I love the Oscars. I look forward every year to the month of February/March (or whenever Hollywood decides to wait long enough for people to not remember what movies came out the previous year) for the telecast. I enjoy the family gathering and the voting sheets, and the perennial trophy the winner in my family gets to take home for the most correct choices of winners.
Over the years, and as I get older, I start to notice the politics involved not only in the Academy choosing nominees, but voters choosing a winner. Currently, the Academy has a cap on how much money a distributor can use in promoting to voters why THEIR film, actor, actress, or film maker should win the award, but back in the heyday of Miramax and the gluttony of the Weinstein brothers' "independent" film company, distributors had limitless pockets. They sucked at the teat of the Academy voters, and stuck dollar bills in their underwear like the whores they told them that they were. And the voters ate it up.
But, the Academy was smarter than that. They weren't whores. They didn't "buy" in to the greed of a company like Miramax who believed in a gold statue more than they believed in the quality of their films. At the brink of the turn of the century, the year 1999 became the year when politics were left aside. This was the year Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" won Best Picture for truly being the best movie of the year!
Read that paragraph above one more time. Or just remember it because you have a good memory. So, you remember it? Good. Now, forget it. Because it's total fucking bullshit.
Turns out, with limitless money, the Weinstein's were able to "purchase" Oscar after Oscar for their movie, "Shakespeare in Love." The picture of Steven Spielberg above is actually him holding the only Oscar he would win that night - for Best Director for his WWII drama. Somehow, he directed the second best movie of the year in the eyes of the voters.
"Shakespeare in Love", while actually being a decent film, was nowhere near being Best Picture of the Year. The film was by chance the best film the weekend it opened, or maybe even the best in the month of December when it was released. "Saving Private Ryan", on the other hand, was ground-breaking, ushering in years of Emmy-award winning television war dramas, as well as countless, WWII-themed video games. It was the first film to show the gritty realism of war, and had a significant emotional impact unseen by many veterans (including my grandfather) up to that day in motion pictures. "Shakespeare in Love" had Ben Affleck when Ben Affleck was "Ben Affleck."
Even in hindsight, a smart moviegoer could see the future effect "Private Ryan" would have on the entertainment industry. The film would set the standard by which all future war films would be compared. The film harbored new techniques in cinematography that would be copied by many others, and had (in my opinion) one of Tom Hanks' best performances. Luckily the voters believed similarly and gave him his third Oscar for his commanding, and at times emotional, performance.
Fuck. I wish I could read that last sentence and it be true, but this was a clear example of the complete opposite of what you could hope for in people having a foresight into the importance of what a film or a film maker will have on the future of cinema. With Roberto Benigni, the answer was - none. Granted, audiences loved "Life is Beautiful." Benigni, who directed and starred in the film that would introduce him to American audiences, was able to make light of the horrors and travesties during the Holocaust and give a performance that truly would give many people hope in a very, very dark time. He acted the clown. "Acted."
Turns out Roberto Benigni is a total lunatic, and could never reach the height of success that he received from "Life is Beautiful." To this day, I imagine many Academy voters rolling their eyes (or rolling in their graves, considering the average age of a voter is 107) the moment Helen Hunt had the misfortune of reading Benigni's name, resulting in the man jumping up onto the top of his seat (as well as Spielberg's), and then running up on stage and claiming he wanted to rape everyone (well, actually he said he wanted to "make love to everyone," but in context, he was probably talking about rape).
Tom Hanks would go home empty handed, as would Paramount pictures. Spielberg himself would achieve success on that night, but it would all be overshadowed by the Weinstein brothers' endless pockets of money, and the ability to convince voters and audiences that Gwyneth Paltrow was not only British but also good looking AND a good actress. She would take home Oscar gold that night in a performance I couldn't for the life of me remember one moment from. She was also competing against a then-unknown Cate Blanchett from "Elizabeth", a film with many of the same actors as "Shakespeare in Love", but only in a much darker context and darker period in history. Seriously though, if you were to watch "Elizabeth" and "Shakespeare in Love" back-to-back, you would find it difficult to discern between the two after you pulled the knife out of your chest.
Actress Judi Dench also won for Best Supporting Actress that year for "Shakespeare in Love." While she is a fantastic actress and deserves to have an Oscar, the fact that she got it for a role that had all but six minutes of screen time is astounding. A voter could argue that she was SO good that in six minutes she could do what other actresses couldn't do in sixty, and while I can't argue with that, six minutes just truly doesn't compare to a full, feature-length performance by Kathy Bates in "Primary Colors".
1999 was a pivotal year for me when the words "Shakespeare in Love" became an expletive phrase in place of such words as "mother fucker" and "son-of-a-bitch" that I would use for a solid two years afterward. Performers could buy Oscar statuettes with help from a good enough lawyer (in Hollywood it's pronounced "producer"), and a crazy Italian that nobody knew would show the Academy (and the entire world) in a heartbeat what a terrible mistake they made in believing that he was better than Tom Hanks.
All the thinking back about this moment in Hollywood history is really pissing me off.
Shakespeare in Love!