After feeling the sting of Oscar defeat the year before when Saving Private Ryan was outflanked by Miramax and Shakespeare in Love, Dreamworks rallied in 1999 to end the millennium with a victory in 5 top categories for American Beauty. Despite Harvey Weinstein’s aggressive push for The Cider House Rules and The Talented Mr Ripley, the early critical infatuation with Sam Mendes directorial debut held on strong enough to withstand savvy campaign onslaughts from every direction.
Purely on the basis of the nominations handed down, it may not have seemed like such a terrible outcome at the time. But I can’t be alone in recalling a pervasive sense of anti-climatic meh.
Remarkably, in the six years from 1994 to 1999, five Best Picture nominees had starred Tom Hanks — to the extent that it was beginning to seem absurd when a flabby entry like The Green Mile could be deemed good enough and smart enough and, doggone it, likeable enough to fill the obligatory Hanks BP Vehicle slot. Especially in comparison to all the films Shawshank’s far sillier spinoff edged out — films that now stand so proud in retrospect.
Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, David Lynch’s The Straight Story, Alexander Payne’s Election. David O’ Russell’s Three Kings, Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, The Wachowski sibling’s The Matrix. What else am I forgetting? Yes, say it with me: David Fincher’s Fight Club! For me, any one of those films looks 10 times more mature and 100 times less smug than American Beauty. So in my eyes the Oscars ended the 20th Century not with a bang but a self-righteous simpering whimper. Many of you will disagree. (“I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.”)