A Look Back at the Academy Awards 20 Years Later

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by Jason Koenigsberg

With the Oscars a few weeks away, often perceived as the Super Bowl for movies. What better time than now to take a look back at what the 69th Academy Awards chose to honor twenty years ago and see if they made the right call. 

Best Picture

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

Hell no! I already wrote about my disdain for The English Patient here. I will not bore you with repetition but simply say that I think The English Patient is the worst film to ever win Best Picture. The Miramax saber-metrics formula to win Oscars finally paid off taking home 9 Academy Awards including the top prize. 

What should have won?

All of these films are superior than The English Patient, however Fargo has emerged as the best of the five nominees and it was the best one twenty years ago as well. 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

This one is debatable. Geoffrey Rush was an unknown Australian actor at the time of his win for Shine. Since then, the past twenty years he has made himself a nice career as a Hollywood A-lister working with such talented filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, John Boorman and the Coen Bros. He has also received well deserved Academy Award nominations for Shakespeare in Love (1998), Quills (2000) and The Kings Speech (2010) along with earning boatloads of money for his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Instead of being the crowning achievement as it is for most actors, Rush’s Oscar win put him on the map and jump started his career in mainstream cinema where he has worked consistently and split his time between big budget paychecks and small arthouse independent films. 

Who should have won?

As great as Geoffrey Rush was in Shine, Tom Cruise and Billy Bob Thornton were equally outstanding in their films. However if I had a vote I would have given it to Woody Harrelson for his portrayal of pornography publisher Larry Flynt as a degenerate but also one of the best defenders and patriots for our freedom of speech. 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

WINNER

NOMINEES




 

Did the Academy get it right?

Oh Hell Yeah! Frances McDormand created one of the unlikeliest of all movie heroes into one of the most genuine and honorable characters that it did not matter she was a pregnant sheriff. All the other nominees were good (except for Kristin Scott Thomas) but McDormand was clearly the best. Prior to her Oscar win she had been working steadily in movies, with one Academy Award nomination for Mississippi Burning (1988). Since then she has worked even more regularly earning Oscar nominations for Almost Famous (2000) and North Country (2003), continuing to work with her husband Joel Coen and her brother in law Ethan in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Burn After Reading (2008) and Hail Caesar (2016). She has even appeared in some blockbusters like Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011). The Academy made the right call and we have all benefited from Frances McDormand’s much deserved Best Actress victory. 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

Now this is interesting. The one moment that everyone who watched the Oscars twenty years ago probably remembers. It helps that it was the first award handed out that night and everyone who tuned in was still awake to see Cuba Gooding Jr. win and give one of the most memorable and exciting acceptance speeches in Academy Award history. 

What should have been a boost to his career that seemed to be just getting started with good roles in Boyz N tha Hood (1991) and Outbreak (1995) ended up being the high point to a career that sort of flatlined and then derailed with a series of bad choices. From roles in films that did not amount to what they should have on paper like What Dreams May Come (1998), to questionable, with the bomb in an ice cream truck dud Chill Factor (1999), to just downright inept with the one-two punch of Snow Dogs and Boat Trip both released in 2002. By that point, nobody cared and Cuba Gooding Jr. had gone from Academy Award winning favorite to a punchline. The Oscar win did not help his career much at all, but for a brief moment Cuba Gooding Jr. was the most beloved actor in Hollywood and he made “Show me the money!” the biggest catchphrase from any movie that year. 

Should Cuba Gooding Jr. have won?

Sure, why not. All the other nominees were very good but I doubt any of them would have received a standing ovation for their acceptance speech. 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

This is often looked at as the Academy saying F___ you Barbra Streisand. A shame that they relayed their message at the expense of the legendary Lauren Bacall. It was her sole Oscar nomination in her decades spanning career, although the Academy would give her an Honorary Oscar in 2011. French actress Juliette Binoche was riding The English Patient wave to victory. Honestly there were no very strong standout performances among the five nominees. Since her win Ms. Binoche has managed to maintain a successful career balancing her time between making European films and Hollywood movies. She is not necessarily a household name, but her Oscar win probably helped her earn some coveted roles in American movies that she otherwise would have been passed over. 

Who should have won?

I am partial to Joan Allen for The Crucible. She was great in that, plus she deserved it the year prior for playing Pat Nixon opposite Anthony Hopkins as the President in Oliver Stone’s brilliant biopic Nixon (1995). 

Best Director

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

Yeah, right (sarcasm). They chose to honor the film that went down the Oscar checklist and gave it to that director instead of the ones that actually made a smart, funny, unique and engaging film. I am talking about Fargo, but all the other nominees, especially Milos Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt, are much more deserving. Anthony Minghella would go on to direct only three more films before his untimely passing in 2008, the best of which was The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). His Best Director win did improve his career allowing him to get his hands on better scripts, bigger budgets and attract bigger names to star in his next films. 

Who should have won?

The Coen Brothers Fargo is one of the best movies of their career and one of the best movies made in the past quarter century. It goes without saying they were robbed but they would win Best Original Screenplay that night and clean up at the Oscars with No Country for Old Men (2007) the following decade with wins for Best Screenplay, Director and Picture. I mentioned Milos Forman above, but he already had two Best Director Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984). 

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

WINNER

NOMINEES




Shine: Jan Sardi (screenplay), Scott Hicks (story)

Did the Academy get it right?

Absolutely. One of the most human screenplays of its time and also blisteringly funny, Fargo was head and shoulders the best of these nominees, although it is nice to see John Sayles nominated for Lone Star, his finest film in my humble opinion. 

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?

For all the mistakes they made in other categories this year, the writers in the Academy sure know a great script when they see one. As much as Fargo deserved its Original Screenplay Oscar, Billy Bob Thornton deserved the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sling Blade. To date it is the best film of his career as an actor, writer or director. One of the most moving and powerful films from 1996, the win seems especially sweet managing to beat The English Patient which was the heavy favorite in just about every category it was nominated in. Since winning, Billy Bob Thornton became more of a household name earning another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in A Simple Plan (1998) and like the other winners from twenty years ago, he has managed to find a balance between roles in big budget blockbusters like Armageddon (1998) and working on smaller projects like Monster’s Ball (2001). Plus his win earned him the attention of some of the biggest directors and would lead to him working with Oliver Stone in U Turn (1997), Mike Nichols in Primary Colors (1998), Barry Levinson in Bandits (2001), and a couple of Coen Brothers films. Plus his Bad Santa role helped him achieve a fanbase he may not have otherwise had. Billy Bob Thornton has also flourished recently on the small screen winning awards for his performances in the FX series Fargo and Amazon Prime’s Goliath

Most of the other categories were won by The English Patient and whether the film deserved them or not, it did not matter because the movie was such a drag. The only good thing to come out of it is a great Seinfeld joke with Elaine being the only one that disliked the film everyone else and the Academy loved. I feel her pain. 

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