It’s been 20 years since the 71st annual Academy Awards and looking back on it, it’s clear that voters were either skewed in the wrong direction or just flat out wrong. This travesty shall not stand man, and I’m here to fix what Hollywood got wrong. Full disclosure: I cannot change the actual awards and this is just an exercise to make myself feel better. I don’t care because this is something that has continued to bother me and that all changes right now.
What did they get right?
The Academy got a few things right, so don’t think I’m just here to throw revisionist stones at the entire awards ceremony. They got two things very right.
Steven Spielberg, Best Director - Saving Private Ryan was a tour de force and still holds up to this day and the biggest reason it does is that Steven Spielberg is really, really good at his job. He won the best director award and I know you think that was always a given, but that hasn’t been the case with him always. Hollywood loves him, but there was a long time where he was so much better than everyone else that he paid the price from jealous peers. He didn’t win for ET for crying out loud!! ET didn’t even win best picture that year. Gandhi won Best Picture and Richard Attenborough won best director. What is the last time you watched Gandhi? Has anyone ever seen it more than once? Are you waiting until just the right moment to share Gandhi with your kids? My point is that Spielberg was by far the best director/filmmaker of the 80’s and he won exactly zero Academy Awards during that span. Zero. So for him to win here wasn’t the walk off homer that you might think. The Academy got it right!
James Coburn, Best Supporting Actor - Affliction has it’s good and bad moments, but the film itself was carried by two superb performances. Pre-insane Nick Nolte who was nominated for Best Actor and James Coburn who was nominated and won Best Supporting Actor. James Coburn was a mother effing stud! He had a career that spanned 6 decades and when you are mentioned in the peer group of guys like Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and Lee Marvin, then you know that you have reached the pinnacle of cool. This award isn’t about cool and this isn’t a career Oscar (though you could make the case for it), this award is about him giving the performance of his very long and very talented life. He beat out Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, and Geoffrey Rush for a reason. He killed it with this part and deserved the award. Good job Oscars!
What they got wrong….very wrong
Roberto Benigni, Best Actor - Look, I liked his acceptance and running around on chairs and kissing people in the moment. It was charming and he seems like a likable enough guy. This award shouldn’t be about likability, but even if it was who is more likable than American Treasure Tom Hanks?? This award is about who gave the best performance and for this year, in this category, it was not Roberto. You could make a case for literally any other person in this category, but it really comes down to two. Tom Hanks for Saving Private Ryan and Ed Norton for American History X. This is a tough choice to this day, but it comes down to one simple fact for me. Tom Hanks gave a performance as good or better than Norton and Saving Private Ryan is a vastly superior movie, so that gives him the edge in my eyes. You may not agree with that, but when is the last time you watched American History X? Please don’t give me the argument that you don’t watch AH-X because it’s rough subject matter because Saving Private Ryan comes out of the gate blowing the legs off of 18 year old kids.
Who should have won? - Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Gwyneth Paltrow, Best Actress - She was fine, if not charming and funny. The movie itself is fine, if not funny and charming. BUT, this movie is a rom-com at best. A clever and well done rom-com, but still a rom-com. This is not something that should have been taken seriously enough for the Academy Awards and even though she was good in the role, she rode the wave of serial asshole Harvey Weinstein and Miramax pictures pushing this movie so hard. Sure, he is out of the picture now, but 1998 Harvey Weinstein was the most powerful man in Hollywood and he is the singular reason this movie made it to where it went.
Paltrow was good in a good movie, but to give her that award over Cate Blanchett in her most well known role to date? That is wrong. Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth was movie magic and the fact that she lost this award to a lady who was good in a rom-com is a travesty of the highest order! This isn’t just looking back now and saying Blanchett went on to a better career so she had to have been better in 1998. This is a “EVERYONE THOUGHT SHE WAS BETTER, SHE IS BETTER, AND SHOULD HAVE WON THE AWARD” situation. This was wrong in the moment and the subsequent career just makes it worse now.
Who should have won? Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth
Best Picture, Shakespeare in Love - Sigh….the fact that we even need to have this conversation is ridiculous. You have eyes! You’ve seen these movies! You have probably seen Saving Private Ryan within the past year. When is the last time you watched Shakespeare in Love? I’ll wait. You haven’t seen it recently because it’s a witty rom-com that isn’t on 5 cable channels every single weekend because it’s one of the best movies ever made. Saving Private Ryan was made by arguably our greatest director ever and its lead actor was arguably the best American actor in the last 4 decades. This movie does every single thing right, even when you think it shouldn’t work, it effing works!!!
You know how I know it works? When is the last time you watched a movie and thought, “man, Vin Diesel gave a really great performance in this movie and i was genuinely sad when he died”? That’s how good Spielberg is at film-making! Shakespeare in Love didn’t win this award, Harvey Weinstein won this award because he was the most powerful man in the movie industry in 1998. That is the only reason. That shouldn’t have been the case, but he was and all of the stories about him ending careers for actresses not sleeping with him are 100% believable because he had that kind of power. He could get votes with a phone call and he did. He could swing awards and did because he had that kind of power. Saving Private Ryan is so much better than anything else that year and the fact that it lost is ridiculous.
What should have won? Saving Private Ryan
Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox. You can reach him at email@example.com