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Boy, the 90s winners have a decidedly angsty tone to them… and three doomed-from-the-start, over-emotional love stories in a row! I refer to THE ENGLISH PATIENT, TITANIC, and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.  At least SHAKESPEARE has a streak of humor.

Shakespeare In Love (Best Picture, 1998)

I know, I know, a lot of people think SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a plenty fun movie but not worthy of Best Picture.  I disagree.  It doesn’t have the overwhelming intensity of a SCHINDLER’S LIST or the cultural impact of FORREST GUMP.  But it’s fun. And the thing about the Best Picture winners as we move forward in time is that they’re getting increasingly grim.  A bit of levity is desirable to brighten the mood between TITANIC and AMERICAN BEAUTY.  Rather looks forward to the bipolar nature of the winners in the 2000s, actually… pinging between CHICAGO and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

In other words, why must a film be grim to be critically acclaimed?  Why do darkness and emotional trauma equal greatness?  Comedy and levity have their place too, and can be equally brilliant cinematic creations.  SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE may not be the greatest of all Best Picture winners, but it is certainly worthy of the category.

I do feel a bit sorry for Colin Firth in the 90s.  He gets screwed over in both THE ENGLISH PATIENT and in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.  Really, he needs to start staying away from the Fiennes family.  And then there’s the rest of the cast… Dame Judi Dench managed to win Best Supporting Actress for her turn as Elizabeth I, a role that had maybe ten minutes of screen time (impressive).  Gwyneth Paltrow as the Juliet-inspiring Viola, Imelda Staunton as the nurse, Geoffrey Rush as the long-suffering Mr. Henslow, Ben Affleck, Joseph Fiennes, Rupert Everett, Mark Williams, Simon Callow…  It’s just plain FUN.  A little on the side of teenagery angst at times, but nowhere near as sodden as TITANIC (no pun intended).

It is of course a totally unrealistic picture of Elizabethan England.  For one thing, everyone looks far too clean and there’s nowhere near enough smoke.  For another, the scenes kind of overdo the whole “Tudor England is full of strange dishes, odd conventions, and inside jokes about Shakespeare plays” thing.  It’s got great costumes and sets, though, and Colin Firth does righteous sulking remarkably well!

Someone should really write “Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter.” Sounds rather Gilbertian.

American Beauty (Best Picture, 1999)

Aaaaand the good mood created by SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE collapses with an audible *thunk.* 

I know this is one of those films that academics and film critics just love.  It’s endlessly symbolic in ways that are both debatable and not even slightly subtle.  And this is really my problem with it.  It’s kind of like modern art that way – it’s so determinedly symbolic that it loses the light touch that I prefer with thematic symbolism.  I feel a bit like I’m being repeatedly whapped with a wiffle bat.

Also, what is up with Hollywood’s portrayals of suburban life? I have no data to support this statement, but I’m guessing most Americans live in suburbia.  Yet on tv and film it’s always Wisteria Lane’s soap opera or Stepford Wives’ Stepford wife-ness or now American Beauty’s soul-sucking despair.

Can you tell I don’t like this movie?  Everyone in it is incredibly selfish and shallow, from the attention-loving narcissistic Angela to the clearly clinically depressed and possibly emotionally abused next-door mother played by Allison Janney.

To be honest, I’m not totally sure what to make of the 90s winners.  Many of them are characterized by what I can only describe as a teenagery level of emotional drama, like TITANIC and AMERICAN BEAUTY.  Others portray the worst depths to which a human can sink, like SCHINDLER’S LIST and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  I suppose, like I wrote above, it’s a natural leadup to the bipolar nature of the winners of the 2000s (on the one hand, CHICAGO.  On the other hand, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN).

I dunno. I guess I really don’t have anything more to say about these two.  Anyone have any thoughts?

Next Up: Gladiator (Best Picture, 2000) and A Beautiful Mind (Best Picture, 2001)