MARCH 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 3


FEATURES | Preview of the 71st Academy Awards

Shakespeare In Love

LAST | In Dreams
LAST | The Thin Red Line
LAST | Life Is Beautiful


Short Takes
Grading from A-F

I'll admit that I went into "Shakespeare In Love" with some reservations, after all rewriting historial events is one thing, recreating a real person's life is a different story entirely. Somehow, director John Madden pulls it off with ease, creating a glorious and comical love story. The acting is outstanding, especially Joseph Fiennes who portrays the young bard as thoughtful, witty and totally driven by his hormones. The chestry between Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow is particularly impressive considering the poor track record of recent "love" movies in that department. This movie has it all: action, comedy, romance and, most important of all, a solid story.

In what easily could have turned into the second fiddle to last year's Saving Private Ryan, director and screen writer Terrence Malick avoids all traces of Speilberg's hit and instead shows the more thoughtful - almost poetic - and symbolic sides of war. Based on the novel by James Jones, the story follows an army company's landing at Guadalcanal, introduction to battle and the departure of those fortunate enough to have survived. Rather than concentrate on the brutal, enormous body count of the battles, Malick projects the thoughts inside the soldier's heads - each a mini movie in itself - to make his point. His main tool in depicting the horrors of war is to set it in contrast with the beautiful island environment, while framing the protagonist Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) as someone who realizes exactly what they are destroying and how war actually crushes the human spirit - something that lives on in the form of the peaceful island natives. To lend further emphasis, the battle scenes, when they do occur, rival most of the scenes from "Private Ryan." This is a war movie that breeds further contemplation and introspection, gone are the days of John Wayne happily saving the day without ill effect.

This small budget Italian film has been playing to rave reviews, and now I know why. Roberto Benigni gives the acting performance of the year, with apologies to Tom Hanks, in this film, which he also wrote and directed. It is a movie that is hard to classify, but is probably best described as a comedy/social commentary. The movie tells the tale of Guido, a Jew in Italy who along with his wife and child is sent to a concentration camp. Guido uses humor to prevent his child from knowing the horrible truth about the reasons for their trip to the concentration camp. One thing is certain: you will be hearing a lot about this film come Oscar time. Go see it, you won't even notice that the subtitles are there.

This computer animated Disney film from Pixar Studios takes animation to new heights. If you thought "Toy Story" was amazing, A Bug's Life makes the technology in Toy Story appear dated. This great story, filled with humor throughout, will have you laughing whether you are 3 or 33. Pay attention to the credits or you may not realize who some of those voices were (i.e. Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce, Dennis Leary), and stay until the end of the credits to see the hilarious outtakes which are guaranteed to keep you laughing on the way home.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic comedy, what could be better, right? To an extent. The movie plays like a Sleepless in Seattle II, which is not bad in some respects, but doesn't really break new ground. You've Got Mail gives Hanks and Ryan more screen time together than Sleepless did, but the story itself just isn't as compelling. Another difference, the supporting cast isn't as good. You will want to kill Parker Posey, who plays Hanks' girlfriend, by the end of the movie. Despite the flaws you still leave the theatre feeling good, and after all isn't that what these movies should be about?

- Kevin Ridolfi, Rob Gallo



  Oscar Fervor -
pomp, circumstance and, yes, a few movies

Answer this loaded question.

What are the Academy Awards ultimately about? a) true merit b) money c) the best performance in a given year, d) a way to make amends for not rewarding a deserving performance/accomplishment in a previous year, e) money

Despite what you might believe, the answer is all of the above.

The reality is that the Oscars represent a business, granted, a business populated by artists and craftspeople that has enormous emotional and cultural impact. And any "attention" given to the products of a business result in more money in terms of box office receipts. The reality is that there has always been a fascination surrounding the Academy Awards, even though the "one billion" viewership number is total hype. We can only hope that they continue to drop the dance numbers from the show and choose savvy hosts.

The fact is, the Oscars are so much better than they used to be. Whenever Billy Crystal hosts (although not this year) you know that the audience will be given just the right amount of comeuppance - Letterman obviously went too far although his "Would you like to buy a monkey?" skit was hilarious. The fact is, it's great to see what interesting things Nicholson says even if they are opaque as hell. What book did he mention? Who is Monte Hellman? If you're a serious movie buff, you should know. Sally Fields' infamous "You like me" speech - she will never, never live that one down - and James Cameron's attempt to bask in the moment and keep his ego in check at the same time. Now that Spielberg is accepted by his peers, he can stop saying that he never believes he will win. The fact is, if Spielberg had won every award he deserved, it would be so damn boring, they'd have to make up a new award, the Spieli, just for him.

There is always a predominant story behind the Oscars to make things interesting. A curiosity that is no doubt fueled by public relations professionals and spin doctors - although we'd love to believe that these stories just emerge out of a vacuum, but they don't because this is a business. The main stories this year are: Tom Hanks and Roberto Benigni.

Which, of course, brings us to the first question. Will Tom Hanks win another Oscar? The top contenders - and I don't mean this to reflect the quality of their performances - are Benigni ("Life is Beautiful"), Hanks ("Saving Private Ryan") and Ian McKellen ("Gods and Monsters"). Nick Nolte ("Affliction") and Edward Norton ("American History X") are the other nominees. You could certainly take the performance in isolation, but there are other factors that play hob with that approach even though it makes the most sense. Such as the fact that Nolte, a veteran and respected actor, is perceived as being "overdue" for an Oscar. Or what about McKellen, who turns in a wonderful performance as the director James Whale? But he is, horrors!, a stage actor! And then there's the hit factor.

"Saving Private Ryan" is the only clear hit in this category and, like it or not, successful films tend to win Oscars across the board as Titanic did like last year. My personal favorite in this category is McKellen. His performance brought Whale alive and told me about a towering director who struggled in his declining years but who was a pioneer lending artistry, intelligence and wit to the horror genre. Reality Dose: Tom Hanks will win.

In the Best Actress category, the nominees are Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth"), Fernanda Montenegro ("Central Station"), Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love"), Meryl Streep ("One True Thing") and Emily Watson ("Hilary and Jackie"). "Elizabeth" and "Shakespeare in Love" are the front runners in terms of popularity and I think this will be the main competition. My tendency is to favor Blanchett because it's a more complex role. Reality Dose: Gwyneth Paltrow.

Supporting Actor and Actress categories often contain potent performances and this year is no exception. In addition, I think they're less prone to be influenced by external factors such as the film's popularity. I believe that Billy Bob Thornton and Judi Dench will win in these respective categories. Reality Dose: Billy Bob Thornton for "A Simple Plan" and Judi Dench for "Shakespeare in Love."

The Best Director category includes: Roberto Benigni ("Life is Beautiful"), Steven Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan"), John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"), Terrence Malick ("The Thin Red Line") and Peter Weir ("The Truman Show"). The predicament here is that Benigni's film will win the Best Foreign film category hands down, yet his directorial effort is lumped in with mainstream, predominantly American or Americanized directors. Malick is a unique victim of time: this is his first film in twenty years and the narrative structure that worked well in "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" just doesn't jell in a war film. Weir is overdue for an Oscar, and Madden is less well known. Guess what? Spielberg, based on the potent first thirty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan", will win his second Oscar for direction. Reality Dose: Steven Spielberg.

The original screenplay category boasts a remarkable variety of stories. The main competition here will be between "Life is Beautiful" and "Shakespeare in Love" and once again we run into the regrettable foreign vs. domestic perception. I think the cache of Tom Stoppard's co-writing credit will push "Shakespeare in Love" over the top. Reality Dose: "Shakespeare in Love". In the adapted screenplay category, "Gods and Monsters" will prevail.

In sundry other categories, Janusz Kaiminski will win for Best Cinematography for "Saving Private Ryan", veteran Michael Kann will win the editing award for "Saving Private Ryan", "Pleasantville" will win for Art Direction (in a close race with "Elizabeth"), "Elizabeth" will win for Costume Design, and "What Dreams May Come" will win a much deserved Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The scientific and technical awards, given out before the main awards, will be summarized in two minutes during the show and will look like they were given out in somebody's basement.

You could say there will be winners and losers. On the other hand, everyone nominated is making a living in a brutal business which alone should count for something. And the reality is that the Oscars are a confluence of subjectivity, brilliance, merit, luck, Zeitgeist, and sentimentality. The Academy Awards won't be the Titanic juggernaut this year, not by a long shot, and should therefore hold a few watchable surprises.

TIM CLIFTON is Renaissance Online Magazine's staff movie reviewer.

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