course, but given that it weaves Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night into a story centered on the man himself...well, come on, it belongs here. Besides, 2023 also happens to be 25 years since 1998! A whole quarter century!

I turned nine in 1998, and while I don't remember seeing a lot of releases in the theater - one was, after all, at the mercy of parents - I'm pretty sure I saw at least six. There was A Bug's Life, which I saw before they added "bloopers" to the end credits; Everest, a Father's Day treat at the local IMAX (one of the last films my dad saw in a theater, followed by lunch at Creolina's); Paulie; The Prince of Egypt; Spice World, which my sister and her then-boyfriend took me to; and The Truman Show, my first foray into "grownup" cinema. Most 1998 films I wound up seeing through the 00s on home video. Some of those I rewatched for this project, some I didn't, and therefore won't count them towards the "movie count," my memory of them being extremely vague...and 25 years old. Mostly, I took the opportunity to watch films I hadn't seen before. Not just Oscar nominees, but stuff like the Godzilla remake or Happiness or There's Something About Mary.

So, where do we start? Well, hell, where does the year usually start? It starts in January...

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Coming Soon: 1998!

Starting Sunday it's the 25th anniversary of...everything! Yes, We're looking at the films of 1998, including these 32 films nominated at the 71st Academy Awards.

All these, plus: the films of Drew Barrymore! Kenneth Branagh in '98! Indie gems like High Art! Cult flicks turned canon like The Big Lebowski! And so much more! All starting Sunday, October 8th!

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