Thursday, March 13, 2014

Best Picture: "Shakespeare in Love," 1998

Movie Stats:
Released 1998 (USA)
American, in English
Director – John Madden
Stars – Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, and dozens of other actors you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
While suffering from writer’s block, William Shakespeare (Fiennes) finally meets his muse, Viola De Lesseps (Paltrow) and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays. Rush co-stars as Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose theatre, and Dench as Queen Elizabeth I.

Very minimal blue language; nudity (female breast only); sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s really full of itself. I had this feeling throughout the whole entire movie that it just finds itself so clever and amusing. It was insufferable.

The love story is remarkably similar to that of Titanic. A highborn woman, more intelligent and spirited than her times allow, is engaged to a highborn man who is cruel, stupid, and cowardly, but she falls in love with a handsome, sweet lowborn man. I really didn’t need to see it twice in a row.

A lot of the dialogue was regurgitated from Shakespeare plays so it didn’t feel very fresh. When the writers did strike out on their own, however, the dialogue (like in Titanic) felt too modern. I didn’t believe that it was the way people in 1500s England would speak or interact with one another.

Good Stuff:
The costumes.

The soundtrack.

Rush kept me laughing, as did Imelda Staunton (as Viola’s nurse). I also really enjoyed the performance of Dench as the acerbic, impatient, witty queen.

The Verdict:
It’s truly amazing how one’s perception and tastes can change over time. I saw this in the theater when it came out and really liked it, to the point that when people howled in anger about it winning Best Picture, I thought to myself, “Whatever, it’s a great film!” This time around, I couldn’t stand it. What is the point of this film? It masquerades as a smart flick while really it’s just a rip-off/rehash of Shakespeare. I’m sure it’s meant to be an homage but it doesn’t feel like one, probably because it’s so conceited.

This was a weird year. Of the five nominees, two were about Elizabethan England (and Fiennes & Rush were in both of them) while the other three were about WWII, although each of them showcased a different theater of that war. How strange is that? I’m not sure what deserved the prize in 1998. I’ve never seen “Elizabeth,” so I can’t judge it. “Life Is Beautiful” won Best Foreign so I don’t think it deserves Best Picture on top of it. And I felt that both “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” (which I call “The Long Boring Snooze”) were overrated. Perhaps if I watched them again, however, I would find that my perception of them has changed.

At any rate, this is not the worst Best Picture winner I’ve seen, a title still held by Tom Jones, but I don’t think it deserved the Oscar. If it hadn’t won, it would have become a footnote of movie history, like most movies, because there’s really nothing remarkable about it. 

I give the movie 2.5 stars.


Patricia said...

Well, had you seen "Elizabeth," you would be all over that movie! So. Fricking. Good. I actually couldn't breathe at the end of it. It totally should have won, but you know that whole problem with the women being in the films and the guys not liking it? I think that sunk it. Or maybe all the boys were splitting the war movie vote and that left the female members to battle it out between the heavy drama and the plucky love story.

I am interested in your observation of the two years in a row of plucky males from the other side of the tracks wooing the richie girls with horrible future mates. Collectively uncomfortable with our wealth, were we? We seem to have gotten over that quite nicely.

But seriously, "Elizabeth" is something to watch. In fact, I saw this movie after that one and remember being tickled between the comparison/contrast between Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the same woman. Admittedly in different life stages and for different purposes, but it was very amusing.

balyien said...

Thanks for the recommend. I'll have to check out "Elizabeth." I'm intrigued by your theory re: movies with a strong female lead. There certainly haven't been very many of them amongst the winners, which has gotten more and more depressing/troubling as time has gone on.

I do feel that, after the excesses of the 80s, we were uncomfortable with wealth throughout much of the 90s, at least until the tech bubble emerged. Throughout the 90s, the "bad guy" in a lot of TV/movies was the rich guy. That disappeared for a while, but I've noticed it making a reappearance over the last few years.