Titanic (Oscar winner)
As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (ReOscar winner)
Three comedy-dramas about upward-achieving; a neo-noir; and the big boat. James L. Brooks' As Good As It Gets was a smart, solid entertainment, but not in the exalted league of his Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment or his shoulda-won Broadcast News. The gritty-sensitive Good Will Hunting and the working-class-Chippendales The Full Monty didn't deserve their nominations.
Titanic? I caused a bit of a ruckus by reviewing the film a few weeks before it opened and declaring it, at least artistically, "dead in the water." (Matt Drudge later claimed that I was put up to my pan by Time Warner boss Gerald Levin. Not true! I disliked the movie all on my own.) After rewatching it this week, I feel a bit warmer about the Winslet-DiCaprio love story, especially since serioso heterosexual romance has just about disappeared from movie screens in the intervening decade. But I still find the shipboard storyline clunky and unpersuasive, and I still can't wait for the damned iceberg to show up. Sue me for not having a heart.
I'm picking L.A. Confidential for reasons that make me a little suspicious. A guilty secret of film criticism is that reviewers often lavish their fondness on modern versions of the kinds of genres they don't make any more. Thus The English Patient, a film in the David Lean epic tradition, was my choice for best film of 1996. L.A. Confidential is a time trip back to the period in which it's set, the early '50s, when film noir (as the French called Hollywood's crime dramas) argued that postwar optimism was a lie that brutality and betrayal lurked around the every city street corner, where the cop on the beat might also be on the take.
This movie version of the James Ellroy novel piled mob chicanery and movie-industry sadism on a standard cop scenario, in a dense sandwich of corruption that was no less tasty for being sour. It was smartly acted (by, among others, a young Russell Crowe) and captured the snazz of sleaze. So even if it plays to my favorite prejudices, I have to give the ReOscar for Best Picture to L.A. Confidential.