It was a dramatic Oscar year, one where Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was expected to take the big prize. Spielberg had won the DGA, after all, and would go on to win Best Director. But there were some rumblings afoot that Shakespeare in Love, the film that was heading into the Best Picture race with the most nominations, was going to win. The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan had predicted Saving Private Ryan but admitted later that his story had gone to print too early and that by the time the Oscars themselves rolled around, he could feel the surge for Shakespeare in Love.
Supposedly it was the year a whisper campaign took down the big dog, passing around the idea that Saving Private Ryan was really just about “the first 45 minutes.” Shakespeare in Love, however, is one of the best films to ever win Best Picture, in this site’s opinion, having seen the film now over 100 times at the very least. I know every line of it by heart. People often mistake Shakespeare in Love for just a sappy love story. Indeed it is anything but. Can you imagine a movie like that coming out now? Where the whole thing turns on a well-born lady’s (“I am not so well-born) desire to be an actor (“I’m sorry Mr. Winslow. I wanted to be an actor.”) Shakespeare himself emerges as a shadow behind Christopher Marlowe (“Lovely waistcoat. Shame about the poetry.”) — Shakespeare eventually finds his muse in Lady Viola. The film has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen.
Therefore, I don’t think the Academy was wrong in awarding Shakespeare in Love. I am planning to revisit Saving Private Ryan, a film I didn’t much like when I first saw it back in 1998. Perhaps after I see it again it will resonate better. I felt at the time that it was too sentimental in its conclusion — like on the level of War Horse. But I do look forward to revisiting it.
One thing I do know, however: Saving Private Ryan pretty much deserved to win Best Picture for those first 45 minutes alone. Wherever the movie goes after that is a different story. But those first 45 minutes — unforgettable.
In the end, Shakespeare in Love would enter the race with 13 nominations, winning 7. Only four films in Academy history have gotten 13 nods and not won Best Picture. Saving Private Ryan would enter with 11 and win 5. The other nominees were The Thin Red Line, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett was probably the rightful winner of Best Actress. Ian McKellen the rightful winner for Best Actor. Both lost.
Please leave questions for us in the comments if you’d like.