Oscar Catch-Up #1: Elizabeth (1998) and Working Girl (1988)

Those who have been around me between the months of November and February know the annual obsession with watching all my Oscar nominated films.  I’ve been doing it since I was a freshman in high school, and despite it seeming more obsessive compulsive than a fun pastime, it’s both.  I’ve seen a lot of great films that I wouldn’t have thought to see otherwise (InceptionThe Wrestler, Little Children), and I’ve seen a lot of crap that has made me more appreciative of good filmmaking and further defines my aesthetic (Black Swan, Crash, Juno).

But it’s been hard for me to catch up with all the things I didn’t see  pre-2002, back when Good Burger and Sister Act were my Best Picture choices (well, they might still be, actually…shh).  So thanks to the genius of Netflix I’ve been playing a lot of catch up over the last year, and well, it’ll take several more years to go.  The beauty of an Oscar season is being able to see everything in such a short span, and really getting a good comparison while its fresh in your mind–and then you get to discuss them with your friends who also just saw them.  The problem with playing catch up is remembering everything, and not letting it all just blur together.  So, I decided I should start writing about what I’m watching–and see what my friends think about them too.

Our first entry is catching us up on two films about a couple of tough-as-nails workin’ gals:

Elizabeth (1998) Directed by Shekhar Kapur and Written by Michael Hirst
Starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes and Richard Attenborough
6 nominations including Picture, Actress (Blanchett), Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Dramatic Score, Makeup (winner)

Working Girl (1988) Directed by Mike Nichols and Written by Kevin Wade
Starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Cusack, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey
6 nominations including Picture, Director, Actress (Griffith), Supporting Actress (x2- Weaver and Cusack), Original Song (winner–Carly Simon “Let the River Run)

The pickin’s must have been slim both of these years–as I hate to start out on such a negative note, but both these films are complete duds.

Elizabeth is an absolute snooze.  I have never been a huge fan of the English costume drama, with a few exceptions.  This takes all the worst things about the genre and amplifies them–snail’s pacing, overwrought dialogue, romances that aren’t developed, hammy supporting characters (including a very odd early performance from Daniel Craig), and big group scenes that serve no function other than the show off the costume designer for 10 minutes.  It was all I could do to not fall asleep–and I wasn’t in the least bit tired when I watched it.  I have loved Cate Blanchett for a while now, but this performance is the worst I’ve seen her give (she gave a far better performance in the equally bad sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age)–at times hysteric, at times like she had swallowed a wee fistful of Valium before showing up on set, her inconsistency here is bizarrely unlike her.  She must be one of the fine wine actresses who just keeps getting better with age.  I guess I could understand the Makeup win though I would have given it to Saving Private Ryan.  Of the 4 Best Picture nominees I’ve seen from ’98 this is by far my least favorite, behind The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, and Shakespeare in Love (I’ve yet to see Life is Beautiful). It’s a shame this squeezed out far better pictures snubbed like American History X and The Truman Show.

Working Girl was something I was looking forward to quite a bit.  Mike Nichols is a favorite director of mine, and I saw 9 to 5: The Musical 3 times (don’t tell anyone that), it seemed natural.  I wasn’t familiar with Melanie Griffith as anything other than a perennial Razzie nominee.  The fact that she was ever an in-commodity movie star is a mystery far more interesting than the film.  It has a lot going for it–a timely premise, a clever script, and the always charming Harrison Ford.  But it’s all about Melanie Griffith’s Tess McGill–and she is absolutely sedate and aloof, not at all the firecracker that the script makes her out to be.  She ruins the whole movie.  The imdb trivia lists a long line of more talented actresses in talks for the role at one point–Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Pfieffer, Carrie Fisher, Kathleen Turner, Cher, Goldie Hawn, and Catherine O’Hara–it’s an absolute shame that one of them didn’t end up with the role, I probably could have loved it.  Sigourney Weaver is fine.  Joan Cusack’s nomination is outright puzzling, she doesn’t really do anything, and even that isn’t done particularly memorably.  The movie’s only win–and my personal favorite part is the soulful 80’s-tastic song “Let The River Run” by Carly Simon.

Let’s hope I have better luck next time.

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One response to “Oscar Catch-Up #1: Elizabeth (1998) and Working Girl (1988)

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