The 1999 Academy Award Nominations: Comments, Gripes, and Assorted Musings

Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 9, 1999

I'm not as irritated by the nominations this year as I expected to be. For a while, I had visions of the following atrocities occurring: nominations for Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Robin Williams (Patch Adams), and Susan Sarandon (Stepmom), failure to recognize Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie), and the potential appearance of something like Patch Adams on the Best Picture roster. Thankfully, none of those things happened. As a result, I do not feel compelled to launch a profanity-laden tirade against the Academy which would force me to classify this commentary as "R-rated." Still, there are plenty of things to gripe about.

First and foremost, it's horrifying to realize that Armageddon earned more nominations (4) than Pleasantville (3), Dark City (0), and The Opposite of Sex (0) combined. Somehow, inexplicably, Dark City was passed over for both Art Direction and Visual Effects, categories where it should have been a shoo-in. Likewise, Pleasantville was ignored in Visual Effects, despite being on the cutting edge with the color/b&w differentiation. The Opposite of Sex, despite being brilliantly written and superbly acted, got nothing.

The Foreign Language film category has some odd entries. Shockingly, The Celebration didn't make the cut. On the other hand, Life Is Beautiful did. Normally, this wouldn't have been a surprise, except that I was under the mistaken impression that, because of some irregularity in its release, it wasn't eligible. This is only the second time a movie has been nominated as both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film in the same year. (The other was Costa-Gavras' Z in 1970; Jan Troell's The Emigrants was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1972, then Best Picture in 1973.)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Shakespeare in Love captured more nominations (13) than Saving Private Ryan (11). Elizabeth, Life Is Beautiful, and The Thin Red Line tied for third place with 7 nominations apiece.

So here are some thoughts about the following categories: picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, original screenplay, and adapted screenplay.

Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
Shakespeare in Love
The Thin Red Line

Deserving: Saving Private Ryan. There's no question that not only does this film deserve to be here, but it should and will win the award.

Undeserving: Everything else. While I gave the other four nominees *** each, that leaves several dozen more worthy entries out in the cold. A rather lackluster group, in my opinion. The presence of The Thin Red Line is a surprise, although not necessarily a pleasant one.

Missing: I didn't really expect Hilary and Jackie to be here, but it would have made for a very pleasant surprise if it had sneaked in. Also absent is The Truman Show, a favorite pick for many critics (although not me).

Who Should Win: Saving Private Ryan. It's heads and shoulders better than any of the other nominees. It should be a runaway.

Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful
Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
John Madden, Shakespeare in Love
Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line
Peter Weir, The Truman Show

Deserving: Spielberg. The only one of the five to have crafted a masterful motion picture.

Undeserving: Benigni (despite the tremendous second hour, the silly and erratic first hour hurt the movie), Madden (enjoyable, but not great), Malick (moments of greatness, but very uneven), Weir (original, but not flawlessly presented).

Missing: Gary Ross, whose phenomenal job with Pleasantville should have earned him a spot here. And, as usual, there's someone who didn't make the cut even though his film was deemed good enough to be nominated for Best Picture. This year, that person is Shekhar Kapur, the director of Elizabeth. I don't think he's any more deserving then Weir (who took his place), so it doesn't make much difference to me.

Who Should Win: Spielberg. (And he probably will, too.)

Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful
Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Ian McKellan, Gods and Monsters
Nick Nolte, Affliction
Edward Norton, American History X

Deserving: Strong category. McKellan, Nolte, and Norton all deserve spots here for their powerful portrayals.

Undeserving: Even the undeserving actors here were solid. I have nothing but respect for Hanks and Benigni. Both gave solid, capable performances, but there were better ones out there.

Missing: Sean Penn, from Hurlyburly. However, since his powerhouse performance was in service of an anti-Hollywood film, it's not surprising that he wasn't chosen. Thankfully, nothing for John Travolta, one of today's most overrated actors (his charisma certainly outweighs his talent).

Who Should Win: Call it a toss-up between Nolte and McKellan. Both were superb. I also suspect that one of them will win, although it's difficult to count Tom Hanks out of any race.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth
Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station
Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love
Meryl Streep, One True Thing
Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie

Deserving: Montenegro (her nomination is a pleasant surprise), Paltrow (who's always been a better actress than she has been given credit for, whether sporting a British or an American accent), and Watson.

Undeserving: Blanchett and Streep. I loved Blanchett in 1997's Oscar and Lucinda, but thought she was merely competent in Elizabeth. She should have gotten a nomination last year, not this year. And, while Meryl Streep is a great actress, her role in One True Thing was far from the actress at her best. Also, since the movie really belonged to Renee Zellweger, if Streep was going to get a nomination, it should have been in the Supporting Actress category.

Missing: Christina Ricci, who was superlative in The Opposite of Sex. Jennifer Lopez, who helped make Out of Sight the great film it is. And Samantha Morton (from Under the Skin), the only one who could have given Emily Watson a run for her money. Another actress thought to have a chance (although I would have disagreed with her nomination) was Cameron Diaz, for There's Something about Mary. With the right choices, this could have been a strong category. As it is, it's humdrum.

Who Should Win: Emily Watson. She gave the best female performance of the year. She is also a long-shot. The probable favorite is Paltrow.

James Coburn, Affliction
Robert Duvall, A Civil Action
Ed Harris, The Truman Show
Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love
Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

Deserving: Duvall, Thornton, and Coburn. All three gave riveting performances. I forgot to mention Coburn when I was doing my pre-nomination commentary, but he was good enough to deserve this recognition.

Undeserving: Harris, who didn't do much except stand around looking superior, and Rush, who was terrible (this goes down as the year's worst nomination). If the Academy was desperate to nominate Rush, they should have given him the nod for Elizabeth. While not a great performance, it wasn't the embarrassment represented by his work in Shakespeare in Love.

Missing: Al Freeman Jr, from Down in the Delta. This seems to be the right place to mention that no black actress, actor, or director was nominated this year. Given that there are some worthy candidates out there, it's hard to argue against a streak of racism in the Academy's nomination procedures.

Who Should Win: Duvall. The best of the bunch. He stands a good chance of actually winning, although Coburn will give him a run for his money (and may get the "comeback sympathy" vote).

Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice
Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
Rachel Griffiths, Hilary and Jackie
Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters

Deserving: Griffiths and Redgrave.

Undeserving: Kathy Bates (who was good, but not good enough to crack the Top 5), Brenda Blethyn (who was good in an over-the-top fashion, but, again, not good enough to deserve a nomination), and Judi Dench (who was hardly on screen for more than the blink of an eye). This category has been populated by familiar faces. Dench and Blethyn were far more deserving of past nominations than of these. And it's odd that Blethyn, whose performance was the weakest of the main trio in Little Voice, is the one to be nominated.

Missing: The big omission here is Scarlett Johansson, from The Horse Whisperer. Her performance was better than that of any of the nominees. Then there's Thandie Newton, whose intense, courageous performance in Beloved was conveniently ignored.

Who Should Win: Griffiths. (That would mean a win for both halves of Hilary and Jackie). In terms of who will win, this is a tough one to call. Redgrave, maybe?

Bulworth (Warren Beatty & Jeremy Pikser)
Life Is Beautiful (Vincenzo Cerami and Roberto Benigni)
Saving Private Ryan (Robert Rodat)
Shakespeare in Love (Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard)
The Truman Show (Andrew Niccol)

Deserving: Bulworth, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love.

Undeserving: The Truman Show (despite the original premise, the writing was just a cut above average) and Life is Beautiful.

Missing: Dark City, The Opposite of Sex.

Who Should Win: Saving Private Ryan. Granted, the film was great more because of the director than the writing, but it is well-written, and stands a little above the other nominees in this weak category.

Gods and Monsters (Bill Condon)
Out of Sight (Scott Frank)
Primary Colors (Elaine May)
A Simple Plan (Scott B. Smith)
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)

Deserving: Out of Sight, A Simple Plan.

Undeserving: Gods and Monsters (solid, but not great), Primary Colors (a timid and gutless script), The Thin Red Line (a sometimes-incoherent and meandering screenplay that should have gone through another re-write).

Missing: Hilary and Jackie. Sigh.

Who Should Win: Out of Sight, although part of me wants to say A Simple Plan. Both are worthy.

© 1999 James Berardinelli

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