Film: Fading starshine
THE OSCARS: Ryan Gilbey takes a cool look at this year's victors
Thursday 28 March 1996
And in the end, there was nothing but justice in those departments: Mira Sorvino got her Best Supporting Actress statuette, and that was a vote not just for her batty performance (the Academy applauds comedy only in the Best Supporting ... categories) but for the fact that she redeemed Mighty Aphrodite, Woody Allen's most arrogant and shapeless work in years. And Kevin Spacey's win, too, for Best Supporting Actor (in The Usual Suspects), was a vote of gratitude for providing a human focus in a film that was designed to wrongfoot us.
The real triumphs were for Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) and Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking). The Best Actor and Actress categories are where things frequently go awry, and awards are handed out not for performances of greatness but as a way of apologising for other performances that were unjustly ignored (such as when Jeremy Irons won for Reversal of Fortune instead of his tour de force a year earlier in Dead Ringers). This year was different: neither Cage nor Sarandon has ever been better, or more fearless, than they are in those films.
It stung that those movies themselves - Dead Man Walking and Leaving Las Vegas - were not deemed fit to slug it out in the main Best Picture arena. But that was a matter of public relations - Mike Figgis's film may have been too bleak and oppressive to hold much sway in the post-Forrest Gump morality-conscious Hollywood, while Tim Robbins' work, though meticulously balanced, remains defiantly political.
It was a bad, boring year for the Oscars in every other sense - you can tell because the hottest news was that Sharon Stone had changed her outfit at the last minute. This year was about business and stability. Whoopi Goldberg was back on board as host. The promotional campaigns in the run- up to the ceremony, and all its preparations, had been meticulously choreographed, but there was a new emphasis in those campaigns: all the Best Picture nominations, except Sense and Sensibility, were available on video in the US as the awards approached. Unusually, the academy had reached into its memory to pluck the winners.
The situation has almost been mirrored in the UK: Braveheart and Apollo 13 are both released on video this month. In effect, those two films, which were always the favourites for Best Picture, had never left our screens. But in the past six weeks, a carefully orchestrated campaign of re-release was mounted. It's a process of continuous promotion - whereas films used to complete their run, hang around in limbo for months and then emerge on video, now the chasm has been filled. Unlike previous years, when films that were yet to reach the UK were battling it out at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, this year you're never more than five minutes away from an Oscar-nominated movie. The list of nominees has rarely been this current, which is why the academy was often accused of voting for whatever film they saw last.
To match the sluggish pace, all the other winners from Nick Park to Emma Thompson slotted predictably into place. Still, there was a pleasant surprise when Jon Blair's film Anne Frank Remembered won Best Documentary. Reviewing it after its screening on BBC2 last year, Thomas Sutcliffe acclaimed the film, noting that it personalised suffering in a way that few films do: "Looking at archive films of the camps, it's too easy to forget that behind every hollow face lies a whole world, almost infinite in its particulars. Jon Blair's film, by concentrating so closely on one life, reminded you."
Ultimately, the Oscars were disappointing because there were no films here to get stewed up about, the way you could over Forrest Gump. There was no movie to use as a punch-bag, no temper tantrums, no wretched Tom Hanks speech, not even an embarrassing musical number. And if the Oscars ceremony can't give us a reason to argue and boot the TV, then what use is it?
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 4 The most powerful passports in the world
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove