Retrospective: Oscars 1998

Alfred Hitchcock famously quipped that the three things you need to make a good film are a "good script, a good script and a good script." In February 1998 however the Academy voters decided to ignore these pearls of wisdom, much like they ignored the achievements of Hitchcock himself, when they chose to reward Titanic with a Best Picture win despite the film lacking a screenplay nomination. This was the first time this had transpired in over thirty years and pretty much confirmed the idea that Titanic was being praised as a spectacle even though it has been proven time and time again that any spectacle without the benefit of good storytelling is only impressive until the next spectacle comes along. L.A. Confidential on the other hand which is as fresh and watachable in 2010 as it was thirteen years ago compliments the quote that "good storytelling never goes out of fashion." Curtis Hanson had reason to be confident on the night as in the build-up to the Oscars his film had walked away with all four of the big Critics Awards in taking away top prize at both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Critics Film Circle. This feat had only previously been accomplished by Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List and it seemed like there was a strong chance that like minded voters of the Academy would help reward the picture on the night when it truly mattered. Instead however, Titanic went on an awards haul that we hadn't seen the likes since Ben-Hur in 1959 and which wouldn't be seen again until Peter Jackson's The Return of the King in 2004. Titanic and LA Confidential were the two heavy favourites to win Best Picture. The other three nominees were: Gus Van Sant's psychologically convincing, coming of age drama Good Will Hunting which managed to be heartfelt and thought-provoking without descending into melodrama and which gifted a Screenplay win to the unlikely writing duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who have oddly written very little together since. Peter Cattaneo's daft but oddly touching British comedy The Full Monty which focused around a group of unemployed Yorkshire mill workers who decide to embark upon stripping for financial gain. James L. Brooks' romantic comedy As Good as it Gets which had picked up a Golden Globe Award for Best Film in the Comedy/Musical category. Each filmmaker was a first time nominee in the Best Director category and James Cameron became the first Canadian to win the prize. On a night when a number of records were made or equalled, Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets) walked up to the podium to collect the prize for Best Leading Actor. This was Nicholson's third Academy Award; a feat which tied him with thirties star Walter Brennan as the two most rewarded male actors in Oscar history. In receiving his eleventh nomination he had also broken the previous record of ten which he had shared with Laurence Olivier. Nicholson triumphed over: Matt Damon's very well judged performance as troubled psychics genius Will. This was Damon's first nomination and in my opinion he gave the most convincing performance within this category. Dustin Hoffman's seventh nomination as an eccentric Hollywood producer in Barry Levison's Wag the Dog. Robert Duvall's fifth nomination for his role as a preacher in The Apostle. Veteran actor Peter Fonda receiving his first nomination after thirty-five years in the limelight for his performance as a widowed, Vietnam veteran in the film Ulee's Gold. Noticeable omissions included the performances of Australian leads Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential, Aaron Eckhart's excellently played slimeball in Neil Labute's In The Company of Men and Johnny Depp as undercover cop in Donnie Brasco. Crowe would receive a hat-trick of nominations between 1999-2001 but the Academy had not yet developed such fondness for him at this stage in his career. Helen Hunt made history by prevailing in the Best Lead Actress category and becoming the first woman to win an Emmy, Golden Globe and an Academy Award in the same year. She won her award whilst simultaneously starring in the sitcom Mad About You which no doubt provided a great plug for the already popular show. Hunt managed to triumph in spite of the female British Invasion which made up the remainder of the nominees. The British contenders were: Kate Winslet who received her second nomination for her upper class role in Titanic. Despite several more nominations Winslet would have to endure a thirteen year wait before she got to pick up her long overdue statuette. Judi Dench on the other hand was rewarded at the following years ceremony but lost out here with her first nomination for her role as Queen Victoria in John Madden's Her Majesty (Mrs Brown). Helena Bonham Carter as broke Kate Croy in director Iain Softley's romance The Wings of the Dove. Sex symbol turned profound character actress Julie Christie won her first and only Oscar in 1965 for the film Darling. Thirty two years later she received her third nomination for her turn as ex B-Movie actress Phyliss Mann in Alan Rudolph's Afterglow. Omissions included Emily Cline's challenging performance from In The Company of Men and Sigourney Weaver and Joan Allen's convincing portrayals in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. Much like Jim Carrey, Robin Williams has had a career in which he has truly excelled in substantial, dramatic roles and tried painfully hard to be funny in dissapoiting and repetitive comedies. Unlike Carrey however, the Academy have recognised Williams potential as a gifted, dramatic actor by rewarding him with four Oscar nominations and gifting him the Best Supporting Actor prize at the 1998 ceremony for his mature, warm and heart-stirring performance as a psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting. He prevailed in this category over the following competition: Robert Forster with his first nomination as a bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantino's underrated crime film Jackie Brown (perhaps the only film of his in which women actually talk like women.) Anthony Hopkins with his fourth nomination playing ex president John Quincy Adams in Spielberg's flop Amistad. First time nominee Greg Kinnear playing Jack Nicholson's gay next door neighbor in the film As Good as it Gets. Burt Reynolds for his first nomination as adult film director Jack Horner in the film Boogie Nights. In the Best Supporting Actress category eighty seven year old Gloria Stuart was the favourite to walk away with the prize for her performance in Titanic but on the night she lost out to L.A. Confidential's Kim Basinger who was inexplicably the only cast member nominated from perhaps the finest ensemble cast of the nineties. Kim Basinger convinced as movie star look-a-like Veronica Lake who falls for cop Bud White (played by Russell Crowe). The other three nominees were: Joan Cusack for her performance in Frank Oz's In and Out. First time nominee Minnie Driver for her performance in Good Will Hunting. And first time nominee Julianne Moore as a drug-addicted porn star in Boogie Nights. This was the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that two performers Kate Winslet (Young Rose) and Gloria (Old Rose) were nominated for playing the same character in the same film. Another record was broken with Woody Allen's thirteenth Best Screenplay nomination for Deconstructing Harry. He had previously been level on twelve with Billy Wilder. The most important achievement on the night was Titanic equaling the record amount of Academy Awards with eleven wins, the majority of which were won in the technical categories. Watch out for our 1997 Oscars do-over when you can right the Academy's wrongs!
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