Movie That Won:The English Patient
Hardly anyone even saw The English Patient back in 1996. No one seemed to be interested in a story about a mysterious wounded soldier and his tragic romance. And, had the film not won for Best Picture, the film would all but have been forgotten by now. Even with the prize, not too many people are still talking about it, except as to say that it should never have won an Oscar.
To be fair, not a lot of people saw Fargo when it was first released either. But, those who did, couldn’t stop raving about it. And word of mouth grew. It became the sleeper hit of the year, and was a huge hit on video. Over the years, it has only grown in popularity and acclaim. Their film about a sleazy car salesman, who has his wife kidnapped in order to blackmail her father, is still the Coen Brothers’ greatest achievement and one of the greatest crime pictures of all time.
The sad truth is that Patient’s win isn’t based on quality, but a matter of Hollywood politics. The winning film was distributed by Miramax. Producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who ran the studio, were known for vicious campaigns.
Although, it admittedly didn’t help that Fargo was released in April, while English Patient was released right in the middle/prime of Oscar movie season, leaving it fresher and more favorable in voters minds. No matter the reason for its win, it doesn’t deter from the fact that The English Patient is a dull, overlong picture that few have seen and even less admire. Fargo,is an unforgettable movie experience that is now considered a must-see modern classic.
4. Raging Bull
Movie That Won: Ordinary People
When’s the last time you saw Ordinary People? Or heard someone talking about it? Once again, we have an actor-turned-director (Robert Redford), who has made a serious, self-righteous film. Sure, it’s a technically well-made film that tells the powerful, tragic story of a family coping with suicide. But, it’s also heavily over-rated. There’s nothing here that you can’t find in a hundred made-for-tv movies, (except for the A-list actors, of course.)
Raging Bull, on the other hand, is still one of the greatest sports films ever made. It’s also a fascinating biopic about the life and career of tortured boxer Jake LaMotta. One that still holds up to this day. At least once a year, someone I know brings up either the film itself or De Niro’s remarkable, transformative performance. Both of which remain unprecedented cinematic feats to this day.
Of course, Ordinary People’s story still resonates, and tackles a topic that will always be relatable. But, I don’t know a lot of people that are returning to it. It’s an important film, about important issues.
But, it didn’t deserve Best Picture. Raging Bull is an unforgettable experience that hits you in the gut with its opening scene and pounds you into submission for the rest of its running time. This was another example of Scorsese losing out to an actor turned director, who was praised more for what they did than how well they actually did it.
Movie That Won: Around the World in 80 Days
How this travesty ever happened may be one of Oscar’s greatest mysteries. I’ll concede that Around the World in 80 Days is a pleasant entertainment. But, to name it the best picture of the year over such films as The Ten Commandments and Friendly Persuasion is just outrageous.
To rob Giant, one of the most significant American films of all time, of the prestigious award is just a downright travesty. This seems to be another case of popularity winning out over quality. Sure, World is based on a classic novel and has an epic running time.
But, take away its exotic locals and all your left with is a series of outrageous vignettes featuring a cavalcade of recognizable movie stars. This is quite simply a film that was produced, rather than created.
The film is best known as the only film ever made by producer Mike Todd. And it is his project, through and through. Therefore, it’s quite noticeably a product instead of a film. A collection of scenes and cameos that draw intentional attention to themselves, but lack a strong narrative. There’s no real purpose to the film.
Giant on the other hand is flawless, full of true epic themes and a story of real consequence. Its decades-spanning chronicle of a wealthy Texas family, and the oil-enriched land on which they live is the pinnacle of epic storytelling. Not to mention the fact that the film is timeless.
Watching it today, the issues still resonate and the characters still recognizable. Both films have a length of over three hours, but only Giant earns its massive running time and never wastes a frame. It is one of the few truly great American films of all time.
2. Brokeback Mountain
Movie That Won: Crash
There’s no denying the power of Crash. It is a great film with nearly a dozen compelling performances, and an important social message. That being said, it is also one-dimensional, emotionally manipulative and rather contrived.
Meanwhile, Brokeback Mountain is one of the most challenging and heartfelt romantic films of all time. It too has a positive social message. The difference is that it makes its point discreetly, through richly developed characters and compelling storytelling.
In fact, you could watch Mountain and simply enjoy its sweet, tragic story about two male friends, who gradually fall in love during their annual ranching retreats. With Crash, if you take away the racially-charged undertones, you’re left with very little. It seems to me that when academy members marked their ballots this year, they were choosing between messages rather than films. Sometimes, especially in the case of these two films, it is hard to separate the two.
However, comparing them simply on the basis of filmmaking, Brokeback Mountain deserves the award, hands down. Watching the two films now, it’s all the more evident that Crash comes off as extremely preachy, while Mountain’s powerful story about an unlikely, but natural romance is more relevant than ever.
1. Saving Private Ryan
Movie That Won: Shakespeare In Love
This is easily the biggest upset in the ninety year history of the academy awards. Both because the movie that won was so insignificant and the movie that should’ve won was so invigorating and brilliant. Shakespeare in Love is nothing more than a glorified sitcom crossed with a sophisticated soap opera.
Sure, its re-imagining of the Bard’s inspiration for one of his most beloved plays is incredibly clever and immensely charming. But, it makes no real impression, except that it’s too hip for its own good.
Meanwhile, Saving Private Ryan leaves much more of a enduring impact within its first 45 minutes than the entire running time of any other film made in 1998. These two films don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence, let alone compared in the same company.
Speaking of companies, Ryan is another victim of Miramax studios’ aggressive campaigning. There is absolutely no other reasonable explanation for this egregious blunder. Private Ryan was a hit at the box-office, received nearly perfect accolades from critics, and was directed by dependable Oscar-favorite, Steven Spielberg.
To this day, Ryan is considered one of the most realistic, effective war films ever made, while Shakespeare In Love is simply a better-than-average romantic comedy. In fact, it’s only real notoriety is as the film that stole Ryan’s Oscar.