In 1999, one of the most hard-fought Oscar campaigns in history was waged between the 13-times nominated Shakespeare in Love and the 11-times nominated Saving Private Ryan, the highest grossing domestic film of 1998. As Sahsa Stone of AwardsDaily.com says, "the trick is not minding."
At the time, I minded very, very much. I was a huge fan of Steven Spielberg's war film, blown away by the opening 24-minute sequence which depicts the D-Day invasion which has been rated by some as the #1 movie moment of all time. I was horrified when Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, and ended up with 7 Oscars to the latter's 5.
However, recently I have had the opportunity to see both films on TV (on a home theater with a 50" HD screen in surround sound) and although I still believe that the beginning of Saving Private Ryan is one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, I now believe that Shakespeare in Love is the better film, and leaves a longer emotional impact on the viewer.
It's not just that one is an actor-driven (and author-driven) comedy while the other is only a tour-de-force of Hollywood's most gifted director ever. They both have incredible work by a ridiculously long list of actors who have since become even more celebrated. Saving Private Ryan has a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Bruns, Giovanni Ribisi, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson and Tom Sizemore. Shakespeare in Love has Gwyneth Paltrow, Dame Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson, Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Imelda Staunton.
However, Shakespeare in Love has the language of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, major portions of which are performed on screen by Fiennes and Paltrow. Their chemistry is amazing, and the comedy scenes are delightful. There's no question that the third act of Saving Private Ryan drags, and the final scene is just hokey. The film should have ended with Hanks final scence instead.
So, anyway, I stand corrected. I think the Academy actually made the right decision after all in awarding the 1999 Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. Watch the movies your self again and let me know what you think.
Now, the travesty of Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2006? Still bitter. We wuz robbed!