June 1, 2010
I've made it a point to watch Saving Private Ryan every Memorial day. So yesterday I did just that. I’ve seen that movie a dozen times or more and it still leaves me amazed with how well this film is made.
Now before I start, I want to say that I am aware it’s not possible for the Academy Awards to get it right every time. Frankly I think they do a remarkable job and I usually agree with their selection year after year. With that said, It is unfor-effing-givable that Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan in 1999!
I could understand if they were both quality films, but I’ve given that film the benefit of the doubt along with my unbiased viewing twice and its not even close. Not only is it not in the same league as the far superior Saving Private Ryan but I would have even left it off the ballot in favor of other respectable, more deserving films like American History X, Run Lola Run, Rushmore, The Big Lebowski, or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Back then the Oscars only alloted five Best Picture nominations instead of the ten they hand out now but, even if they offered ten nomination in 1999 I still wouldn’t have given Shakespeare In Love any consideration.
I’m obviously not the first or last to wage this argument; in fact, I’m a full decade late. I can see the Academy and supporters turning their nose up at this topic and defending their gross mistake by saying any males 18 years of age or older would always vote for an action/war film 100% of the time even if it was a poorly made Michael Bay bag of excrement. I’ve also heard the argument in its defense that the only reason people don’t like Shakespeare In Love is because it’s a drama/romantic comedy period piece. Either argument doesn’t hold any water. It’s rare that an action film wins Best Picture. The most recent action film to buck that trend and win the award was 2003’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Guess what? I would have picked the more worthy drama/thriller Mystic River to win hands down. I would have even preferred non action/war films like Lost in Translation, City Of God, or 21 Grams that year.
Even in 2000 when the epic action film Gladiator won Best Picture I would picked Traffic or possibly even Snatch ahead of Gladiator. So again, to defend their obvious error with the justification that males have a blood hungry bias is just as pathetic as it is lazy.
I’m not a big Steven Spielberg fan and find his films way more manipulative and average than brilliant, with a few exceptions. This movie was without doubt a monster exception. His use of handheld cameras and unique lenses have influenced every action sequence both good and bad ever since. He made watching that film an “experience” rather than the typical participation of just watching a movie. It is rare when a film wins Best Director but doesn’t win Best Picture. Add Saving Private Ryan to the list of when this rarity occurs.
Have you looked at the cast in Saving Private Ryan? I can’t say enough about this film’s perfect cast, yet Tom Hanks was the only actor from the film to get a nomination?! The nominations for 1999 best supporting actor should have looked like this:
Saving Private Ryan: Edward Burns
Saving Private Ryan: Tom Sizemore
Saving Private Ryan: Giovanni Ribisi or Barry Pepper
Saving Private Ryan: Matt Damon or Vin Diesel
Shakespeare In Love: Geoffrey Rush
Even Paul Giamatti, Ted Danson, and Dennis Farina have small stand out moments in the movie and make the best of their short time on screen.
The Academy didn’t get much right in 1999, They could have gone with either Ed Norton in American History X or Tom Hanks, but swung and missed with Roberto Benigni.
At the time it was released, I couldn’t find any of my friends to go watch Saving Private Ryan with me, they must have been too busy watching Can’t Hardly Wait, A Night at The Roxbury, or probably much more likely hanging out with their girlfriends. So for my first viewing, I bit the bullet and went by myself to the local theatre. Outside of seeing the double feature of Back to the Future & Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in the back of my dad’s mint green GMC pickup at the drive-in movie theatre in the comfort of my own blankets, pillow, and PJ's, seeing Saving Private Ryan alone is my favorite and most memorable movie theatre experience. I knew within the first 15 minutes that this was something totally different than any other movie I’d ever seen. After the movie ended no one moved. Everyone just stayed in their seat trying to fathom and put into words what they had just seen. I remember sitting there trying to wrap my head around the last 3 hours, but there was no way to grasp it. It wasn’t until about five or ten minutes after the house lights came up that someone stood up. As I stood up to leave sometime after that, I could still hear people weeping. Nope not crying, weeping. As I drove home I was wishing my WWII veteran grandfather wasn’t: One, such a douche bag, and two, wasn’t dead so I could take him to see it. The next weekend I took my dad to see it. Same experience, but this time around I was excited to have someone to talk to about the film on the car ride home. My dad didn’t say a word.
All in all Shakespeare In Love isn’t a horrible film, it’s just a below average period piece that pales in comparison to Saving Private Ryan and all the other higher quality films released in 1998.
Next Memorial day I would recommend not leaving the couch.
I may burn in H! for this, but I just love me some yakety sax.