5 Oscar Could Have Beens: 1997

Had a certain movie budget-bombed as it looked for a while it would, then this year would have been a well fought out race between LA Confidential and Good Will Hunting. The former seemed to be the favorite of the two for a while to nab Best Picture, but nine nominations apiece suggests there was a lot of love for both movies. Amidst the ridiculous sweep, they managed an acting support and screenplay win each – fine consolation in what could have been a very different Oscar race. As Good as It Gets managed the Best Actor / Actress double, and therein lies another problem for me with this year. Helen Hunt is perfectly good in this, but I thought the nomination was generous. She was nominated, notably, against four British actresses, arguably all worthierI also had a glitch with Gloria Stuart being nominated. And then Celine Dion wearing the heart of the ocean necklace as she sang that song at the awards ceremony was a sickening gimmick. Equally matched by James Cameron’s king of the world declaration, as Titanic bulldozed its way to eleven Oscar wins. A technically accomplished blockbuster, but it had no right making such an influence for it to be a Best Picture contender. Not the Academy’s finest hour (sorry, three hours). So what could have made it better?

Best Original Screenplay – James Cameron (Titanic)

A film received fourteen nominations, but not one for its writing? Correct, the screenplay was pretty invisible and anything but original. Good choice lazy voters, you were paying attention at some point. Let’s move on to the actual choices.

Best Director – Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights)

Like Danny Boyle and Quentin Tarantino, here is a director who impressed with a relatively smaller debut (Sydney), before really getting their hands dirty with an explosive second feature. I am not going to go on and on about how he was clearly influenced by some great film-makers here (Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese stands out), or that Anderson was simply too unknown to be taken seriously. In fact, I am not even to talk too much about how far he has come since then with regard to solid, consistent film-making. PTA is an oddball movie nut and what many would call a genius, and his movies show both those elements. As well as Oscar nominations for Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore, Anderson earned a screenplay nod.

Best Picture – Batman & Robin

LA Confidential and Good Will Hunting get in but the Academy fail to nominate this work of — I can’t do it, sorry. That is not even funny.

Best Original Score – Michael Nyman (Gattaca)

The score by Michael Nyman for Gattaca is, in some ways, like following the Oscars – a pain you must endure. Not to say this is not a brilliant score, it is. It is music with so much sadness, and yearning, and hope. It is almost like a classic old score played over a futuristic setting. And is in large part responsible for carrying the highly original story by Andrew Nicol across the big screen. I would personally argue, even with the other nominees being heavyweight Best Picture Contenders, and Scorsese or Spielberg collaborators, this is clearly one of the best scores of the year outright.

Best Supporting Actress – Sigourney Weaver (The Ice Storm)

Robbed. That’s what people were saying, or feeling, about Sigourney Weaver suddenly disappearing from the Best Supporting Actress radar and not making the list when the nominations were announced. In fact, The Ice Storm was forgotten altogether when it came to the Oscars. The critics for the most part seem to fall in love with it, and it did well in Cannes. Weaver was nominated for a Golden Globe, and went on to win the BAFTA. In the Oscar line-up too, other than Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) I would have happily swapped any of them out for Weaver. Maybe it is just me too, but as much as I love L.A. Confidential, I still don’t quite share the love for Kin Basinger. 

Best Supporting Actor – Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown)

Although there was a Best Picture nominee from Britain, it was not Mrs. Brown. I found this surprising, even if The Full Monty‘s inclusion was a pleasant surprise. The Oscars are dominated by American movies of course, and I am not sure exactly how popular Billy Connolly is over there with regards to his decades of stand-up. In Mrs. Brown he somehow manages to tone himself down with splendid results, and he still retains his outlandish and charm, and brings it to the role of the Queen Victoria’s servant who says what he feels. The supporting field is usually rife with contenders, but Connolly should have been nominated here, especially if you are going to nominate Dench (they were like peas and carrots you might say). Dench should have won by the way.

Best Foreign Language Film – Ponette

Ponette is a French movie about a little girl coming to terms with the death of her mother in a car accident (Ponette has a plaster cast on her arm throughout who whole movie as a result). I remember vaguely seeing the trailer for this when it was released and being simply knocked out by the central performance of the little girl. Victoire Thivisol was just five or six years old at the time, and was the youngest ever winner of Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. A Best Actress nomination was not completely outside of the realm of possibilities – not in my eyes. She certainly carries the film, which has an emotional plot even without seeing it from the point of view a child. Seeing Thivisol grieving right before your eyes on screen is actually at the time quite hard to comprehend. The movie world rarely dares make such a movie when the lead character is a little girl (or boy), but this one is quite the achievement.

Originally published 20th October 2014.


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