Friday, October 28, 2011

Best Picture of 1998

I remember the 1998 Best Picture race well. Saving Private Ryan was the hot favourite to win for most of the season, right up until just before the ceremony. I recall reading the predictions of a possible upset by Shakespeare In Love but couldn't believe it would happen. The Spielberg film was my pick, both for my own personal favourite and for the Academy's favourite, and it just made no sense that a light-hearted period rom-com would best it. Having watched all five nominees again over recent weeks, let's see if my feelings have changed.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1998 are:
  • Elizabeth
  • Life Is Beautiful
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Shakespeare In Love
  • The Thin Red Line
Two of these contenders take place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but that is about all they have in common. The other three take place during World War II, two of which are ripe for comparison. Both The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan deal with the personal journeys of soldiers in battle, and somehow these two films created a pseudo-rivalry for film buffs. You're either a Thin Red Line kind of movie lover, or you're a Saving Private Ryan kind of movie lover. Whatever the implications, I think I can attest to the fact that I am not the former. I struggled with The Thin Red Line. It contained some gripping sequences but its rambling nature left me wanting. Elizabeth is next to be removed from the running. While still a fascinating film with terrific production values, there is something about it that doesn't quite hit the spot. Not a particularly intelligible reason, I know, but nonetheless, we are left with three.

Due to my support of Saving Private Ryan, I think I may have irrationally held a grudge against Shakespeare In Love for many years. Watching it again, I am happy to be reminded of what a charmingly enjoyable film it is. While I still wouldn't select it as my favourite, I am content with the Academy's decision. The year's Best Foreign Language Film winner, Life Is Beautiful, is next to go, despite being a superbly unique film that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

I must point out how close both Life Is Beautiful and Shakespeare In Love came to taking my top prize, much closer than I remembered. Ultimately, however, I am sticking with my pick from 13 years ago and calling Saving Private Ryan my favourite from 1998. Although heavy with sentimentality, the D-Day sequence alone is almost enough for me to declare it the winner.

Best Picture of 1998
Academy's choice:

Shakespeare In Love

Matt's choice:

Saving Private Ryan

Your choice:

What kind of movie lover are you? Vote for your favourite 1998 Best Picture nominee above. I'm very interested in the results of this one. Next, we head back to the early days of the Oscars.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1929/30 are:
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • The Big House
  • Disraeli
  • The Divorcee
  • The Love Parade
Some of these titles are a little harder to find than others. They're all available from Amazon in some form or another (just click on the links below), but undoubtedly, there are other places to go if you don't want to buy a box set just for one movie.


  1. Reviewing my Top Ten list from 1998, only Elizabeth from the nominees, was missing. Some of my choices included Croupier, Gods and Monsters, Dark City, The Spanish Prisoner and The Truman Show. This last one is probably the one that came closest to have been officially nominated.

    So, Elizabeth finishes fifth, followed by:

    The Thin Red Line: Fourth

    Life is Beautiful: A strong third

    Saving Private Ryan – a very close second, but despite being the more prestigious film, had a few weaknesses that cost it the top prize. The D-Day sequence was so riveting, that it would have been nearly impossible for the remainder not to feel like a letdown of sorts.

    Shakespeare in Love: I agree with the Academy this time. It is always hard to pick a romantic comedy over a dramatic film, but I can’t deny a film that covers all its bases nearly flawlessly. For the 28 film years we have evaluated, this is the 6th time I’ve picked a film with comedy elements for the top prize. The others, which have various degrees of comedy were: Stage Door (1937), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Graduate (1967), The Sting (1973) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

    My 1998 Ballot for the top categories:
    Picture: Shakespeare in Love
    Director: Steven Spielberg
    Actor: Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
    Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love
    Supporting Actor: Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan
    Supporting Actress: Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love. Comparing her performance to say Rachel Griffiths, who had probably 8 times the screen time as Dench is grossly unfair. However, that is the nature of this category.

    I’ve only seen All Quiet on the Western Front from the 1929/30 Best Picture contenders. Although that picture is no doubt the prohibitive favorite, I think youtube has the others. As always, I'll try to keep an open mind.

  2. I have to admit that it was a lot tougher to rule out Shakespeare In Love than I thought it was going to be. It was actually a tough decision between the top three. And if The Truman Show had been nominated, it would have been a four-way decision. I also loved that film. On my list of faves from 1998, I also cited Primary Colors, Pleasantville, A Simple Plan and A Civil Action.

    As for the performances, I'm perhaps biased but I would have picked Aussie Cate Blanchett for Best Actress. My Supporting Actress pick was Kathy Bates in Primary Colors. Her final scene is heartbreaking.

    For the actors, it would have been nice to see Rush win for Supporting Actor. Such comedic performances are too rarely rewarded. For lead actor, I'd need to have another look at Gods and Monsters to be truly fair, but I have no qualms about Benigni winning. (I suppose Benigni's performance could be classified as comedic, but the performance works because of its dynamic. I think if it was a solely comic performance, I would not select him.)

  3. As I'm sure you could tell from my comments on your Shakespeare in Love post, that is my pick for the best picture of that year. I probably would have Saving Private Ryan second still. I agree with you on The Thin Red Line. Elizabeth was good, but it was the makeup transformation (which deservedly won the Oscar) that really made that movie. As for Life is Beautiful, the humor didn't always work for me, given the situation.