The English Patient (winner)
Secrets & Lies
1996 was a fine year for movies, and while there are some good ones on the nomination list, there’s a hell of a lot of room for improvement. We’ll start, as usual, with the films that would never get a nomination because of genre. These kick off with The Craft and Scream as well as The Frighteners. I love all three of these movies even if Oscar would rather die than acknowledge any of them. I don’t love Twister, but there’s a good joke regarding it with my wife, so I feel I have to mention it. I also don’t like Breaking the Waves, but I think it’s an important film. The People vs. Larry Flynt is a much better movie than people remember, and I think it belongs here. The Birdcage is one of those rare films where the remake is vastly superior to the original. Lone Star didn’t have the audience or clout, which is a damn shame for a very good movie. The biggest shocker to me is Branagh’s Hamlet. It’s a damn sight better than the Oscar-winning Olivier version from 1948, and it’s nowhere to be seen.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. We have an odd case here where, on Letterboxd, all five of the nominations have gotten a different rating from me, from 3 stars to 5. This means, objectively, I have an order for these to go in. Frankly, when I looked at my ratings, I’m surprised I put Shine at the 3-star mark. I remember liking it a lot less than I evidently did, and I’m not sure it would score this high if I could be bothered to rewatch it. It plays very much like a “disease/disorder of the week” movie with a very good cast. I have no desire to see it a second time.
4. Winner The English Patient is exactly the sort of movie that wins Best Picture Oscars. It’s a huge, sweeping romance with lots of scenery—a small love story shown on a huge canvas. Oscar voters eat this stuff up, and the win for The English Patient started a short trend of billowy romances winning the top award. It’s a fine movie, but again, it’s a movie I don’t think I’d bother to watch a second time. It’s bit, it’s romantic, there’s a lot of suffering and sighing, and then it ends, about half an hour after it overstays its welcome.
3. If you’ve never heard Patton Oswalt’s bit on Jerry Maguire, track it down—you’re doing yourself a disservice. Regardless of his experience at the theater, I think this is a solid movie, one that is probably a little worse than a lot of people think it is, but a little better than it deserves to be. Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a feel-good movie with a decent cast, and there are those movies where you fall for the clichés in spite of yourself. Jerry Maguire is that sort of movie. It works even though it shouldn’t.
2. I went into Secrets & Lies knowing absolutely nothing about it and kind of dreading it. I left on the other side a true believer in the story and the characters and the power of whatever binds us together as human beings through the best and worst of our lives. This is a movie that would win from me in a lot of years, and I love that the Academy, a body that has a long history of nominating a bunch of duds that have important messages or that give them their own little self-importance boners, nominated this little heartfelt drama that should be seen by more people.
1. Fargo is the one and only right choice for this year, though. There are a lot of great and noteworthy films from this year, and if I were making the list of nominations, I’d probably only keep the top two, but Fargo is walking out on top every time. In addition to having a great story with an intricate and interesting plot, it also houses Marge Gunderson, the single greatest movie character of the last 30 years. There’s not a second of fat in this movie, either—every scene matters, and that’s a rare thing, indeed. It’s close to cinematic perfection, and it should have been the choice of Oscar, and I think they know it.