Welcome to four fifths of a really interesting Oscar race. While it’s not true that this year’s Best Picture ballots will arrive in Academy mailboxes preprinted with the words Saving Private Ryan, they might as well be: If any doubt remained that Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic is this year’s front-runner, Best Picture honors from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have sealed the deal.
But the battle for the remaining slots could make Ryan‘s carnage look like a tea party. The contender with the most momentum is Shakespeare In Love; its combination of quasi-prestigious subject matter, star power, and lush visuals should give it one of the year’s highest nomination totals come Feb. 9. The Truman Show seemed a sure bet last summer, then faded when it failed to pick up any major critics’ prizes, but it roared back to life when it took six Golden Globe noms (one more than Ryan). For the fourth nomination, we’re betting on Life Is Beautiful; the crowd-pleasing Italian import by cowriter-director-star Roberto Benigni has earned fantastic word of mouth and could become the first film since 1971’s The Emigrants to win nominations for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film.
The contenders for the fifth slot are an awful lot like the top four: a World War II epic (The Thin Red Line, which, like the now-all-but-out-of-contention Beloved, may be too self-conscious and solemnly paced for Academy tastes), a TV-versus-reality comedy-drama (Pleasantville, a sort of Truman lite), a 16th-century costume romance (Elizabeth, which peaked early and may now be overshadowed by Shakespeare), and a sentimental, popular import (Brazil’s Central Station). But Oscar voters may go in a different direction — toward the small-scale gem Gods and Monsters, the Full Monty wannabe Waking Ned Devine (our dark-horse candidate), or the wintry Affliction. All of which makes for a perfectly fine contest — though last time we looked, Spielberg wasn’t even breaking a sweat.
For Your Consideration
Masterful plotting, understatement, visual elegance, and an emotional wallop that leaves you staggering out of the theater. These are virtues worth celebrating in any movie, but they’re particularly stunning in a crime thriller. There’s nothing fancy in A Simple Plan — just superb, noose-tightening direction by Sam Raimi and flawless work by Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, all in the service of one of the year’s best scripts. Sure sounds Oscar-worthy to us.