Friday, September 25, 2009

Oscar is Always Wrong (except when it’s right) Part VII: 1997

I haven’t done an Oscars post for a while (since June!), and I have to admit the main reason is that I was up to 1997, and for mine, 1997 was not a great year for film. Have a look at the top 10 grossing films in the US:

1 Titanic $600,788,188
2 Men in Black $250,690,539
3 The Lost World: Jurassic Park $229,086,679
4 Liar Liar $181,410,615
5 Air Force One $172,956,409
6 As Good as It Gets $148,478,011
7 Good Will Hunting $138,433,435
8 Star Wars (Special Edition) $138,257,865
9 My Best Friend's Wedding $127,120,029
10 Tomorrow Never Dies $125,304,276

Not a real Golden Year is it? Titanic creamed everything in its path, which right off the bat has me in shudders. Perhaps there are people around hoping Liar Liar will be screened this weekend on Channel 10, but I doubt it. OK, My Best Friend’s Wedding is very good rom-com – people forget how much of a spiral Julia Roberts’ career was in at that point, Cameron Diaz wasn’t yet Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett took first place as everyone’s favourite gay guy, and Dermot Mulroney err…ahh well he wasn’t completely awful. It also makes you wonder if PJ Hogan can direct anything good ever again – Confessions of a Shopaholic?? Please. I also enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies, but pretty much everything else on the list is pretty avoidable (having seen Men in Black roughly 15 times on Channel 10, I can do without a 16th).

But there’s no Best Picture winner in that lot.

If you want to remember what 1997 was about – think Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Yep, that was the year there were two films about volcanoes. It was also the year the classic The Day of the Jackal was remade as the execrable The Jackal, and also the year in which the rather fondly remembered TV show The Saint, was remade as the try-to-sear-from-my-memory The Saint (oh Phillip Noyce, you are so much better than that!). It was also the year of Batman and Robin – yes the Bat-suit with the nipples…

As I say, not a golden year.

But let’s look at Best Picture:

Winner: Titanic
Nominated: As Good as It Gets, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, The Full Monty.

Should have won: LA Confidential

There are those who would argue that Titanic has to win – it was the film of the year, and to take the award away is to forget how beguiled the world was by it. And I have to admit, I can see that argument, and would be prepared for the boat film to keep the Golden statue, if LA Confidential wasn’t so good, and Titanic wasn’t so God awful.

Look, ok, there are some good things about Titanic – the sinking is great, Kate Winslet is her usual amazing self, and Leo DiCaprio does well with what he’s got. But oh God it’s long, and oh God you just want the damn thing to sink, and has there ever been worse dialogue in a film not written by George Lucas? And why does Winslet not share some of the raft she’s clinging to? And why oh why does the old lady throw the stone back into the ocean???

Of the nominated films, I would also drop As Good as it Gets – I can’t recall the last time I watched it, and there is no way I would ever feel like sitting through it again – Jack Nicholson is pure ham, the story is slight and predictable, the only good thing is Helen Hunt. Good Will Hunting? Sorry, no good will from me here. Quite possibly the weakest Best Screenplay Oscar ever.

The Full Monty stays. Yeah it is slight, but it is all heart; it’s real, and even after all these years, and all those many viewings, it is still impossible not to have a huge smile across your face when the credits roll at the end.

Of the other films that year that I would give a nomination to, I would put in Boogie Nights (not a great film, but one of the most interesting of the year), and Wag the Dog – easily the most prescient film of the year, and my runner-up.

LA Confidential does suffer from a degree of over-ratedness – it is not in the same ball park as, say, Chinatown, but it contains so much that is top drawer that I am prepared to forgive that which holds it back from true greatness. The ending for a start. Now I know in James Ellroy’s novel the Bud White character gets shot up, but lives; but he doesn’t get shot up like he does in the movie, and in the movie his reappearance at the end is horrible – it almost kills the film, especially as the last time you had seen White he was shot at point blank range in the back. The movie would have been a classic had he died. The other horror of the ending is Guy Pearce as Ed Exley spending 5 minutes explaining the entire movie. We don’t need to know what the movie was about; we don’t need to know it was about heroin; we don’t need to know any of it. Hadn’t these guys ever seen The Big Sleep?

Noir isn’t about answers; it’s about questions. If the journey is good enough, people will come back to try and work out what happened (and also to enjoy the ride)

But as I say, I forgive it, because everything up to the last 10 minutes is amazing. What a cast – Russell Crowe in his ascendency – his Bud White, deserved comparisons to early Brando; Pearce in the best thing he’s done besides Memento, is all fidget and nerves mixed with steel; Kevin Spacey before he thought he needed to be the lead, is perfect as the “love’s the camera” Jack Vincennes; and James Cromwell is pure ice cold malevolence – amazing to think this is the same guy who 2 years earlier was Farmer Hoggatt. And then there’s the other bit players - David Strathairn, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin – they are just a joy to watch.

So good is the acting and script that we can even cope with Kim Basinger in the lead female role. She’s not very good, and you can’t get past the fact she is Kim Basinger, but she doesn't bring down the film in the way that Billy Zane does with Titanic.

I have the DVD, but to be honest hadn’t watched it for a while; however, in the last month it’s been on high rotation on Foxtel, and whenever I am channel surfing and I come across it, I always stop and get suckered in.

Great acting, great writing, great direction, great music, great sets and costumes. Just fantastic work all-round, and it gets my Best Picture for 1997 (an award which also might have helped it earn more than the $64m it did – this one deserved to go over $100m).

I have to say I don’t agree with the acting awards in this year either, but I’ll leave those for another post. (And I’ll do it sooner than 3 months I promise!)

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