The 1998 Academy Award Nominations: Comments, Gripes, and Assorted Musings

Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 10, 1998

For anyone in the movie-making business, the Academy Award nominations are a cause for celebration. It's time for Hollywood to pat itself on the back (especially this year, with big budget, studio-backed films once again in the driver's seat following last year's uprising by independent productions). For critics, however, the announcement of the nominations means something entirely different: it gives us something new to gripe about. And, since I'm just as good at griping as anyone else, here goes...

It's no big surprise that Titanic captured the lion's share of the awards. In fact, even the film's gaudy total of 14 (tying it with All About Eve for the most ever) wasn't unexpected to those who have watched the movie's progress. L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting tied for second place with 9 nominations each.

The richest category this year was arguably that of Best Actress - there were far more than five deserving performers, so it was inevitable that someone was going to get left out. What's a little disappointing is that the Academy chose to honor one actress who, while doing a fine job in the film in question, isn't in nearly as high an orbit as her fellow nominees. There's a similar problem in the Best Actor category where one undeserving name snuck into the mix. More on who they are (if you haven't already guessed) a little later.

As usual, there were a few surprises, although this year's didn't come from as far out in left field as in previous award campaigns. The nomination success of The Full Monty, for example, might seem unexpected at first glance, but it really isn't. The film was well-liked by both the public and critics, and its nod for Best Picture (an award it has no chance of winning) isn't a true "upset".

Finally, a word about the documentary category. The process seems to be improving, as can be seen by the inclusion of Spike Lee's fine Four Little Girls in the mix. But there are still problems. 1998's other top documentary, Errol Morris' intensely fascinating Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, is missing in action. The documentary nomination procedure obviously still needs further tweaking to avoid something similar happening yet again in 1999.

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

As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential

Deserving: L.A. Confidential, Titanic. Frankly, I consider this year's list of Best Picture nominees to be a travesty. Fortunately, the two legitimate honorees are the front-runners, so I can't complain too much.

Undeserving: As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting. All three are similar in tone and approach: entertaining, feel-good experiences. However, while they're undeniably fun to watch, none deserves this kind of honor, especially with so many better movies out there.

Missing: Where the hell is The Sweet Hereafter? The obvious explanation would be that not enough people saw it, but that argument disintegrates when you take a peek at the Best Director category. Plainly put, not only does the The Sweet Hereafter deserve to be here, but it deserves to win.

Who Should Win: Titanic, and deservedly so. Nothing can stop this film. The dark horse is L.A. Confidential, but its chances are getting slimmer with every passing moment and every new weekly bundle of $30 million brought in by James Cameron's epic.

Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty
James Cameron, Titanic
Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter
Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential
Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting

Deserving: Cameron, Egoyan, Hanson. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Egoyan received a much-deserved nod in this category. This is the warmest I've felt about a director nomination since Kieslowski earned one for Red.

Undeserving: Cattaneo, Van Sant. See my Best Picture arguments about their films.

Missing: I don't think there are any egregious misses, although I would have liked to have seen one of the undeserving pair replaced by Paul Thomas Anderson for Boogie Nights. Another curious omission is James L Brooks for As Good as It Gets. While I don't think Brooks deserved a nomination, it's curious that his film got a Best Picture nod while he was passed over in this category. (This peculiar mis-synchronization between the Picture and Director categories seems to happen every year, however.)

Who Should Win: Atom Egoyan. I won't be disappointed when Cameron takes home the statuette, however. His direction of Titanic was masterful.

Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
Robert Duvall, The Apostle
Peter Fonda, Ulee's Gold
Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog
Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

Deserving: Duvall, Fonda, Hoffman, Nicholson. Actually, I'm not 100% sold on Nicholson. I liked his performance, but I'm not sure it was one of the best of the year. Note that all four of these actors are in the same age bracket (one that comes with gray and/or thinning hair).

Undeserving: Damon. This is the "joke" nomination I alluded to earlier. Damon was okay in his Good Will Hunting role, but it's irksome that he was handed a Best Actor nomination for this work..

Missing: Ian Holm, The Sweet Hereafter -- probably the best male performance of the year, but overlooked. I had also expected Leonardo DiCaprio to make the cut for Titanic. As the sole representative of the under-thirty crowd, he would have been a better choice than Damon.

Who Should Win: Peter Fonda or Robert Duvall. For me, it's a tossup which was better. A win by either would be fine.

Helena Bonham-Carter, Wings of the Dove
Julie Christie, Afterglow
Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown
Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets
Kate Winslet, Titanic

Deserving Bonham-Carter, Christie, Dench, Winslet. I didn't have Christie on my personal "should be nominated" list, but I acknowledge that she did a fine job in Afterglow. And, while I have no problem with Kate Winslet's nomination, I find it curious that she got a nod while her co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio, who did every bit as good a job, was ignored.

Undeserving: Helen Hunt. I like the actress, but there's no way she deserves a nomination, especially considering those who were left off the list.

Missing: The biggest, most unforgivable omission of the entire 1998 Academy Awards nomination list is Victoire Thivisol, for Ponette. Thivisol's heartfelt performance was one of the year's most amazing, and it's a travesty that it's missing.

Who Should Win: Judi Dench. Since she won a Golden Globe award, she should have a shot.

Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
Anthony Hopkins, Amistad
Greg Kinnear, As Good as It Gets
Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights
Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

Deserving: Hopkins, Kinnear (who, surprisingly, was good), Reynolds, Williams. A strong group.

Undeserving: Forster. He was solid, but not great.

Missing: Rupert Everett, My Best Friend's Wedding. It's sad to see such a wonderful performance go unrewarded. I wonder if there's any homophobia at work here (both Everett and the character he played are gay).

Who Should Win: Burt Reynolds, despite his own reservations about the role.

Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential
Joan Cusack, In and Out
Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting
Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights
Gloria Stuart, Titanic

Deserving: Driver, Moore. This category is a little stronger than last year, when it was questionable whether any of the nominees were deserving. At least this year there are two I can root for.

Undeserving: Basinger, Cusack, Stuart. I liked both Basinger and Cusack's performances, but neither was anywhere close to Oscar-worthy. Stuart, who was merely "okay", seems to have been swept along in the pro-Titanic swell (which makes it all the more surprising that DiCaprio was overlooked).

Missing: Two of the best contenders: Sarah Polley, The Sweet Hereafter, and Christina Ricci, The Ice Storm. Both did great jobs - certainly better than at least three of the nominees.

Who Should Win: Julianne Moore.

As Good as It Gets (Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks)
Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen)
The Full Monty (Simon Beaufoy)
Good Will Hunting (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon)

Deserving: Boogie Nights. Call me grumpy, but I don't like any of the other choices. At least no one mistook the script of Titanic for great writing.

Undeserving: Everything except Boogie Nights. The only one who comes close to warranting a place on the list is Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry, which contained some brilliant moments. The rest -- As Good as It Gets, Good Will Hunting, The Full Monty -- are overrated both in writing and in execution.

Missing: How about In the Company of Men or Kevin Smith's funny and (surprisingly) mature Chasing Amy? Or Waiting for Guffman?

Who Should Win: Boogie Nights. Obviously. It probably won't, though.

Donnie Brasco (Paul Attanasio)
L.A. Confidential (Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
Wag the Dog (Hilary Henkin and David Mamet)
Wings of the Dove (Hossein Amini)

Deserving: All of them. Donnie Brasco is a little marginal, but I won't complain. It's nice to see Egoyan get another nomination.

Missing: Contact, a fine version of a hard-to-adapt novel. The Ice Storm, which was utterly ignored by the Academy.

Who Should Win: The Sweet Hereafter. Although, given the recent fact-mirrors-fiction political situation, I can make a very strong case for Wag the Dog (which I think is going to win).

Next: "The Art of the Trailer"

© 1998 James Berardinelli

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