Kris Kristofferson threatens Matthew McConaughey in a tense moment from Lone Star (1996)

My Top 20:

  1. Lone Star
  2. Trainspotting
  3. The English Patient
  4. Fargo
  5. Hamlet
  6. Secrets and Lies
  7. In the Bleak Midwinter
  8. The Crucible
  9. Jerry Maguire
  10. Cold Comfort Farm
  11. Romeo + Juliet
  12. Evita
  13. Emma
  14. Star Trek: First Contact
  15. Beautiful Girls
  16. Everyone Says I Love You
  17. Breaking the Waves
  18. The Birdcage
  19. The People vs. Larry Flynt
  20. Ridicule

I would take the top 5 in this year and place them against the top 5 in any other year.  Any of the five of them would be worthy Best Picture winners.  There is a significant drop-off after that and only the top 11 films are **** films – the rest are high ***.5 films.

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Fargo
  • Best Director:  Joel Coen  (Fargo)
  • Best Actor:  Geoffrey Rush  (Shine)
  • Best Actress:  Frances McDormand  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Edward Norton  (Primal Fear / The People vs. Larry Flynt / Everyone Says I Love You)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Juliette Binoche  (The English Patient)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The English Patient
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Fargo
  • Best Cinematography:  The English Patient
  • Best Foreign Film:  Ridicule

note:  The English Patient becomes the most impressive Best Cinematography winner – it matches Schindler’s List total of 6 wins, but, unlike Schindler, wins both the Oscar and the ASC.  Oddly enough, of the five films to have won at least five Cinematography awards, only two of them (English Patient and Slumdog Millionaire) won both the Oscar and ASC.  Schindler’s List and Crouching Tiger both lost the ASC while Children of Men lost the Oscar.

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The English Patient
  • Best Director:  Anthony Minghella  (The English Patient)
  • Best Actor:  Geoffrey Rush  (Shine)
  • Best Actress:  Frances McDormand  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Cuba Gooding, Jr.  (Jerry Maguire)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Juliette Binoche  (The English Patient)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sling Blade
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Fargo
  • Best Cinematography:  The English Patient
  • Best Foreign Film:  Kolya

Steve Buscemi gets fed into the wood-chipper by Peter Stormare in Fargo (1996)

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Fargo  –  #288
  2. Chungking Express  –  #328
  3. Breaking the Waves  –  #383
  4. Underground  –  #549
  5. Trainspotting  –  #675

Top 5 Films  (1996 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Fargo
  2. The English Patient
  3. Shine
  4. Secrets and Lies
  5. Jerry Maguire  /  Breaking the Waves

note:  The People vs. Larry Flynt finished just five points behind fifth place.  The English Patient wins four awards and earns 410 points – a new record for a film without a critics win for Best Picture.

Top 10 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. The English Patient  –  2410
  2. Fargo  –  1805
  3. Shine  –  1482
  4. Secrets and Lies  –  1242
  5. Jerry Maguire  –  753
  6. The People vs. Larry Flynt  –  705
  7. Evita  –  631
  8. Breaking the Waves  –  627
  9. Romeo + Juliet  –  368
  10. Sling Blade  –  327

note:  The Crucible finished with 324, almost making the list.  Shine becomes the second film (after The Remains of the Day) to get nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Globes, Oscars, BAFTAs and the guilds and lose all of them.  It tops Remains by getting a SAG Ensemble nomination as well (and losing that).  But, unlike Remains, which lost Best Actor at all of those as well, Shine wins Best Actor at all of these.  Shine wins a total of 10 awards, all but two of them (Best Picture from the NBR and Best Sound from the BAFTAs) for Best Actor.

Far and away the biggest film of 1996: Independence Day

Top 10 Films  (Domestic Box Office Gross):

  1. Independence Day  –  $306.16 mil
  2. Twister  –  $241.72 mil
  3. Mission: Impossible  –  $180.98 mil
  4. Jerry Maguire  –  $153.95 mil
  5. Ransom  –  $136.49 mil
  6. 101 Dalmations  –  $136.18 mil
  7. The Rock  –  $134.06 mil
  8. The Nutty Professor  –  $128.81 mil
  9. The Birdcage  –  $124.06 mil
  10. A Time to Kill  –  $108.76 mil

note:  I saw these films a combined 10 times in the theaters.  I didn’t see Twister or Nutty Professor in the theater, but I saw 101 Dalmations and The Rock twice (the former for work both times, the latter for fun).  Independence Day sets a new record for a Wednesday opening and the second highest opening day behind Batman Forever with $18 million.  It now sits as the 123rd largest opening day and is routinely beaten by films that don’t even make $100 million.

Top 10 Films  (Worldwide Box Office Gross):

  1. Independence Day  –  $817.4 mil
  2. Twister  –  $494.5 mil
  3. Mission: Impossible  –  $457.7 mil
  4. The Rock  –  $335.1 mil
  5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame  –  $325.3 mil
  6. 101 Dalmations  –  $320.7 mil
  7. Ransom  –  $309.5 mil
  8. The Nutty Professor  –  $274.0 mil
  9. Jerry Maguire  –  $273.6 mil
  10. Eraser  –  $242.3 mil

note:  The Hunchback of Notre Dame takes in almost 70% of its gross internationally while Jerry Maguire takes in less than 45% outside of the States.  The Birdcage and A Time to Kill earn less than 1/3 internationally of their worldwide gross (interesting, since The Birdcage is a remake of a French film).

AFI Top 100:

  • Fargo  –  #84  (1998)

note:  This year was the last that was considered for the initial 1998 AFI list.  Only Fargo, The English Patient and Jerry Maguire were included on the initial 400 list in both 1998 (when Fargo was chosen) and 2007 (when no films made it).

Ebert Great Films:

  • Fargo
  • Secrets and Lies

Nighthawk Golden Globes:


  • Best Picture:  Lone Star
  • Best Director:  Anthony Minghella  (The English Patient)
  • Best Actor:  Ralph Fiennes  (The English Patient)
  • Best Actress:  Winona Ryder  (The Crucible)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Paul Scofield  (The Crucible)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Kate Winslet  (Hamlet)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The English Patient
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Lone Star

The truly adorable Natalie Portman as "the little Lolita next door" in Beautiful Girls


  • Best Picture:  Trainspotting
  • Best Director:  Danny Boyle  (Trainspotting)
  • Best Actor:  Ewan McGregor  (Trainspotting)
  • Best Actress:  Frances McDormand  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  William H. Macy  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Natalie Portman  (Beautiful Girls)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Trainspotting
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Fargo

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Lone Star
  • Best Director:  Anthony Minghella  (The English Patient)
  • Best Actor:  Ralph Fiennes  (The English Patient)
  • Best Actress:  Frances McDormand  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  William H. Macy  (Fargo)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Kate Winslet  (Hamlet)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The English Patient
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Lone Star
  • Best Editing:  Lone Star
  • Best Cinematography:  The English Patient
  • Best Original Score:  Fargo
  • Best Sound:  The English Patient
  • Best Art Direction:  The English Patient
  • Best Visual Effects:  Independence Day
  • Best Sound Editing:  The Rock
  • Best Costume Design:  The English Patient
  • Best Makeup:  The English Patient
  • Best Original Song:  “Wise Up” from Jerry Maguire  /  “Walls” from She’s the One *
  • Best Animated Film:  James and the Giant Peach
  • Best Foreign Film:  Ridicule

note:  So why the two songs?  Because “Wise Up” was written for Jerry Maguire but cut from the film as it was shown in theaters (though added on DVD).  It was, I believe, the best song written for a film in 1996, but I don’t really know if it counts.  So I also included my second-place song, “Walls.”

Ridicule: my top foreign film for 1996

Top 4 Foreign Films:

  1. Ridicule
  2. Ponette
  3. La Promesse
  4. The Other Side of Sunday

note:  These are the best films eligible for the Academy – released in 1996 in their home country.  So why only four?  Because of the 19 films that are eligible here, only four of them earn ***.5 from me.  Ridicule and The Other Side of Sunday both received Oscar nominations.  Ponette and La Promesse weren’t submitted (La Promesse was passed over for The Eighth Day, which wasn’t nominated while Ponette was passed over for Ridicule).  These two years (this and 1997) are a mess – no film other than Ridicule really wins people over.  La Promesse, which would have been Academy eligible here, is the biggest winner in 1997, by winning two critics awards (and Ponette wins a third).

Elisabeth Pena in Lone Star - the sexiest performance of 1996

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Trainspotting
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “Some hate the English. I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonized by.”  (Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life.”  (Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting)
  • Best Opening:  Trainspotting
  • Best Ending:  Trainspotting
  • Best Scene:  the opening of Trainspotting
  • Best Use of a Song  (comedic):  “You Don’t Own Me” in The First Wives Club
  • Best Use of a Song  (dramatic):  “Lust for Life” in Trainspotting  /  “Born Slippy” in Trainspotting
  • Best Soundtrack:  Trainspotting
  • Best Original Song from a Bad Film:  “Theme from Spy Hard” from Spy Hard
  • Best Ensemble:  In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Funniest Film:  In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Most Over-Rated Film:  Sling Blade
  • Worst Film:  Down Periscope
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Renee Zellwegger in Jerry Maguire
  • Sexiest Performance:  Elisabeth Pena in Lone Star
  • Performance to Make Me Drool Much to My Wife’s Confusion:  Kelly MacDonald in Trainspotting
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Gwyneth Paltrow in The Pallbearer
  • Best Guilty Pleasure:  From Dusk to Dawn
  • Watch the Film, SKIP the Book:  Emma
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • Star of the Year:  Edward Norton
  • Coolest Performance:  Matthew McConaughey in Lone Star
  • Best Trailer:  Trainspotting
  • Best Tag-Line:  “Choose Life”  Trainspotting
  • Best Cameo:  Ed’s Redeeming Qualities in Ed’s Next Move

Film History:  Jeffrey Katzenberg sues Disney.  The Golden Globes are televised for the first time.  Krystztof Kieslowski dies of a heart attack at age 54.  Greer Garson dies in April and Claudette Colbert dies in July.  Marcello Mastroianni dies in December.  Welcome to the Dollhouse wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Secrets and Lies wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  Fargo sweeps the Independent Spirits – winning Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress.  In the initial Satellite Awards (then called the Golden Satellite Awards), Fargo wins Best Picture – Drama and Director while Evita wins Best Picture – Comedy or Musical.

Academy Awards:  The English Patient dominates to the point that when Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice win the Oscar for Best Original Song, they express thanks for The English Patient not having an original song.  It wins 9 Oscars (the most since 1987) and earns 620 points – the most since Ben-Hur in 1959.  But, like two other big winners – Ben-Hur and West Side Story, The English Patient fails to win Best Adapted Screenplay.  This is especially odd, as Sling Blade becomes the first film to win Best Adapted Screenplay without a Best Picture since 1952 and only the second ever.  On the other hand, it is the first time since 1977 that only one film is nominated for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, and the only time in history that only one film was nominated for all three of those categories and that it failed to win Best Adapted Screenplay.  It is also the first Best Picture winner to get nominated for Adapted Screenplay but lose since 1968 (the previous five Best Picture winners to lose Best Screenplay were all original).  But it does win all five of the major tech categories – the first film to do so since 1987.  For the first time since 1987, all five Foreign Film nominees are from Europe (depending on how you define Georgia) while the Czech Republic and Georgia are nominated for the first time.  The Academy splits Best Original Score into two different categories; partially as a result of this is that there are more films nominated for feature film awards (46) than in any year since 1945, when there was no limit on the number of nominees in many categories.  In spite of The English Patient‘s dominance, 11 films manage to win Oscars, though Fargo is the only other film with more than one.  The English Patient is the first Best Picture winner to win Best Supporting Actress since 1979 and only the second since 1961, but starts a trend, and it will happen again three more times in the next six years.

Though the critical consensus was always pointed at Fargo and has swung there even more so, and the IMDb voters think The English Patient is one of the ten worst winners of all-time, I am perfectly okay with its win.  My top two films were both nominated for Screenplay, but nothing else.  Hamlet was also nominated for its script (a big surprise to almost everyone), but not for Picture, Director, Actor or Supporting Actress.  Outside of those misses, the biggest omissions from the Academy were the great performances in The Crucible (except for Joan Allen who was nominated), the amazing score from Fargo and the brilliant makeup that made Ralph Fiennes a burn victim in The English Patient.  They also go for more typical lame songs from One Fine Day and Up Close and Personal, but not the Tom Petty songs from She’s the One or the fantastic “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published for Sling Blade
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song for “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close and Personal
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Picture for Lone Star
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Daylight
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Sound Effects Editing
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Art Direction
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Director, Actress, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Costume Design

Golden Globes:  For the first time since 1991 and the last time to date, two films go head to head in the big five categories: Best Picture, Actor and Actress – Drama, Director and Screenplay: The English Patient and The People vs. Larry Flynt.  For the first (and only) time since 1976, one film wins Best Picture – Drama (The English Patient) while losing Director and Screenplay to the same film (The People vs. Larry Flynt).  For the third time in seven years, a film loses Best Picture – Comedy / Musical (Fargo) but gets nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars over the winning film (Evita).  The English Patient leads with 7 nominations but aside from Picture – Drama, only wins Score.  The People vs. Larry Flynt wins Best Screenplay but is the first film to win the Globe and not get nominated for the Oscar for Screenplay since The Mission in 1986.  Evita receives 5 nominations, wins Picture – Comedy / Musical, Actress – Comedy / Musical and Song and is nominated for Director and Actor – Comedy / Musical while Fargo loses all four of its nominations (Picture – Comedy / Musical, Director, Screenplay, Actress – Comedy / Musical).  Shine joines Fargo, English Patient and Larry Flynt in the Picture, Director and Screenplay categories but only wins Actor – Drama.  Jerry Maguire and Secrets and Lies both earn Picture nominations (in different categories), both earn a Supporting nomination (Actor for Maguire, Actress for Secrets) and win a lead award (again, Actor for Maguire, Actress for Secrets).  The Golden Globe for Madonna invites the media scorn, though I don’t think it’s nearly as embarrassing as the nominations for Mel Gibson (Actor – Drama for Ransom) over Daniel Day-Lewis for The Crucible or Glenn Close for Actress – Comedy / Musical for 101 Dalmations over Renee Zelwegger for Jerry Maguire.

Awards:  Fargo, Breaking the Waves and Secrets and Lies all win two Best Actress and two Best Director awards from the various critics groups.  But while Secrets and Lies wins one Best Picture and Breaking the Waves wins one Best Picture and two Best Cinematography awards, Fargo takes two Best Picture awards, as well as two Screenplay awards and a Best Score award.  Shine wins three Best Actor awards and one Best Picture while Trainspotting wins the final Best Picture award.  By the numbers, the National Board of Review goes for Shine (Picture) and Fargo (Director, Actress), the New York critics like Fargo (Picture) and Breaking the Waves (Director, Actress, Cinematography), the L.A. critics are taken with Secrets and Lies (Picture, Director, Actress) and Fargo (Screenplay), the Chicago ones love Fargo (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Score), the Boston critics split between Trainspotting (Picture) and Secrets and Lies (Director, Actress) while the National Society of Film Critics go with Breaking the Waves (Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography).  The only other winner to take home more than 2 awards is Edward Norton who wins Best Supporting Actor from LA, Boston and the NBR for his performances in Primal Fear, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You and The English Patient, which doesn’t win any Picture or Director awards, but does win Best Cinematography from LA, Boston and Chicago.

The English Patient sets a new record for guild nominations (12), points (600) and ties Forrest Gump‘s record of 7 wins (PGA, DGA, ACE – Editing, ASC – Cinematography, CAS – Sound, ADG – Art Direction, MPSE – Sound Editing), all of which will be broken the next year.  For the second time in three years, all five DGA nominees get Best Picture nominations at the Oscars and four of them are nominated for Picture and Director – the most since 1984.  The Birdcage wins the SAG Ensemble and sets a new record for guild nominations (6 – SAG Ensemble, two for Supporting Actor at SAG, WGA, CAS, ADG) without an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  The English Patient and Shine are the only films nominated for DGA, PGA, WGA and the SAG Ensemble.  Fargo wins Best Actress at SAG and the WGA (Original), with PGA, DGA, ACE, ASC, and Best Supporting Actor (SAG) nominations.  Shine wins Best Actor at SAG, but also gets Supporting Actor and ACE nominations.  Jerry Maguire wins Supporting Actor at SAG and a MPSE award while earning Actor, Supporting Actress, DGA and WGA nominations.  SAG continues to differ from the Oscars in the supporting races – while it matches Best Actor 5 for 5, it only matches 2 in each supporting category.

At the BAFTA’s, The English Patient begins a trend; it is the first of five films in 8 years to win Best Picture at the Oscars and win Best Picture at the BAFTAs, but fail to win Best Director at the BAFTAs.  It wins 6 awards overall out of its 13 nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography and Music (tying A Room with a View for fourth place all-time with 570 points).  Evita, on the other hand, is the biggest loser in 6 years, losing all 8 of its nominations.  Secrets and Lies is nominated for 7 awards, including Best Picture and wins Best British Film, Actress and Original Screenplay.  Shine is nominated for 9 awards but only wins Actor and Sound while Fargo‘s only win among its 6 nominations is Best Director.

In its second year, the Broadcast Film Critics Association continues to only give winners in all the categories except Best Picture.  They hand out 10 nominations for Best Picture and get all the eventual Oscar nominees except Secrets and Lies (one of only three films prior to 2009 not to be nominated at the BFCA but to go on to earn an Oscar nomination – along with Chocolat and Gosford Park).  Fargo wins Best Picture, along with Best Actress, but The English Patient takes home Director and Screenplay.  The other winners are eventual Oscar winners Geoffrey Rush (Shine) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire) as well as Oscar nominee Joan Allen (The Crucible).  Ridicule wins Best Foreign Film.

Best Director:  The Coens (only Joel was listed as director but we all know they were both doing the directing) win the consensus by winning the Chicago Film Critics, the NBR, the BAFTA, the Golden Satellite and the Independent Spirit as well as earning DGA, Globe and Oscar noms.  They are followed by Anthony Minghella for The English Patient (DGA, Oscar, BFCA wins, BAFTA, Globe, Satellite noms), Mike Leigh for Secrets and Lies (LA and Boston wins, DGA, Oscar, BAFTA and Satellite noms), Lars von Trier for Breaking the Waves (NYFC and NSFC wins, Satellite nom) and Scott Hicks for Shine (DGA, Oscar, BAFTA, Globe, Satellite noms).  Minghella wins the Nighthawk for his epic direction, while the rest of my list are John Sayles for Lone Star, Danny Boyle for Trainspotting, the Coens and Kenneth Brangah for his magnificent Hamlet.  My 6 through 10 are Baz Luhrmann (who won the BAFTA over Minghella for his imaginative Romeo + Juliet), Alan Parker (who earned a Globe nom for Evita), John Schlesinger for Cold Comfort Farm, Neil Jordan for Michael Collins and Nicholas Hytner for The Crucible.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  In spite of losing the WGA and Oscar to Sling Blade (which I will never understand), The English Patient takes the consensus by adding on a Globe nom and wins from BAFTA and the BFCA.  With the two wins but nothing else, Sling Blade ties for second with Trainspotting (Oscar, WGA noms, BAFTA win).  The final two consensus slots go to The Crucible (Oscar and BAFTA noms) and Romeo + Juliet (BAFTA win).  My own list is Trainspotting, The English Patient, The Crucible, Hamlet (Oscar nom) and Emma (WGA nom).  I will point out the same thing I pointed out to people when Hamlet earned a surprise Oscar nomination — it doesn’t matter that Branagh used Shakespeare’s whole play; the screenplay process also involves where you choose to set your scenes and the actions involved (bearing in mind that Shakespeare had no stage instructions) and that is part of what makes Branagh’s movie so wonderful (see below for more).  My next five are very different: WGA nominee The Birdcage, Cold Comfort Farm, Mother Night, The Secret Agent and Star Trek: First Contact.

Best Original Screenplay:  With four wins (Oscar, WGA, LAFC, CFC) and two other nominations (Globe, BAFTA), Fargo runs away with the consensus award.  Secrets and Lies is the distant runner-up, winning the BAFTA and earning Oscar and WGA nominations.  There is a three-way tie for third between Shine, Lone Star (Oscar, WGA, Globe, BAFTA nominations for both) and Mother (NYFC and NSFC wins but no nominations).  Fargo comes in second on my list, but only because of how brilliant I think the script for Lone Star is.  My #3 is the brilliant In the Bleak Midwinter from Kenneth Branagh.  The rest of my top five are Secrets and Lies and Jerry Maguire (Oscar and WGA nominee).  My 6 through 10 are films that didn’t get any awards for their scripts but deserved accolades: Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You, Breaking the Waves, Citizen Ruth and Ridicule.

Best Actor:  Geoffrey Rush (whose performance in Shine I never really took to – finding it more mannered than anything else), wins the consensus easily – taking home the Oscar, SAG, BAFTA, Globe, BFCA and three critics awards – New York, LA and Boston.  Tom Cruise finishes second with NBR and Globe – Comedy wins and Oscar and SAG noms for his performance in Jerry Maguire.  The rest of the consensus nominees are Ralph Fiennes (SAG, Oscar, BAFTA, Globe nominations), Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade (Chicago win, SAG and Oscar noms) and Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt (SAG, Oscar, Globe noms).

My own list contains five performances that I think are the equal of almost any other year, yet only one of them earned any accolades.  My winner is Ralph Fiennes, but my nominees are Kenneth Branagh for his brilliant Hamlet, Daniel Day-Lewis for his tragic John Proctor in The Crucible, Ewan McGregor for his drugged-up Renton in Trainspotting (which he earns just for his narration alone) and Chris Cooper as poor Sheriff Deeds in Lone Star.  My 6 through 10 are Cruise, Globe nominee Liam Neeson in Michael Collins, Nick Nolte in Mother Night, Leonardo DiCaprio for his modern Romeo in Luhrmann’s film and then Michael Maloney in In the Bleak Midwinter.

Oscar and consensus winner for Best Actress: Frances McDormand as Marge Gundersson in Fargo

Best Actress:  Frances McDormand wins the Oscar, SAG, BFCA, Chicago Film Critics and NBR, as well as as the consensus (and the Nighthawk), while earning BAFTA and Globe – Comedy / Musical nominations.  With LA, Boston, Globe – Drama and BAFTA wins, Brenda Blethyn comes in second in the consensus for her performance in Secrets and Lies.  She is followed by Emily Watson, who wins in New York and from the NSFC, as well as earning Oscar, BAFTA and Globe nominations.  Kristin Scott-Thomas shares the NBR win for Best Supporting Actress with her co-star Juliette Binoche and earns SAG, Oscar, BAFTA and Globe nominations.  A distant fifth place is Diane Keaton, with her Oscar and SAG noms for Marvin’s Room.  My own list is very different.  After McDormand, my second is Winona Ryder for her great performance in The Crucible, then Watson, then Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, then Laura Dern in Citizen Ruth.  Following that, my 6 through 10 are the young, talented, beautiful and ignored by the awards: Kate Beckinsale for Cold Comfort Farm, Renee Zelwegger for Jerry Maguire (who was SAG nominated for Supporting), Kate Winslet for Jude, Claire Danes for Romeo + Juliet and Scott-Thomas (who is fully nude – an oddness in such a good performance, but shared on this list by Winslet and Watson and in the supporting category by Courtney Love and Kelly MacDonald).

I do think more highly of Blethyn’s performance than I once did – I see more of the character than an irritation.  As for Madonna’s win, well, I think Madonna did a good job, but to give her the award over McDormand was just stupid.  Worse, while Madonna did a good job, Platrow, Dern, Beckinsale and Zelwegger should have been the other nominees (as opposed to Debbie Reynolds, who was good in Mother, Barbra Streisand who was passable in The Mirror Has Two Faces and Glenn Close who was not particularly good in 101 Dalmations).  Hell, they also could have gone for Victoria Abril in French Twist (also nude) or Bette Midler in The First Wives Club rather than Close.

Best Supporting Actor:  Edward Norton wins the consensus a variety of roles: Primal Fear, The People vs Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You.  The critics (LA, Boston, NBR) cited him for all three films, while he earned his Globe and his Oscar and SAG nominations for Primal Fear alone.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. finishes a close second with CFC, SAG, Oscar and BFCA wins (and a Globe nom) for Jerry Maguire.  Far behind are the rest of the list: Paul Scofield in The Crucible (BAFTA win, Globe nom), Harry Belafonte (NYFC win for Kansas City) and William H. Macy (SAG and Oscar noms for Fargo).  Macy is my winner, with Scofield my number two and Norton my number three (for Primal Fear).  But then I go with Jeremy Northam for Emma and Ian McKellen for Cold Comfort Farm.  My 6 through 10 are Norton again (this time for Larry Flynt), Hank Azaria (SAG nominee for The Birdcage), Ben Kingsley for Twelfth Night, Noah Taylor for Shine (SAG nominee) and then Gooding.

Oscar and consensus winner for Best Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche as the haunted Hanna in The English Patient

Best Supporting Actress:  Juliette Binoche loses the Globe and SAG to Lauren Bacall, but her Oscar, BAFTA and NBR wins bring her to the top of the consensus list (but a close #2 on my list).  She’s followed by  Bacall (who also earned Oscar and BAFTA nominations for her performance in The Mirror Has Two Faces in addition to her two wins), Barbra Hershey (LA and NSFC wins and Globe and Oscar noms for The Portrait of a Lady), Courtney Love (New York and Boston wins for The People vs Larry Flynt while the Globes nominated her as a lead) and Joan Allen (Oscar and Globe noms, BFCA win for The Crucible).  Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Baptiste is the sixth consensus nominee, but the fifth nominee for both the Globes and Oscars – the only time in their history that the two groups lined up 5 for 5 in this category.

I personally think that Bacall’s performance was more about sentiment than her actual performance and while Hershey is good, she’s not good enough for my list.  My own list is headed by Kate Winslet for her wonderful Ophelia (perhaps the last time she would be overlooked for awards), Binoche, Allen, Natalie Portman as the adorable girl next door in Beautiful Girls and Love (who I have trouble deciding which category she belongs in).  My 6 through 10 are mostly overlooked: Sophie Thompson as the busybody in Emma, Elisabeth Pena as the beautiful object of Chris Cooper’s affections in Lone Star, Baptiste, Kelly MacDonald as the sexiest catholic schoolgirl ever in Trainspotting and Katrin Cartlidge in Breaking the Waves.

Kenneth Branagh's brilliant but little-seen 4 hour version of Hamlet (1996)

Under-appreciated Film of 1996:

Hamlet  (dir. Kenneth Branagh)

It earns 4 Oscar nominations, including one of the most surprising the Academy’s history and earns a PGA nomination as one of the best productions of the year and it’s under-appreciated?  Well, yes, for a few different reasons.  The first is that this is a gorgeous and amazing film, a wonderful four-hour journey through the entire text of Hamlet and it earned as many nominations from the Oscar, critics, Globes, BAFTA, guilds and BFCA combined (10) as Braveheart earned from the Oscars, and won none of them.  The second is that none ever seems to have watched it.  I can’t get anyone to watch it because they are all frightened off by the four hour running time.  I’ve owned it on video and DVD and I still can’t get people to watch it.  That is reflected in the third reason, which is that people didn’t go see it in the theater when it was playing in gorgeous 65 mm (which it was actually shot in – the first British film in a generation).  In fact, though Branagh approached Hamlet in two different ways in 1996 – this and In the Bleak Midwinter (I very nearly wrote about that instead, but I already wrote a review of that here), together the two films appeared in only 120 theaters and earned just barely more than $5 million (in fact, all of Branagh’s films combined made just barely more than half of what Thor would make in the theaters).

Branagh makes some interesting choices in making the film and they all work out for him.  The first is the setting.  Rather than use an Elizabeth setting, Branagh moves it to the end of the 19th Century.  This is a Denmark preparing for war, complete with armory production and military dress.  The whole subplot with Fortinbras is not cut, as is so usual, so we get a whole different take on what is going on with this country.  He also brings in a lot of Hollywood star power, but doesn’t allow any of them to overwhelm the film. Though we see Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, all of them in key roles, none of them are in major roles.  They provide an enticement, but not a distraction.  Instead, he trusts all of the major roles to the core group of actors that he had spent the previous several years working with: Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Nicholas Farrell (Horatio), Michael Maloney (Laertes) and Richard Briers (Polonius) – the last three even having been in In the Bleak Midwinter in different roles.  He then brings in Kate Winslet (whom he had almost cast in Frankenstein), who gives us the best film Ophelia we have ever seen, and to add to an Oedipal reading, the hottest woman in Britain from Branagh’s youth to play Gertrude: Julie Christie.  (Don’t believe that description?  I am reminded of an episode of Top Gear where David Tennant says that he always wanted to be Doctor Who and didn’t everyone who grew up in Britain in the 70’s, and Jeremy Clarkson replies “I wanted to be Julie Christie’s underwear.”)  Branagh enjoys the Hollywood stars for what they bring, but it his actors that he trusts, that he knows understand the power of the play and won’t shy away from it.

But perhaps Branagh’s greatest strength is himself, both as a star and as a director.  Watch his rendition of the “to be or not to be” soliloquy, watch him there staring into the mirror with the dagger at the side of his head, literally staring death in the face.  Then, followed quickly by his interaction with Ophelia – the first time they appear together in the play, watch his initial reactions, then how it changes when he realizes he has been betrayed.  Then, if you take the time, think about the camerawork here, how he goes around opening the doors, with all of those mirrors and we never spot the camera reflected in any of them.  All of put together is such an amazing work of craftsmanship.

But most of all, aside from the greatness of the film itself, and it is a truly great film, people should watch it because this is their chance to see Hamlet uncut.  Hamlet is the great play of the English language, the one in which Shakespeare dropped everything that he could, giving us sex, love, life, death, everything wrapped up in ornate, incredible language that the human language bears forward.  Since it is so difficult to find a theater troupe that would dare produce the entire play uncut, take this chance to see the full text, to marvel in the language, in the speeches that you never hear.