Monday, July 29, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1997

The Contenders:

As Good as it Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
Titanic (winner)

What’s Missing

1997 is one of those years where there are a lot more good movies than you might think. This is despite the fact that the nomination class is, overall, a pretty good one. That said, there are improvements to make, or at least changes that may be only lateral moves in terms of the overall quality of the films in question. Certainly, my love of films like Event Horizon, The Game, and Cube doesn’t really matter to Oscar, and those films aren’t going to ever get a nomination. Oscar’s general dislike of science fiction will leave out Contact and Gattaca. Oscar also doesn’t nominate a lot of foreign language movies for its top award, which means that films like Taste of Cherry, Happy Together, Open Your Eyes, and Life is Beautiful are longshots for nomination despite the latters nominations and wins in other categories. Wag the Dog was either too sardonic or too real to consider seriously. Boogie Nights may have just had too much sex in it. But I don’t know why I’m including Affliction and The Apostle here rather than in the nominations below.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I remember when As Good as it Gets came out and people lost their shit over it. And, now having seen it, I don’t know why people like it. This is a hateful movie captained by a hateful, misogynist anti-gay bigot who gets to have a happy ending when the credits roll because, over the course of the film he makes a gay friend and decides that maybe there’s a woman (half his age) who just might be worthy of touching his penis and still talking to him afterwards. Based on how good this year was, if Oscar had expanded to 10 nominations for this year, I still wouldn’t put this on the list.

4. This was Titanic’s year, and for a lot of reasons, I can see why people liked it. It’s a bit, sweeping story about a real-world event that has been fictionalized to include some human interest and some romance. I get it. And while I like the story pretty well, I really like it when it ramps up to the ship sinking. So why fourth place? Because it’s 45 or so too long. This movie should start when Rose calls Titanic the ship of dreams and it should end when Rose is sitting on a New York dock. The framing story drags the rest of it down.

3. We can credit Good Will Hunting with a lot of things. It got an Oscar for Robin Williams and made names for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. And really, it’s a hard movie to dislike. It’s one that would rank for me in a lot of years. The truth is that it’s just not as good as the other two nominations. While it’s a fine story and has some interesting characters, it’s also a story that goes exactly as you think it’s going to. Once all the pieces are in place on the board, there’s nowhere for it to go except for exactly where it goes.

2. I absolutely love that The Full Monty was nominated for Best Picture. It’s absolutely the sort of nomination that continues to give me just a little bit of hope that the Oscars and the entire process isn’t entirely irredeemable. I’ll be honest in saying that it has a lot of the same problems as Good Will Hunting. There aren’t a lot of places for this to go once it starts going, and you know what? I don’t care at all. I love these characters and this story, and it’s impossible to watch this and not smile all the way through it. I mean, I’m not giving it the win, but damn if it isn’t worth seeing and loving.

My Choice

1. I like L.A. Confidential a lot. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does a hell of a lot of things really, really well. For modern-day filmmakers, noir is a difficult style to really pull off. There’s something primal about noir. You need to be just cynical enough to make it work and just naïve enough to believe in it. Modern filmmakers struggle with that naivety. But L.A. Confidential works because it embraces that style completely. It wants to tell a good story and it wants to be just bad enough to do it. There’s not a moment that doesn’t work in it, and while there’s still a little revulsion touting a film featuring this much Kevin Spacey, I can’t deny that it’s the best of its year.

Final Analysis


  1. Finally, someone here who thought As Good as It Gets was overrated. I didn't like that movie either and I thought Jack Nicholson didn't really do much in the acting as he was just playing an exaggerated version of himself. With the exception of Broadcast News, I never really liked what James L. Brooks does.

    While L.A. Confidential I thought was the 15th best film of 1997 based on my list, I agree with you that it should've won Best Picture. Nothing against Titanic for all of its technical achievements but there were so many better films that came out that year.

    1. For what it's worth, I absolutely hate Broadcast News. It turned me off to Holly Hunter as an actress for far too long.

      I've seen half of your list. I clearly like Event Horizon a lot more than you do, but I'll admit that I've got a weird soft spot for sci-fi horror and that I love Paul W.S. Anderson more than he deserves. I thought about mentioning Ulee's Gold above, but really, Peter Fonda is the best part of that by a country mile.

  2. There were several decent films this year but none better at what it set out to do than L.A. Confidential. I think in most any other year it would have come out on top in a walk but Titanic was a tidal wave that had won the award before the nominations were even released.

    Speaking of that film I think I've mentioned before that I think the romantic portion is so much crap that never could have possibly happened in 1912 but once the ship hit the berg it was an awesome achievement. The film is entertaining but that shouldn't have gotten best in show.

    Yeah to putting As Good as It Gets last!! I hated everything about that movie.

    Of the other two I'd include The Full Monty on my list but not Good Will Hunting which was a fine populace entertainment but not much more.

    I like some of the titles you suggest, Wag the Dog and The Game, but I hated The Apostle just as much as AGAIG.

    I'd add Wings of the Dove, Coppola's The Rainmaker and the German made The Harmonists as worthier of nominations than your bottom three.

    1. See, while I realize that the romance in Titanic is bullshit that would never happen, I don't hate it as a movie fantasy romance. But yes, as I've said for years, come for the romance, stay for the ship singing.

      I don't know how much I love the story of The Apostle, but it might be Robert Duvall's best work.

  3. Of the noms, I too would take L.A. Confidential. Phenomenal film. Boogie Nights is the big miss for me, and probably would be my pick for the top spot. Amistad is also a surprise snub. It seems to tick all the Oscar boxes, but didn't get the nom. Finally, Jackie Brown somehow didn't get a nom, either. That said, my fave of the year is actually Love Jones, but I realize that had no shot for a variety of reasons. Other movies I really love from this year (some of which I know would never get an Oscar nom):

    Scream 2
    Eve's Bayou
    Donnie Brasco

    FYI, Life is Beautiful did get an Oscar nom the following year, losing to Shakespeare in Love.

    1. You're right about Life is Beautiful.

      I liked Scream 2 as well. Donnie Brasco not as much, but I didn't dislike it. The others I don't know.

  4. I went and looked at my IMDB list for best movies year-by-year and my choice was Starship Troopers. Yeah. I love Starship Troopers! But I get why nobody else is mentioning it as a contender. It's often kinda dumb with some uninspired acting. But otherwise, it's got everything I love in an action/sci-fi/war flick! It's such a perfect example of the narrow genre which it represents that it gets a lot of extra points.

    1997 is such a weird year! There were a lot of other movies that I loved! Some great movies like LA Confidential and Wag the Dog. And from the List but not mentioned yet - The Butcher Boy! But none of them hit my buttons quite the way Starship Troopers did.

    I must admit, though, that Starship Troopers seems to have benefited A LOT from coming out in 1997. I'm looking at the rest of the 1990s and I'm not seeing anything that I didn't like a lot better than Starship Troopers.

    1. As someone who enjoys the book, I hated the movie version of Starship Troopers. Something so much better could be made out of the book and instead we got authoritarianism-lite.

    2. I've read so much Heinlein in my life, including Starship Troopers. I loved the movie anyway. It was a brash, loud, colorful parody that worked for me completely.

  5. Agree with some of the comments, disagree with some. I love Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, so that's a disagreement. I don't hate As Good as It Gets as much as you, but do think it's a bit overrated and doubt if it would make my 1001 list. My major problem with Titanic is i wish there had been more emphasis on some of the other characters other than the two leads, but that might be just me. The mention of Donnie Brasco above is a good candidate, though maybe more for Best Actor for Pacino. I do think L. A. Confidential is a good choice for the top spot. It looked even better the second time I saw it.

    1. The idea of looking more at the other characters in Titanic would be interesting. But the last thing that movie needs is to be longer!

  6. For me, Titanic and Good Will Hunting are two best movies in the Best Picture category. I have to give the win to Titanic as I had never seen anything like it before, wowed the hell out of me although admittedly a lesser film on TV. I like L.A. Confidential which I rank highly among neo noirs but I don't think it's breaking much new ground.

    1. I agree that it's not breaking new ground, but it hits that story so perfectly that I have to give it a great deal of respect.