1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
* Indicates that the film/performance was not nominated for an Academy Award in this category

 

1990
Dances With Wolves
Actor: Jeremy Irons (Rehearsal of Fortune)
Actress: Kathy Bates (Misery)
Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci (GoodFellas)
Supporting Actress: Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost)
Director: Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves)
GoodFellas
Actor: Gérard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac)
Actress: Kathy Bates (Misery)
Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci (GoodFellas)
Supporting Actress: Glenn Close (Hamlet)*
Director: Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas)
 

Dances With Wolves, Kevin Costner's overwhelmingly popular revisionist western, bulldozed its way over all comers in 1990, receiving twelve nominations and seven Oscars. That one of those nominations went to Costner's typically wooden performance as a former Cavalry officer who "goes injun" after being adopted by a band of Lakota Sioux that are so kindhearted and pacifistic that they seem more like a hippie commune than a tribe of Native Americans was a clear indication that the Academy was so taken in by this somber film's self-righteous political correctness that they wanted to throw as many honors at it as possible. But with the passage of over a decade, the Academy's devotion to Dances With Wolves now seems like an act of contrition to the Sacheen Littlefeather mentality because while the film undeniably has some effective elements (the celebrated buffalo hunt sequence is very exciting indeed), it is so permeated by a sense of its own self importance that it hard to watch with a serious eye. To be sure, it isn't any more one-sided or dishonest than all those John Wayne movies that depict the white man as well-meaning pioneers bringing civilization to an untamed land and the Indians as brutal savages, but the Academy generally turned its nose up at such racially simplistic drivel in the past.

Simplistic is hardly the word for GoodFellas, Martin Scorsese's brilliant depiction of mobster-turned-stoolie Henry Hill's chronicle of his days in the Mafia; a seeming response to The Godfather saga, whose epic characters are depicted as major players on the world political stage, the made men of GoodFellas are concerned with nuts and bolts problems like unloading the contents of a rerouted cigarette truck or disposing of the carcass of a pesky competitor with quicklime (issues that Michael Corleone never had to soil his silk suit with).


Martin Scorsese has been nominated for Best Director six times and Best Adapted Screenplay twice before finally winning the directing Oscar for The Departed in a selection largely effected by sentimentality. He was always overlooked for his greatest work, failing to receive nominations for Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and losing the Oscar for his masterpieces Raging Bull and GoodFellas to movie stars making their directorial debuts with heavy-handed dramas. Robert Redford's output as a director has been a reasonably honorable follow-up to his Oscar-winning debut for Ordinary People, with somber films like A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer and the Oscar-nominated Quiz Show providing some intensely watchable sequences despite a cloying sense of self importance and prettified presentation that frequently undermines the films' best intentions. Far less successful has been the directorial career of Kevin Costner, who waited seven years before making the follow-up to his his own overrated directorial debut. The vehicle he chose was the fiasco The Postman, which not only blew the lid off Costner's reputation as a director but derailed his acting career (Costner was rumored to have directed the last two weeks of his other megabomb, Waterworld, after credited director Kevin Reynolds walked off the film). Costner tried to redeem himself with one last stab at directing with the satisfying 2003 western Open Range, but by that time no one cared any more.


Director Franco Zeffirelli stunned the movie world in 1989 by announcing that he was making a film version of Shakespeare's Hamlet starring action megastar Mel Gibson, an actor whose only previous Shakespearean experience was playing Romeo in an Australian production years previously. Gibson surprised critics by delivering a creditable, if uninspired, performance; aided in no small way by Zeffirelli's screenplay which brilliantly condenses the massive play far more effectively than Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning film (although the highlight of the Olivier film - the duel in Act V - is the low point of the Zeffirelli version, with Gibson embarrassing himself by stomping and hooting at the stunned Laertes as though he were taunting Joe Pesci in a Lethal Weapon movie). Zeffirelli also had the good sense to surround Gibson with a brilliant supporting cast, most memorably with inspired turns by Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, Paul Scofield as the Ghost and best of all Glenn Close in a towering performance as a childlike Gertrude. Close is only nine years older than the actor playing her son, but such chronological nitpicking never enters the mind as one is riveted by the actress' sensitivity and imagination as one of Shakespeare's great tragic heroines.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1991
The Silence of the Lambs
Actor: Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs)
Actress: Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs)
Supporting Actor: Jack Palance (City Slickers)
Supporting Actress: Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King)
Director: Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs)
The Silence of the Lambs
Actor: Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides)
Actress: Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs)
Supporting Actor: Michael Lerner (Barton Fink)
Supporting Actress: Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King)
Director: John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood)
 

1991 was such a weak year for movies that the Academy resorted to measures that they had never gone to previously, naming the feature length cartoon Beauty and the Beast as one of the Best Picture nominees in order to round out the field. Disney's delightful retelling of the classic fairy tale was one of the studio's greatest achievements, but the fact that it received a nomination when such timeless classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, Bambi, The Little Mermaid or The Lion King were never even considered for the top award is far more indicative of the slim pickings in this year than of the singular contributions of Beauty and the Beast to the art of animation (as notable as they were). With so little to pick from, its understandable that the Academy chose to honor the gruesome but compelling thriller, The Silence of the Lambs. In a stronger year, The Silence of the Lambs would usually be the type of film that was relegated to technical awards (if any), although there is no denying that the film is brought into a level beyond the depth of most thrillers through the complex performance of Jodie Foster and the electrifying presence of Anthony Hopkins as the screen's most famous cannibal-psychiatrist.


Anthony Hopkins was on screen for all of eighteen minutes in his most famous performance as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lechter in Silence of the Lambs and made the most of it by providing some of the screen's most unforgettable and terrifying images, largely by maintaining a chilling stillness. But as memorable as Hopkins was in the role, his Oscar win was harshly criticized at the time not only for the brevity of his appearance, but because many felt that it was accomplished as much through clever lighting and editing as anything contributed by the actor. And as effective as Hopkins is as Lechter, the role provides almost no insight to his bizarre behavior and doesn't challenge the actor to do any more than deliver all his lines in a creepy monotone. To be sure, 1991 was not a stellar year for male performances and most of Hopkins' competition - Warren Beatty in Bugsy, Robert De Niro in Cape Fear and Robin Williams in The Fisher King - were unexceptional exhibitions that were only in the running because the Academy required five nominees. But the performance of Nick Nolte in Barbra Streisand's flawed film of Pat Conroy's novel The Prince of Tides represented not only the finest work of that actor's checkered career, but the outstanding performance of any actor in 1991.


Barton Fink won the Golden Palm at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival in addition to awards for Best Director for Joel Cohen and Best Actor for John Goodman (the first film to be so honored), as well as winning awards from the New York Film Critics for Judy Davis for her touching performance as playwright-turned-screenwriter Fink's would-be muse and the Los Angeles Film Critic Award for Michael Lerner's inspired send-up of MGM head Louis B. Mayer in the person of studio boss Jack Lipnick. But the real genius of the film is Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's brilliant screenplay, which starts out as a clever satire on 1930s Hollywood and ultimately evolves into an absurdist nightmare. In the Best Original Screenplay category, the Academy nominated some startlingly unoriginal screenplays - James Toback's Bugsy, Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan's Grand Canyon, and winner Callie Khouri's Thelma & Louise. The Oscars have always preferred the safety of mundane formalism to any type of risk and the outrageous screenplay for Barton Fink was undoubtedly too unconventional for the tastes of the Academy membership. But screen Barton Fink and Bugsy or Grand Canyon back-to-back some time and the audacity of the Coen brothers will stay bouncing around your brain long after the conventional plotting of the other films have crawled into a dusty corner to fade away.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1992
Unforgiven
Actor: Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman)
Actress: Emma Thompson (Howard's End)
Supporting Actor:Gene Hackman (Unforgiven)
Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny)
Director: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven)
Unforgiven
Actor: Denzel Washington (Malcolm X)
Actress: Emma Thompson (Howard's End)
Supporting Actor: Gene Hackman (Unforgiven)
Supporting Actress: Joan Plowright (Enchanted April)
Director: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven)
 

After years of being taken for granted for outstanding films like High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Tightrope, Bird, and Pale Rider, 1992 was the year that Clint Eastwood got respect for the brilliant valedictory to his career as a Western star, Unforgiven. Eastwood plays William Munny, a once-brutal murderer who reluctantly goes off to commit one final murder for money after years of trying to find redemption as the pig farming father of two young children. The role is a brilliant evolution of the character he played in his spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, and his presence in the film is arguably the best example in the history of film of an actor's screen personae filling in a character's background. But Unforgiven is much more than simply a star vehicle for Eastwood to come full circle with his Western image, providing an actor's field day with brilliant performances by Gene Hackman (who won a richly-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as a sadistic sheriff), Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris. Unforgiven's chief competition in the Oscar Derby was the compelling sex-change thriller The Crying Game (a film whose head-spinning surprise plot twist was betrayed by the nomination of Jaye Richardson in the Best Supporting Actor category); but after that the competition fell off drastically, with the Academy so desperate to fill out the Best Picture field that they nominated the mundane courtroom drama A Few Good Men (overlooking the far more challenging Malcolm X). But on Oscar night it was all about quality, with Eastwood finally getting his long-overdue recognition.


Marisa Tomei's Academy Award for her stereotypical performance a gangster's moll in the broad comedy My Cousin Vinny is generally considered the worst Oscar choice in recent memory, particularly as it she was selected over four of the finest actresses in the world (Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave, and Miranda Richardson) for a performance that (although highly amusing) was of no more quality than countless other gangster moll send-ups. Tomei is a capable actress who has delivered fine performances in films like Unhook the Stars, Slums of Beverly Hills, In the Bedroom, The Wrestler and especially Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but her Mona Lisa Vito didn't offer anything different from what you might see in your average network sitcom on any given night of the week.


1992 was a fine year for non-English language films, and the five the Academy selected were good ones: Close to Eden, Daens, A Place in the World, Schtonk, and the winner Indochine. The most popular foreign film in the United States was overlooked, however: Like Water for Chocolate, director Alfonso Arau's provocative drama of a young woman (beautifully played by Lumi Cavazos) who is unable to marry her lover because of her mother's insistence that her older sister marry first, forcing the girl to use food as a supplement to her sexual frustration. The Oscar snub of Like Water for Chocolate (which also deserved nominations for Arau, Cavazos, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Art Direction) was particularly disappointing after A Place in the World became the first film in Oscar history to have its nomination taken away because it was discovered that its Argentinean director Adolfo Aristarain was refused by Argentina to have the film submitted as the country's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film, so he had the film submitted by his wife's homeland of Uruguay. It was a silly loophole (typical of the political infighting that accompanies the Foreign Language Film Oscar) that has since been closed, but it resulted in an unfortunate episode that not only denied Like Water for Chocolate of the recognition it deserved, but so embittered Aristarain that he refused to allow A Place in the World to be shown in the United States until 1995, when it made a paltry $100,986 at the box office. Nobody won.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1993
Schindler's List
Actor: Tom Hanks (Philadelphia)
Actress: Holly Hunter (The Piano)
Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive)
Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin (The Piano)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
Schindler's List
Actor: Anthony Hopkins (Remains of the Day)
Actress: Emma Thompson (Much Ado About Nothing)*
Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive)
Supporting Actress: Rosie Perez (Fearless)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
 

Steven Spielberg was itching to win an Oscar by 1993, occasionally throwing in a clumsy, frequently overrated drama (The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Always) into his filmography in a transparent attempt to win the plaudits he never received for his masterful excursions into popular filmmaking. Spielberg finally hit paydirt when he came across Thomas Keneally's book about Oskar Schindler, the controversial (he was a war profiteer and member of the Nazi party) savior of over 1000 Jews from Nazi concentration camps. Spielberg's dynamic presentation of the inspiring story was recognized as an instant classic (it was rated as the ninth greatest American film ever made by the American Film Institute) and was the runaway winner at the Academy Awards that year (despite distinguished competition from In the Name of the Father, The Piano, and The Remains of the Day in addition to the potboiler The Fugitive). As moving and effective as Schindler's List is, it is somewhat overrated (it is overlong and its "group hug" ending is sentimental manipulation at its worst), but it contains some of the most powerful sequences ever filmed and should be lauded for its sensitive handling of a brutal subject matter. In a less competitive year the award might have gone to the superbly acted Merchant-Ivory collaboration The Remains of the Day, but 1993 was the year that Steven Spielberg finally - and deservedly - got the Oscar recognition he coveted.


Political correctness consumed the Oscars in 1993, with Tom Hanks absurdly winning the Best Actor award for his unconvincing performance of an AIDS patient in Philadelphia. Hanks was strangely lauded for the "risk" he took by playing a homosexual lawyer who sues his employers after they fire him upon learning of his disease, a role that was designed to be overpraised and in which Hanks looks distinctly uncomfortable (an embarrassing scene in which Hanks dances with his partner - an equally miscast Antonio Banderas - depicts his character looking so awkward holding his supposed lifemate that they look like two teenagers at a high school dance). But Hanks (who is usually a brilliant actor and richly deserved the Oscar he won for Forrest Gump) is a master of using political correctness to his benefit and managed to turn his stiff performance in this asinine film into a referendum on gay rights, even using the Oscar podium as a platform for an embarrassing, self-serving sermon about gay men who served as role models in his life (providing the basis for the comedy In and Out). The four other nominated actors - Daniel Day Lewis in In the Name of the Father, Laurence Fishburne in What's Love Got to Do with It, Liam Neeson in Schindler's List, and particularly Anthony Hopkins giving the finest performance of his career in The Remains of the Day - were vastly superior to the overrated Hanks, as were the unnominated Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, and Jeff Bridges in Fearless, but since they weren't pushing a popular political agenda they failed to make the cut.


The only woman to be nominated for Best Actress for a Shakespearean role was Norma Shearer for her stiff and overaged depiction of Juliet in MGM's infamous 1936 version of Romeo & Juliet. Emma Thompson was undoubtedly taken out of the running to join her with a nomination for her magnificent performance of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing because of Thompson's Best Actress nomination for her other brilliant performance that year in The Remains of the Day (she was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her far lesser work in In the Name of the Father). But as good as Thompson was in Remains of the Day she is even better in Much Ado, providing Beatrice with a wit and sensuality which unfortunately overpowers her Benedick (Thompson's then-husband Kenneth Branagh, who - after the triumph of his film of Henry V - was never as effective in Shakespearean films in which he both acted and directed, achieving his only other unqualified success as Iago in Oliver Parker's film of Othello). Indeed the cast of the film is not generally up to Thompson's standard (Kate Beckinsale is an excellent Hero, but Denzel Washington is stiff as Don Pedro and Michael Keaton is mush-mouthed as Dogberry, while Keanu Reeves provides the worst performance in the history of Shakespeare on film with his unintentionally hilariously appalling depiction of the evil Don John), but while she is on the screen the film takes on a luminosity that recalls a youthful Audrey Hepburn.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1994
Forrest Gump
Actor: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump)
Actress: Jessica Lange (Blue Sky)
Supporting Actor: Martin Landau (Ed Wood)
Supporting Actress: Dianne Weist
(Bullets Over Broadway)
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
Forrest Gump
Actor: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump)
Actress: Jessica Lange (Blue Sky)
Supporting Actor: Martin Landau (Ed Wood)
Supporting Actress: Dianne Weist
(Bullets Over Broadway)
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
 

Two brilliant movies went head-to-head in 1994, Forrest Gump and
Pulp Fiction. Both were madly enjoyable, incredibly imaginative smashes that provided iconic sequences that have provided nonstop fodder for parodists in ensuing years (Gump seated on a bench waiting patiently for his bus while attired in an immaculate white suit in Forrest Gump and Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames being tied to chairs with ball-gags in their mouths as they wait for the mysterious Zed to arrive in Pulp Fiction). Either film would have been a good choice, but the ultra-violent Pulp Fiction would have to make do with a single Oscar for Quentin Tarantino's inventive screenplay against Forrest Gump's more universally palatable gentle optimism (Gump made in $329,691,196 in United States box office receipts against Pulp Fiction's $107,930,000). But Forrest Gump's Oscar success is hardly based on maudlin sentimentality, as it is a truly brilliant film that cleverly interpolates its hero into footage from historical events yet never relies on the gimmick so heavily that it loses sight of the absorbing human story that it tells. This is thanks, in no small part, to the stunning artistry of Hanks in the title role, a performance that could easily have degenerated into embarrassing parody in a lesser actor's hands. Fine work is also offered by Gary Sinise as the bitter amputee Lieutenant Dan, a performance that was sadly overlooked at the Oscars because of the dense competition in the Supporting Actor field: Sinise, Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, and Chazz Palminteri in Bullets Over Broadway would all have been deserving winners were it not for the sublime performance of Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in the stunningly acted box office bomb Ed Wood (fifth nominee Paul Scofield in Quiz Show was only in the running on the basis of his previous Oscar for A Man for All Seasons and his awesome theatrical reputation and should have been passed over in favor of Bill Murray in Ed Wood, Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction, or John Hannah in Four Weddings and a Funeral). In such lean movie times it's unfortunate when a fine film like Pulp Fiction (or fellow runner-up The Shawshank Redemption) has to come up short, but there's certainly no shame in losing to a masterpiece like Forrest Gump.


The Academy seemed to lose its mind in the documentary field this year, selecting Maya Lin, a satisfactory though unexceptional examination of the talented young Chinese-American artist who rose to prominence by designing the the Vietnam War Memorial. The film relies far too heavily on Lin's overly-cerebral and sometimes ponderous analysis of her own work, and while the finished products are clearly powerful and moving, the commentary she provides is frequently long-winded and occasionally bordering on the pretentious. Overlooked were two of the most important and popular documentaries ever made: Hoop Dreams and Crumb. The omission of Hoop Dreams, the story of two African American boys who struggle to become college basketball players, caused a particular outrage among the public when it was denied a nomination, even though Crumb, the bittersweet chronicle of underground comic doyen Robert Crumb is the better film. Both are undeniably superior to the winner Maya Lin, whose selection has left a pall over the documentary category that continues to this day.


It seems like an almost yearly occurrence when the Academy overlooks the most popular and important documentary of the year for a nomination, and the pattern has never generated as much controversy as over the snub of Hoop Dreams. Following the outrage, Entertainment Weekly ran an article outing the Academy process for selecting the award, disclosing that the members of the committee who chose the nominees were not even documentary filmmakers (unlike the other categories, whose nominees are chosen by members of that field). The article forced the Academy to revise its rules (much like the snub of The Thin Blue Line), although too late for Hoop Dreams to be considered for the award. It was the only documentary from 1994 to be nominated in a general category however, for Film Editing - losing to Forrest Gump.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1995
Braveheart
Actor: Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas)
Actress: Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking)
Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects)
Supporting Actress: Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite)
Director: Mel Gibson (Braveheart)
Babe
Actor: Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking)
Actress: Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking)
Supporting Actor: Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13)*
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet
(Sense and Sensibility)
Director: Chris Noonan (Babe)
 

Given the Academy's preference for pretentious drama, it's not surprising that it has always turned its back on children's films. Prior to 1995, the only three or four films nominated for Best Picture that might fall into this category were The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast (and perhaps E.T.). With another shortage of outstanding films to choose from this year the Oscars had no choice but to add another to the list, Chris Noonan's film adaptation of Dick King-Smith's novel The Sheep Pig. Noonan's deceptively simple Babe turned out not only to be a technical marvel (48 real Yorkshire pigs plus an animatronic double played the title role), but a refreshingly gentle and heartwarming story of a little pig raised by sheepdogs that learns to herd sheep himself. Babe is that rarest of creatures, a film made for children that can be enjoyed equally by adults, that was a financial smash which put character actor James Cromwell (until then best known for his recurring role as Stretch Cunningham in All in the Family) on the map for his Oscar nominated performance as farmer Arthur Hoggett. It was not only the best film of the year, but the only one that is likely to be continued to be screened with enthusiasm fifty years after its initial release.

Nominated for seven awards, the only Oscar Babe took home was for its stunning visual effects. The surprise winner this year was Mel Gibson's plodding epic film of the story of 13th century Scottish hero William Wallace. Braveheart is an reasonably entertaining (though overlong) action film which gives Wallace's story the typical Hollywood treatment (the movie begins with a prologue showing the child Wallace expressing his undying love to a little girl of his own age but when the adult Wallace rides back from the wars to claim her, the actress playing the adult character is easily fifteen years younger than Gibson) and is not even remotely in the same league as the other nominees (Apollo 13, Babe,, Il Postino, and even Sense and Sensibility), much less their superior.


The success of Braveheart on Oscar night continues to be one of the most puzzling surprises in the history of the awards. The lumbering film was not particularly well reviewed (Time Magazine said ""Everybody knows that a non-blubbering clause is standard in all movie stars' contracts. Too bad there isn't one banning self-indulgence when they direct.") nor was it a financial blockbuster (it came in fourth at the box office on its opening weekend). Its success was doubtless due to a series of happy accidents concerning its Best Picture competition that pushed it to the top: Rightful winner Babe was a children's movie and not in keeping with award prerequisite of being a somber drama; Apollo 13 inexplicably did not receive a Best Director nomination even though it did win the DGA Award for Ron Howard; director Ang Lee shared the same fate for Sense and Sensibility, a well-acted though unengaging film of Jane Austin's novel that lacked Braveheart's impressive budget and cast of thousands; and Il Postino was a foreign language film. With all of its rivals dropping out of the running, Braveheart won Best Picture by default.


Following the death of Laurence Olivier and the retirement of John Gielgud, the mantle of Greatest Shakespearean Actor fell to Ian McKellen, whose performances of Macbeth, Richard II and Coriolanus had already fallen into legend. McKellen solidified this title with his brilliant rethinking of Olivier's signature role of Richard III as a 1930s fascist dictator. McKellen won London's Laurence Olivier Award for his stage performance of the role and the film that he made from it was even better, surrounding McKellen with a brilliant cast that included Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristen Scott Thomas, John Wood, Maggie Smith, and Robert Downey Jr.. But it is McKellen's dynamic portrayal that surrounds the action, delivering one of the most forceful and imaginative performances in the history of Shakespeare on film.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1996
The English Patient
Actor: Geoffrey Rush (Shine)
Actress: Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Supporting Actor:Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire)
Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche
(The English Patient)
Director: Anthony Minghella (The English Patient)
Fargo
Actor: Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade)
Actress: Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Supporting Actor: William H. Macy (Fargo)
Supporting Actress: Barbara Hershey
(The Portrait of a Lady)
Director: Joel Cohen (Fargo)
 

A memorable episode of Seinfeld depicts the character of Elaine mystified over the praise being heaped on The English Patient, until she finally runs out of a theatre showing the film because it is simply too long and boring to sit through. madbeast.com shares Elaine's opinion of the monotonous saga, ranking it with Cimarron, Cavalcade, Around the World in 80 Days and Oliver! as one of the genuinely awful films to win the Best Picture Academy Award. The Academy's devotion to the lifeless The English Patient is especially confusing since all four of the other nominees (Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, and Shine) were excellent films that would have been reasonable selections for the top honor. The best of the lot by far was Joel and Ethan Cohen's disturbing comedy-drama of a kidnapping gone horribly wrong, Fargo. Ranked as the eighty-fourth greatest American film ever made by the American Film Institute only two years after its release, Fargo packs more drama and suspense in its ninety-eight minute running time than most of the recent Oscar winners dole out in their meandering three-plus hours. Brilliant acted by an outstanding ensemble that included unforgettable performances by Frances McDormand. William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi (who lost the Supporting Actor Hindsight Award to Macy in a coin toss), and the menacing Harve Presnell, audiences will forever wonder in astonishment how this great film could be bypassed for recognition over the interminable The English Patient.


With nine Oscars, six BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globes, the DGA Award, American Cinema Editors Award, American Society of Cinematographers Award, and Art Directors Guild Award to its credit, the two hour and forty minute sluggishly-paced, forgettably-acted The English Patient must surely be ranked as the most overrated film ever made and the worst Best Picture selection since Oliver! The Academy has been increasingly taken in by empty-headed opulence in recent years (Out of Africa, Braveheart, Titanic), but never has a film received so many honors for bringing so little to the screen as this pretentious mess.


When Eddie Murphy presented the Best Picture Oscar to The Last Emperor in 1987, he used the occasion as a soapbox to point out that the Academy Awards had recognized only three black actors in its history to that time; adding that he would probably never win an Oscar for saying so. Whether or not Murphy's statements had anything to do with his not receiving a nomination for The Nutty Professor can never be known, but he gave a performance of astonishing warmth and sensitivity behind the film's fat jokes and fart gags. Murphy's career output has been disappointingly thin in recent years (outside of his delightful voice work in the Shrek films and his brilliant Oscar nominated performance in Dreamgirls), but when he started out, there were few better examples of a fresher and more irreverent personality in motion picture history. He was robbed of a nomination for his performance in Beverly Hills Cop, perhaps the greatest instance in film history of a performer raising mundane material to an outstanding level by the sheer force of his personality. But his best work as an actor was as the shy and gentle Professor Sherman Klump, and while Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson's Oscar winning fat suit may have supplied the character's girth, it was Murphy who provided Klump with a disarmingly old soul.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1997
Titanic
Actor: Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets)
Actress: Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets)
Supporting Actor:Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)
Supporting Actress: Kim Basinger (LA Confidential)
Director: James Cameron (Titanic)
LA Confidential
Actor: Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets)
Actress: Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown)
Supporting Actor: Robert Forster (Jackie Brown)

Supporting Actress: Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights)
Director: Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential)
 

Prior to the Academy Awards, almost every major critics group had given their Best Picture award to Curtis Hanson's riveting film noir, LA Confidential. But by the time Oscar Night had rolled around, James Cameron's Titanic had become the movie phenomenon of the decade and the all-time box office champion; so the Academy rewarded it by giving it a record-tying 11 Oscars. Titanic is an impressively produced film, but there is no question that the Academy confused the devotion of a legion of teenage girls for quality and had the film been judged strictly on the basis of its merits as a motion picture (instead of a social phenomenon) it would have walked away with nothing more than a few technical awards. But for some unfathomable reason, the country became obsessed for a time by this silly film that had the sensibility of a cheap romance novel; and in that gap it not only managed to spin more gold than Rumplestiltskin, it was able to con the motion picture elite into believing that James Cameron was King of the World. Mercifully, Titanic-mania has worn off over time (the film is given a mediocre 6.8 rating on IMDb.com, whose readership is comprised of Titanic's key demographic audience), and we now look back on our fascination with it with the same sense of irony as seeing an old snapshot of ourselves in high school with an outrageous hairstyle, and musing "what the hell was I thinking?"

The unfortunate loser in this whirlwind was LA Confidential, which was certainly the finest film of the year despite winning only two awards (ironically, one of the awards it won was one it didn't deserve, for Kim Basinger's mediocre performance as a call girl with a resemblance to Veronica Lake). Hanson's output as a director has been a mixed bag in the ensuing years (although Wonder Boys, his brilliantly oddball character study of an eccentric English professor, was certainly the most under-rewarded film of 2000), but LA Confidential was much more worthy of the sensation created by Titanic. Wonderfully acted by Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito, and James Cromwell, LA Confidential will at least have the distinction of forever being at the top of most lists of the films that should have won the Best Picture Oscar, but didn't.


When Helen Hunt won the Best Actress Oscar for As Good As It Gets, she used the occasion to express her surprise at being honored over the actress she thought should have won the award, Judi Dench for Mrs. Brown. While one admires Hunt's graciousness, it's hard not to agree with her. Hunt is an enjoyable actress who turns in the same dependably generic performance in everything she does: her work in As Good As It Gets as a waitress who forms an uncomfortable alliance with a mentally unbalanced writer (brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson, who performed true alchemy with a role that was so disturbing for an alleged romantic comedy that it might have been unwatchable in a lesser actor's hands) was not noticeably different from the performances she turned in in Twister or What Women Want or, for that matter, an episode of Mad About You. Hunt is a wonderfully appealing personality who lights up any project that she takes part in, but she is a woefully limited actress who does not belong in the Oscar pantheon.


Only one black person (John Singleton for Boys N the Hood) and two women (Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties and Jane Campion for The Piano) had been nominated for the Best Director Oscar by 1997. Both those numbers should have swelled in that year with Kasi Lemmons' atmospheric direction of the chilling drama Eve's Bayou. This nail-biting tale of family tension in the Louisiana bayou in the early 1960s was among the finest films of the year, but was completely bypassed in the Oscar race amidst the hysteria over Titanic. Regrettably, Lemmons (who won an award for Outstanding Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review for Eve's Bayou) has had only two small budget directorial opportunities since.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1998
Shakespeare in Love
Actor: Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful)
Actress: Gwynneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love)
Supporting Actor: James Coburn(Affliction)
Supporting Actress: Judi Dench
(Shakespeare in Love)
Director: Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan)
Shakespeare in Love
Actor: Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters)
Actress: Fernanda Montenegra (Central Station)
Supporting Actor: John Goodman (The Big Lebowski)*
Supporting Actress: Lynn Redgrave
(Gods and Monsters)
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)
 

The Oscar success of Shakespeare in Love was criticized in some quarters because of the lavish Academy Award campaign staged by its distributor, Miramax Film's Harvey Weinstein. While there is no doubt that Weinstein was extravagant in his spending, it might not have mattered if the film weren't a remarkably clever and touching romantic fantasy about a love affair that served as the Bard's inspiration for Romeo & Juliet. In reality R&J was based upon an old legend, but otherwise Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's clever screenplay made remarkable use of the few known facts of Shakespeare's life to spin a heartwarming delight. Shakespeare in Love was considered a surprise winner on Oscar Night, with the award expected to go to Steven Spielberg's fatuous, overlong and overrated Saving Private Ryan; and given the Academy's distaste for comedy, Shakespeare in Love does not seem to fit the usual Oscar mold. But because of the film's literary background it had just enough pretension going for it to seem Important enough to win Academy Awards, even though at its core it remains a classic romantic comedy (Gwynneth Paltrow's Oscar for her unexceptional performance in a run-of-the-mill ingenue role was a terrible choice over the far more challenging work of Fernanda Montenegra in Central Station or Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth), a difficult genre that is rarely honored by the Academy.


The Academy has a special fascination for films set in the background of the Holocaust (the documentary selections are frequently criticized for favoring films on the subject), although it can be argued that this horrific event presents more opportunity for drama than any other backdrop. Even with this admission, it is difficult to understand the deference Italian comic Roberto Benigni generated for his ghastly and offensive egomania in setting his over-the-top slapstick routine amidst the atrocities in Life is Beautiful. Benigni's film, which crudely told the story of a Jewish man who is sent to an Italian concentration camp and tries to make the situation palatable for his son by pretending that they are taking part in a contest to win an army tank, trivialized the horrors of the Holocaust to an unimaginable degree and his incompetent attempts to mix his shameless mugging with labored pathos recalls Jerry Lewis at his most self-indulgent. Remarkably, the movie public fell for Benigni's train wreck and the film was nominated for a record number of Oscars for a foreign language film (since broken), winning Benigni awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Actor. Particularly disturbing is the fact that the deserved winners in these categories, Brazil's Central Station and Ian McKellen's performance in Gods and Monsters, were among the outstanding film achievements of the decade. Fortunately, Benigni's shell game with the American film audience was ultimately seen through and his follow-up to Life is Beautiful, a big budget live-action film of Pinocchio, was laughed off the screen as an unwatchable mess. But Benigni's Oscars for Life is Beautiful are an embarrassing reminder of the spell he once cast over Movieland, and his statuette for Best Actor ranks as the worst selection in the history of the Academy Awards.


1930s film director James Whale was never nominated for an Academy Award, despite a filmography that included such classics as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and the best of the three film versions of Show Boat (which immortalized Paul Robeson's rendition of "Ol' Man River"). Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon's superb drama that brilliantly fictionalizes Whale's last days with an imagined relationship between the homosexual filmmaker and his heterosexual gardener, won the plaudits that Whale's films never did with an Oscar for Condon's inventive screenplay (based on Christopher Bram's novel Father of Frankenstein) and nominations for Ian McKellen as Whale (who was robbed of the award for the finest performance of the decade) and Lynn Redgrave as his devoted German housekeeper. Even with these honors the film was shortchanged, deserving additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction and Best Makeup; the latter two remarkable achievements for a film made on such a minuscule budget.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

1999
American Beauty
Actor: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)
Actress: Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry)
Supporting Actor: Michael Caine
(The Cider House Rules)
Supporting Actress: Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)
Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty)
American Beauty
Actor: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)
Actress: Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry)
Supporting Actor:Christopher Plummer (The Insider)*
Supporting Actress: Catherine Keener
(Being John Malcovich)
Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty)
 

American Beauty was the product of first-time screenwriter Alan Ball and first-time film director Sam Mendes, both of whom won Academy Awards for their maiden effort. The film is a disturbingly dark male menopause story that slowly evolves into a strange murder mystery, featuring wonderful performances by Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, and Chris Cooper (who was sadly overlooked for a nomination against strong competition). American Beauty won the Oscar over outstanding opposition from nominees The Cider House Rules, The Insider and The Sixth Sense (fifth nominee The Green Mile was not remotely on the same level), but was the deserved winner along with awards for its two newcomers as well as one for cinematographer Conrad Hall and for the brilliant work of Spacey as Best Actor. Regrettably, the creative team who made American Beauty has not maintained the same high level (with the exception of Ball, who went on to create the popular and quirky television series Six Feet Under and True Blood). Spacey, whose remarkable string of outstanding films that included his Best Supporting Actor win for The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential and Se7en took a nose dive following American Beauty with such lamentable missteps as Pay It Forward, K-PAX, The Shipping News, The Life of David Gale, Superman Returns, Casino Jack and his self-directed public relations fiasco Beyond the Sea, a vanity project that did little for Spacey's crumbling public image (although he has done impressive work in the theatre as the artistic director of the Old Vic in London and on the groundbreaking Internet television show House of Cards). Bening was wonderful in her Oscar nominated turns as a theatre diva in Being Julia and as a lesbian betrayed by her longtime companion in The Kids are Alright, but she lost the professional momentum they won her with disastrous bores like Running With Scissors and The Women. Mendes followed his his memorable debut with the pretentious and overlong Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, although he made a surprising comeback as the director of the James Bond mega-hit Skyfall. American Beauty was a triumph for all of them, and we can only hope that they will rise to those creative heights again.


One of the more peculiar awards in Oscar history was Topsy-Turvy for its unremarkable makeup design that depicted the premiere production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud provided quite ordinary theatrical makeup for the mundane drama that paled in comparison to the outstanding nominated work of Michele Burke and Mike Smithson for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Greg Cannom for Bicentennial Man, and Rick Baker for Life. Topsy-Turvy (which also won the Oscar for its costume design) received several honors that it didn't deserve, including the New York Film Critics Award for Best Picture despite the fact that it had very little plot and almost no dramatic conflict (in real life, Gilbert and Sullivan hated each other while Sullivan - who fancied himself a serious composer - detested the frivolous nature of their collaborations; but the film barely touches on this, with Sullivan only mildly objecting to the triviality of Gilbert's librettos at the beginning of the film only to be won immediately over by the story of The Mikado, the most trivial material he ever produced).


The Best Actress race this year was a neck-and-neck contest between Annette Bening and Hilary Swank, with Swank deservedly winning for her staggeringly poignant breakthrough performance as the tragic Brandon Teena, whose sexual confusion led to her tragic murder. Of the other exceptional female performances this year, the most outstanding one failed to receive a nomination: Reese Witherspoon's hilarious turn as an obnoxious overachiever running for student body president in the quirky comedy Election. Witherspoon has developed into an outstanding actress, deservedly winning the 2005 Best Actress Oscar for Walk the Line, but her appearance as the vindictive Tracy Enid Flick represented one of the most interesting and entertaining performances of the year and should have brought her the first of many nominations.

Return to top
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 2000s
madbeast.com home e-mail madbeast.com

 

 

THE TOP 10
FILMS OF
THE 1990s

1
GoodFellas

2
Unforgiven
3
Forrest Gump
4
Schindler's List
5
Pulp Fiction
6
Shakespeare in Love
7
Babe
8
Fargo
9
Gods and Monsters
10
American Beauty

BEST MALE
PERFORMANCE Ian McKellen
in
Gods and Monsters

BEST FEMALE
PERFORMANCE Frances McDormand
in
Fargo