The 1997 Academy Award Nominations: Comments, Gripes, and Assorted Musings

Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 11, 1997

Anybody with some knowledge of films has an opinion about the Academy Awards nominations, and I'm no exception. As usual, my personal preferences are at great variance with those expressed by the Academy voters, so I've decided to use up a little bandwidth to air my opinions.

In brief, I was elated that Evita was completely ignored in the major categories (although it did garner 5 minor nominations), but disappointed that Hamlet was only accorded a Best Adapted Screenplay nod (in addition to 3 minor nominations). The big winners were obviously a quartet of independent films: The English Patient, Fargo, Secrets and Lies, and Shine.

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

The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
Secrets and Lies

Deserving: The English Patient, Jerry Maguire, Secrets and Lies, Shine. As was true last year, three of the five nominations made my Top 10, and Jerry Maguire just missed it. Thankfully, there's no sign of Evita, and that by itself is enough to put a smile on my face.

Undeserving: Fargo. I suppose it was inevitable, given the overwhelming critical praise showered on this film, but Fargo still doesn't do anything for me. And I'll be ranting and raving if it takes home the Best Picture statuette.

Missing: One title: Hamlet. Branagh's fine film, which, for me, was easily the best motion picture of the year, was overlooked in almost every major category. Given the film's length and the small number of people who have seen it, it's not a surprise, but it is disappointing that such a fine motion picture was snubbed.

Who Should Win: Either Shine or Secrets and Lies. I think both are worthy efforts, although, if pressed to the wall, I think I'd choose the former (it did finish a notch higher on my Top 10).

Anthony Minghella, The English Patient
Joel Cohen, Fargo
Milos Forman, The People vs. Larry Flynt
Mike Leigh, Secrets and Lies
Scott Hicks, Shine

Deserving: Minghella, Leigh, Hicks. All three fashioned fine films, and are more than worthy of consideration for the award.

Undeserving: Forman, Cohen. Neither of their films was top-of-the-line material, and neither director deserves recognition. Both have done much better work in the past (for which, I might add, Forman has been recognized by the Academy; Cohen has not).

Missing: Cameron Crowe, whose Jerry Maguire got a Best Picture nod. This seems to happen every year -- the director of one of the Best Pictures doesn't get nominated. Also, Kenneth Branagh is missing, despite having directed two of last year's twenty best films (Hamlet and A Midwinter's Tale).

Who Should Win: Mike Leigh. Shine may have been a slightly better film than Secrets and Lies, but Leigh outdirected Scott Hicks.

Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire
Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient
Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt
Geoffrey Rush, Shine
Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade

Deserving: Cruise, Rush, Thornton. I'm a little ambiguous about Cruise, but Jerry Maguire was successful in large part due to his effort, so I'll place him in this category.

Undeserving: Fiennes, Harrelson. Fiennes has done much better work in other films. He's good in The English Patient, but not great. Harrelson is definitely not one of Larry Flynt's strongest assets. It's very odd that this one-note actor got a nod, while Courtney Love, who acted rings around him in the movie, was ignored.

Missing: Noah Taylor, Shine and Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet. Both were better than at least two of the choices, and Branagh was arguably better than four.

Who Should Win: Geoffrey Rush, hands down. Easily the best performance of those nominated.

Brenda Blethyn, Secrets and Lies
Diane Keaton, Marvin's Room
Frances McDormand, Fargo
Kristin Scott-Thomas, The English Patient
Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves

Deserving Blethyn, Scott-Thomas, Watson. A trio of fine performances.

Undeserving: Keaton, McDormand. I don't understand the rationale behind nominating Keaton. Yes, she did a good job in Marvin's Room, but it wasn't anywhere close to Oscar-worthy. Then there's McDormand, whose one-note performance in Fargo helped turn her character into a caricature.

Missing: Thank God there's no Madonna! And no Debbie Reynolds, either. Neither of them warranted a nod, and neither got one (although I wouldn't have griped if Reynolds had been nominated). A few names that deserve to be here, but aren't, include Kate Winslet (Jude) and Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol).

Who Should Win: Brenda Blethyn, hands down.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire
William H. Macy, Fargo
Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine
Edward Norton, Primal Fear
James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

Deserving: Gooding Jr., Macy, Mueller-Stahl, Norton. I'm a little ambiguous about Norton, chiefly because I'm bothered by the thought of a mediocre-to-bad film like Primal Fear getting Oscar recognition. But, from time-to-time, it happens, and I have to concede that Norton's performance was good.

Undeserving: Woods. This is just another typical, one-dimensional James Woods villain -- a frothing-at-the-mouth racist who's not especially compelling or interesting. This is another nomination where I'm hard-pressed to discern the Academy's reasons.

Missing: Samuel L. Jackson, A Time to Kill. If the Academy wanted someone from a trial movie about race relations, why not pick Jackson? He's a much better choice than Woods because he displays range. Then there's Derek Jacobi (Hamlet), whose exclusion is a travesty. Jacobi's performance is arguably the best in Branagh's film, and his absence from this list sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when you consider Woods' presence.

Who Should Win: Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Joan Allen, The Crucible
Lauren Bacall, The Mirror Has Two Faces
Juliette Binoche, The English Patient
Barbara Hershey, Portrait of a Lady
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Secrets and Lies

Deserving: Jean-Baptiste. Barely. This category is a joke this year. Somehow, the Academy managed to pick four completely unacceptable choices and one barely acceptable one. And, considering that Jean-Baptiste has virtually no chance of actually winning the Oscar, that means the prize will be going to someone who doesn't even deserve to be nominated.

Undeserving: Allen, Bacall, Binoche, Hershey. Joan Allen and Barbara Hershey fall into the same category -- solid performances, but not standouts. Juliette Binoche, who has done Oscar-worthy work before, gives one of the most flat performances of her career in The English Patient. I would be less inclined to argue with this nomination if it was for The Horseman on the Roof. Then there's Bacall, who has gotten this nomination strictly because of her name.

Missing: Everyone that should have been nominated. Natalie Portman, Beautiful Girls, Marisa Tomei, Unhook the Stars, Courtney Love, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Renee Zellweger, Jerry Maguire. I wonder if Zellweger and Love missed nominations because voters couldn't figure out whether to put them in the Actress or Supporting Actress category. (On the actor side, this also could have been Noah Taylor's fate.)

Who Should Win: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, by default. I'll retch if (when) it's someone else.

Jerry Maguire
Lone Star
Secrets and Lies

Deserving: Everything! Five good screenplays. Even though I was less-than-overwhelmed by Fargo, the script is well-written. And it's nice to see John Sayles get some Academy recognition for a change.

Missing: Breaking the Waves. Lars von Trier's screenplay had a few minor flaws, but it was easily one of the most daring and thought-provoking of the year.

Who Should Win: Shine.

The Crucible
The English Patient
Sling Blade

Deserving: All of them. Thankfully, Hamlet finally was recognized for something. Sling Blade is a little weak, but not unreasonably so

Missing: Jude, a fine adaptation of a very difficult novel. Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored definitely deserved consideration before Sling Blade.

Who Should Win: Hamlet.

Next: "Critiquing the Critics (Or, Why I Watch Siskel and Ebert)"

© 1997 James Berardinelli

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