Culture > Movies

An Oscar preview

Movies | Only one of the Best Picture nominees was in the top 20

Issue: "Gagged by Tolerance," March 22, 1997

How many people have seen all of the movies nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture? Not very many. Of all of the nominees, only Jerry Maguire was a top-20 hit. The others, all of which were made by independent studios, languished at the box office. This year's Oscar nominees demonstrate the growing gap between the sensibilities of the filmmaking community and that of the rest of America.

Here is a run-down on each of the Best Picture nominees. Significantly, every one is R-rated.

Jerry Maguire features Tom Cruise, one of America's most popular actors, as an unexpectedly unemployed agent for professional athletes. In the process of resurrecting his career, Mr. Cruise's character learns to distinguish between the superficial things of this world and deep virtues. The usual sins of fornication and vulgar language are sprinkled throughout the script, but the film ultimately extols the worthiness of marriage and family--and it scored highly with audiences and critics alike.

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Less wholesome is The English Patient. Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje, the film weaves two tales, examining the qualities of love and loyalty between men and women. Director Anthony Minghella suggests that true love will defy any difficulty or danger--even marriage to another person. The low point is an explicit depiction of adultery boldly committed as the husband and fellow soldiers nearby observe Christmas with the hymn "Silent Night."

Fargo is the first nominee for Best Picture to feature a foot sticking out of a wood chipper. Director Joel Coen employs his wife, Francis McDormand, who received a Best Actress nomination for her role, as a small town police detective who investigates some big troubles in the snowy stretches of Minnesota. The condescension to the values, personalities, and speech-patterns of Middle America is especially annoying.

Secrets & Lies hardly looks like a Best Picture production. The dilapidated settings, lack of technical polish, and choppy edits testify to the thin budget of an independent film. Only the excellent acting justifies its consideration. To the filmmakers' credit, this is the first film in a long time that attempts to deal with the long-term results of sexual promiscuity. Brenda Blethyn, another Best Actress nominee for her role as Cynthia, is a middle-aged single mother forced by economic and emotional distress to regret her past. The unfortunate conclusion of this story, however, has nothing to do with sin or salvation. Instead, we get a glib plea for "honesty" as the solution to all of life's problems.

Shine is a mediocre veneration of a high-strung, later mentally ill pianist. Based on the life of David Helfgott--whose current American tour is showing that he is not as great a pianist as the movie makes him out to be--the film recreates the pianist's abused childhood, the agony of defeat in piano competitions, and his nervous breakdown and long, slow recovery. Religion is treated with contempt, socialism is depicted as a lovely philosophy, and cynicism is given a fashionable turn.

The envelope, please? If it were up to me, the winner in this lot would be Jerry Maguire.


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