What’s the biggest Oscar upset of the last quarter century? It may be the victory of Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan as the Best Picture of 1998. Looking back with the perspective of time, would that race play out the same way if it could be voted on today? EW is asking that question and others like it via our enormous survey campaign, called “Recall the Gold.” As of today, we’re sending out ballots to 7,000 film industry professionals (many of them Academy members), asking them to vote anew on the top six categories in the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago. Many of the Academy Award-winning pictures, directors, actors, and actresses will stand up to our test of time; no doubt many others will be replaced by new consensus choices. And that’s where you come in, PopWatchers.
We’re going to ask you to vote as well. Every Tuesday and Thursday in PopWatch, from now until the end of the year, we’re going to ask you to re-vote one category from one year’s race and see if, out of the five nominees, you’d pick the same winner today that the Academy did then, or if you think another one of the nominees was more deserving. After the first of the year, we’ll tally all the results of both readers’ votes and industry professionals’ votes.
Let’s kick things off with that famous upset from the 1998 Best Picture race. You’ll recall that Ryan and Shakespeare were the favorites going in, with 11 nominations for Steven Spielberg’s war epic and 13 for the Miramax period comedy that starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. Also vying for Best Picture, with seven nominations each, were Elizabeth, the biopic of Queen Elizabeth I that helped launch Cate Blanchett to stardom; Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni’s Italian-language tragicomedy about a Jewish father who uses humor to shield his little boy from the worst horrors of the Holocaust; and The Thin Red Line, a brooding, meditative, elliptical World War II epic very different from Ryan, one that marked the return of ’70s directing legend Terrence Malick to the screen after a 20-year absence.
Conventional wisdom picked Ryan as the favorite over Shakespeare, since the former was a serious war drama that seemed tailor-made for the Academy, while the latter, for all its highbrow references and costume pageantry, was still a comedy, a genre that almost never wins Best Picture. Shakespeare‘s victory was widely seen (fairly or unfairly) as a triumph of Miramax’s Oscar-campaigning genius (the quasi-indie distributor also represented multiple winner Life Is Beautiful).
Back then, I may have been one of the few who thought Shakespeare actually deserved to beat Ryan. I found it thoroughly entertaining and inventive from start to finish, while I thought Ryan was 25 minutes of bravura filmmaking (the D-Day sequence) attached to two hours of a routine WWII drama and marred by a superfluous, blatantly manipulative framing device. Today, however, I’m not so sure. Shakespeare looks to me now like an extremely well-crafted trifle, while Ryan retains its moral force. Elizabeth, with its stylish, gritty approach to period drama, looks better and more influential to me each time I see it. My feelings are still mixed about Life Is Beautiful; I’m still not sure it ever reconciled its light, bittersweet comic tone with the horrible gravity of its subject matter. Thin Red Line remains visually stunning and dramatically opaque.
Of course, your opinions of these movies are likely different from mine, and may have evolved in different directions from mine over the last ten years. Vote in the attached poll for the one you think is the Best Picture today. (Watch some embedded clips after the jump if you need a refresher.) Then keep an eye on this space for further opportunities to vote in theRecall the Gold poll (on Thursday, we’ll look at the Best Supporting Actress race from 1983), and watch for commentary and historical contexton the recall vote at Dave Karger’s new Oscar Watch blog.
Life Is Beautiful trailer
Saving Private Ryan trailer
Shakespeare in Love trailer
The Thin Red Line trailer