Movies of 1997, Academy Awards of '98: Part two


Films from 1997--especially many going onto the 1998 Academy Awards--have stood the test of time and continue to entertain people 20 years later.

Last week we began a journey in exploring a few favorite films released in 1997. Narrowing the scope, we focused on the nominees for best picture at the 1998 Academy Awards. (Sans The Full Monty, substituted here by Boogie Nights.)

These films might have dominated the evening in any other year. Going up against a love story set against the backdrop of a sinking ship, it seems other films did not stand a chance.

Except they did when it came to acting statuettes, leaving Titanic to take home 11 Oscars but none for their actors.

Instead, actresses from the two other films we're looking at, L.A. Confidential and As Good as It Gets, went home with an Oscar on Academy Award night 1998.

God himself could not sink this ship

After all of these years, it is still Billy Zane who steals the show in Titanic. Setting aside he is poorly written as an asshole for reasons unknown (other than he is rich), Zane is wonderful as the movie's main villain (along with the pesky iceberg).

For all the sappy, dead-on dialogue, Titanic was still a film to be marveled at. Technologically it was ahead of its time and director/writer James Cameron has proven to be cutting edge when it comes to using the newest (or creating his own) technology for a film. 

The history of the Titanic was an added aspect--for me--in seeing this film. It is considered one of the greatest shipwrecks in history and being able to see this new footage of the wreck drew me in as a viewer almost immediately.

While the rest of the three hours is half fabrication, half facts and rarely fails to entertain. And the film notably helped send the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet into a completely different stratosphere. DiCaprio--who wasn't nominated in '98--would finally win his Oscar for acting in 2016 when he won for The Revenant. Winslet--who was nominated for best actress in '98--would go on to win an Oscar in 2008 for The Reader.

The film would eventually become the worldwide highest grossing movie of all-time until passed by Cameron's Avatar. (Titanic is currently in third-place domestically, behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar.)

Not to mention, the original soundtrack provided the hit "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, becoming the theme of thousands of proms as the millennium came to an end.

Off the record, on the QT and very hush, hush

From the moment of Danny Devito's opening voice over in L.A. Confidential, I was hooked. The story was much more than a simple crime drama, keeping its claws in you until the very end. It helped that the cast--from top to bottom--were completely invested, with the movie more than helping along the careers of many who at the time were unknown.

The actors in question? Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Both had acted in films, but neither was considered a household name.  Writer Brian Helgeland spoke a little about this process in a recent Austin Film Festival On Story podcast. To get a movie made with these two actors, names like DeVito, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, and eventual Academy Award winner for best actress, Kim Basinger would need to tag along for the ride.

Even Basinger had fallen off the radar after her appearance in Batman eight years earlier. Her performance and subsequent award nomination/wins placed her back in the spotlight and she appeared in multiple films over the ensuing years.

Based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy. L.A. Confidential is directed by Curtis Hanson and written by Helgeland, with Hanson sharing a writing credit. They were awarded an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The film is a throwback movie, a crime noir tackling the corrupt police system (something Los Angeles was still experiencing in the 90's) dripping with racism, domestic abuse, hookers, and heroin.

All of these factors teamed up to put on display an acting showcase for the ages. Spacey may have had better performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects, but he fits in perfectly with the mix of young and old ensemble. This depth of talent in this movie is right up there with Boogie Nights and the next movie on our list.

Sell crazy someplace else

The center of As Good as It Gets, Jack Nicholson, is an acting force all on his own. He won his third Oscar for his work in this film and has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards. Nicholson, though, better get to work if he wants to see his decades long streak of getting nominated not end. (Going strong since the 60's).

Nicholson is at the top of the totem pole of acting in this movie. He plays a popular writer, one who suffers from a mighty big case of OCD. 

His solitary, private life takes a turn when, through a series of events, he becomes involved with a waitress (Helen Hunt) with a sick kid, a depressed artist (Greg Kinnear), and one tiny, annoying dog.

Hunt--for her work--was awarded an Oscar for best actress and then would never be heard from again. Okay, stretching the truth on that one. She has appeared in films over the years, mostly independent or smaller projects. Working on a long-running television show (Mad About You) and book ending that with a box office smash (Twister) and an academy award for As Good as It Gets, Hunt is allowed to pick her projects with due care.

Even Kinnear was a revelation in this movie. In the role of a suffering artist and recent subject of a hate crime, Kinnear was given a best supporting actor nomination, but in such a stacked field winning was always going to be a long shot.

Throw in Cuba Gooding, Jr (fresh off a win himself for Jerry Maguire) and Skeet Ulrich (fresh off the success of Scream) in a role drastically cut down but one in which he nails, the acting pool gets to be pretty deep. (Shout out to Shirley Knight and Yeardley Smith).

As Good as It Gets, much like the others films, brings together a collection of characters who may never cross paths and turns them into a dysfunctional family. They are are different and unique in their own ways, but also caring, compassionate and watchful in these same different ways. It's a theme that runs through most of the films and a staple of some of the best films of all time.

Thus wraps up part two of our series. If you are thirsty for more, come back next week when we discover the list of recognizable movies from 1997 is much more extensive than previously thought.


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