5 Oscar Could Have Beens: 1996

When the Coen brothers realized the Academy liked them, they really liked them. Kind of. In the end liked big, romantic, sorrowful, war-time epics. A beautiful painting. The liked The English Patient. It was good, but it was not nine Oscars good. And it was not Fargo.

In other news, Geoffrey Rush and Frances McDormand won in their respective lead acting categories for their supporting work. Not that I can grumble at those performances – it just meant Tom Cruise and Brenda Blethyn missed out. Kristin Scott Thomas and William H. Macy were also seemingly in the wrong categories. As was the superb Juliette Binoche, who seemed to surprise people when she won – but this was one of nine Oscars I won’t be complaining about.

What was a (pleasant) surprise was Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) stealing Anthony Minghella’s Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Otherwise The English Patient steamrolled the Oscars. Even the Thalberg Award went to Saul Zaentz – that must have been a clue. When Evita won Song Andrew Lloyd Webber commented gratefully that The English Patient did not have a song. I laughed at that.

But enough of that movie, here are five non-starters that I consider refreshing could have beens that year:

Best Picture – Trainspotting

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Yeah, you can see why the Academy did not choose this for Best Picture. In their eyes. In an idea world, or in my eyes, I would choose Trainspotting. For sure. Choose Best Picture. Choose Cinematography. Choose Editing. Choose Danny Boyle. Choose a fucking great cast, choose Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Kelly MacDonald, Jonny Lee Miller, and Ewan Bremner. Choose a graphic movie about heroin addicts. Choose rushing into the worst toilet in Scotland, crawling into the shitty bowl, and swimming to Brian Eno music. Choose horrific sequences with babies. Choose Spud. Choose Diane. Choose over-dosing and going to prison. Choose a narrative so super-charged from the opening frame. Choose throwing beer glasses off balconies without regard for someone’s head down below. Choose shitting the bed, and then spraying it over breakfast. Choose watching the movie over and over, laughing and gasping, at the wonder of it all in front of your eyes, and the fucked up Scots you can’t help but like. Choose your movie. Choose Trainspotting. But why the Academy want to do a thing like that? They chose not to choose Trainspotting.

Best Actress – Madonna (Evita)

There is no denying Madonna’s talent as a musician, but her actress persona is not taken particularly seriously. So how about a movie where she can really get her teeth into by singing the whole time? A musical perhaps. The casting of Madonna seems perfect for Eva Peron in many ways, and she is beyond impressive here, doing what she does best while carrying the weight of emotions required for such a powerful musical. There was a hell of a lot of love for Evita going into the race, and understandably so, but it appears the Academy pulled the plug on their enthusiasm right at the end.

It tends to be a peculiar thing when I pop star is nominated for an Oscar, an acting Oscar I mean. Not just a pop star too, that’s not fair, someone we know as musicians. I can think of Diana Ross, nominated for Best Actress for Lady Sings the Blues. But she was also up against Liza Minnelli for Cabaret, so she had no chance of winning. And then there was Cher of course winning Best Actress for Moonstruck. But the examples are scarce. You would have to give credit to the Golden Globes for acknowledging Comedy or Musicals, and not just drama (Madonna won the Globe for Evita). Though they class dramas like Walk The Line and My Week With Marilyn as movies fit for this categories because the characters sing. Silly, but that is for another time altogether. 

Coming soon: Golden Globes Musical Or Comedy – Now That Is A Question.

Best Original Score – Carter Burwell (Fargo)

Listen to the music and let Carter Burwell tell you why this should have been nominated for Best Original Score that year. Burwell is almost a perfect fit for the Coen brothers, his art is slightly eccentric, and there is nothing quite like what he creates in his cinematic remit. I would brag about the music for Miller’s Crossing and The Hudsucker Proxy too – as well as later Coen collaborations, and Burwell’s work with Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich). What makes this a significant omission is that the Academy really went for Fargo this year, they finally acknowledged the Coen brothers for the masters of cinema they were. Perhaps the consistent theme of Fargo was not diverse enough for voters, but the music is so fitting to the weird, isolated, hopeful, tragically inevitable narrative they create, that it almost does not fit the movie at all. Simply brilliant.

Best Director – Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire)

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An easy choice this, at a time when Cameron Crowe was (in hindsight) at the peak of his career. Jerry Maguire was nominated for Best Picture, but Crowe was nowhere to be seen in the Director list. Instead Milos Forman took his spot for The People vs Larry Flynt, and I certainly can’t complain about that choice. Jerry Maguire was a real crowd pleaser, there are some terrific set-pieces here, that have over time not bee forgotten (and often quoted). The director has to take a lot of credit here. Not only is it clear Crowe chose the majority of the songs for the movie’s soundtrack, but you see and feel his enthusiasm and expertise for the film’s subject, not just in film-making, but in his story-telling.

Best Picture – Hamlet

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When making my selections for these Oscar “snubs” sometimes I struggled to decide which category I should write about. With Kenneth Branagh’s extraordinary and four-hour words words words adaptation of Hamlet, there is so much to admire. This movie is lavish, smart, and compelling. Branagh is so inventive with methods of portraying or translating Shakespeare’s words and actions – he clearly wanted us to see Hamlet how we had not seen it before. And he certainly did his homework. A Director and Actor nod for Branagh himself was always a real possibility, and well-deserved. With a supporting cast to swoon over too, this could have come close to matching The English Patient for total nominations. My personal pick, and the reason I opened this passage with my tough choice in regard of which angle to go with, would be Kate Winslet. Who knows, had Hamlet got the love enough for Best Picture, I suspect the rest would or may have followed.

Originally published 18th October 2014.

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