I watched the 1999 Academy Awards with a bunch of university friends in the bar a couple of us ran. After closing of course, here in the UK we are usually eight hours ahead so the show doesn’t start to well after midnight. What dawned on me as I was watching it was, firstly, because of the order the awards were announced, American Beauty was not winning anything until right at the end, and secondly, when it did win, it could actually take those big five Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). It did not, because Hilary Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry instead. A popular win, for such a small movie, but oh how Annette Bening deserved it.
For me, obviously, one of the toughest to call was Original Screenplay. Though American Beauty likely won by a country mile, I would have struggled to vote for that over Being John Malkovich (Charlie Kaufman) and Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson). The latter’s muted scream into the camera as the winner was announced suggests they knew they did not have a chance. The Sam Mendes movie prevailed though. Five Oscars at the end of the night, and that was with Bening’s loss, and a surprise Original Score win for The Red Violin (John Corigliano). The movie had the highest number of nominations, but only eight – there was no room for acting nominations for Alison Janney, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, or Mena Suvari. On acting, two of the most dynamic, and popular, performances came from Reese Witherspoon (Election) and Jim Carrey (Man on the Moon), but they failed to make the five, unfortunately.
I have just gone ahead this time around and chosen an alternative Best Picture five (or let’s imagine there were ten nominees then – can we?). A couple of the following inclusions (and American Beauty) I have even greater passion for mentioning following an abysmal Esquire piece on how stupid we all are.
I love Michael Caine, but I was crushed when Tom Cruise did not win the Oscar for his ferocious performance in this. And where was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s and Julianne Moore’s nomination (see also many other recent years)? And Jon Brion’s score? Plus it was possibly the best directed movie of the year, so obviously Paul Thomas Anderson was not nominated here. The movie is three hours and pretty heavy going in parts, but there is no denying the vast array of talent on show here (and certainly behind the camera too).
Best Picture – The Talented Mr. Ripley
This is also a rather sinister, if at times somewhat muted, thriller from Anthony Minghella. And the Academy were already all warm and romantic about him. Matt Damon has never been creepier, and yet you still stick with him like his shadow to see what lie or direction he will take next. Not for everyone this, but a really solid accomplishment all the same, and not quite like anything else made this year. The movie was nominated in several categories but, like many movies this year, did not quite warrant the top awards.
Best Picture – The Matrix
I am perfectly aware this would never had made the Picture list, but audiences were simply blown away by this. We had not seen anything quite like it. And audiences count for something you know. The direction by the Wachowskis was high-paced and slick, you know, watching, that your brain is not quite ready for this – but soaks it all up anyway. They had clearly been leading up to this following the excellent Bound, but what a shame they ran faster than their legs could carry them with the subsequent Matrix movies, that lacked in originality and pace.
Best Picture – Being John Malkovich
Quite simply one of the best screenplays of the last twenty-five years. Where else would you have someone apologize about the c#nt in reception in such a nonchalant manner? It is not vulgar, in fact the dialogue is almost distracting in the best possible way, without ever taking anything away from the extraordinary notion that there is a portal into the head of John Malkovich. This is sometimes so funny and clever, you may for a second forget how tragic parts of the narrative are (Malkovich’s personal invasion; a puppeteer’s unrequited infatuation). The performances are first-rate, you would have to give a special mention to Cameron Diaz who had no rights being cast in this role as Lotte, but pulls it off with such enthusiasm. The stirring score by Carter Burwell also deserves a special mention.
Best Picture – Fight Club
You can’t help but get the feeling director David Fincher was really allowed to let his hair down with this one. What makes him so essential as one of his generations greatest directors of movies, is that Fight Club is both wacky and extreme, but he directs it at his pace. A carefully crafted, and perfectly framed movie, that almost feels like watching your now favorite collection of TV commercials – whether it be how to furnish your home in visual motion, or the altered correct procedures of airplane safety. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are spot on as the leads, of course the latter is quite breath-taking as the persona who transforms before your eyes. Helena Bonham Carter also impresses.
Originally published 27th October 2014.