Oh, the outrage when Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture... And, damn it, I am old because that does not seem like it was 17 years ago. Just three years ago, Time referred to it as the "ultimate upset" (or, to be fair, Time said that many Oscar watchers thought of it that way). Time credits Harvey Weinstein and his campaign game.
Me--I didn't mind Shakespeare in Love winning. I mean, sure, I get the reasoning that the logistics that went into making Saving Private Ryan put it on top but then, I don't think that sort of thing should guarantee a win or, really, something like Transformers should win every year just by costing the most. I like that a movie like Room can be nominated alongside Mad Max Fury Road, The Kids Are All Right alongside Inception, Little Miss Sunshine alongside Letters from Iwo Jima, Lost in Translation alongside The Return of the King, and so on. And, it's not like Shakespeare in Love is a bad movie. I loved the movie at the time. And, watching it today, I still do.
Like, right away, the tone in Shakespeare in Love is all about humanizing this moment in history... which I suppose is a fair description for Saving Private Ryan, come to think of it. The movie starts us off with some serious energy and movement, setting the scene with a lot of detail. Speaking of energy, the music feels a little generic and repetitive (or maybe I've just heard it a few times in the intervening years) but it definitely has some energy to it. The film gets into a bit of the 90s film "walking and talking" vibe, especially as Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) starts following Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) around.
Love Burbage's (Martin Clunes) line about Ned (Ben Affleck) being "wrong" for a role when all Burbage's knows is the title of the supposed play. Also, Henslowe's line about the "natural condition" of the theatre business being "one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."
Though I never had such a thing, Shakespeare's little ritual before he writes is amusing--he throws his jacket on the chair, he spins in place, he rubs the quill between his hands, he spits, he sits, and he writes.
There is also some great editing, cutting between Shakespeare and Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) reciting lines alone and the rehearsals in the theater.
But, back to the Oscars.
It was an interesting year--two Queens Elizabeth nominated. Judi Dench would win for Supporting Actress in this film for what is officially the second shortest role to win. (The first was Beatrice Straight in Network.) Cate Blanchett was beat out as the title role in Elizabeth by Paltrow for her role here for Best Actress. Joseph Fiennes was in both films, as was Geoffrey Rush. Also, that year, Roberto Benigni and Fernanda Montenegro would both be nominated for acting awards for roles not in English. Benigni would win and quite famously walk on top of the chairs and tell the audience he wanted to make love to them all.
Shakespeare in Love was nominated for thirteen Oscars and won seven. It manages to be about romantic drama while also being a romantic drama. It manages to be narrow in its focus but grand in its thematic scope. As I said yesterday, every film is about important things. Shakespeare in Love is about love. It is about drama. It is about film. It is about itself. Norman and Stoppard winning for its screenplay was entirely appropriate because they turn a self-referential structure into an honest portrayal of its subjects and its subject.