|Scene from Saving Private Ryan|
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way.
Subject: The Circle movie opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Saving Private Ryan should have won Best Picture.
There's plenty to suggest that Tom Hanks is one of the most beloved actors of his generation. To go through his filmography over the past 30 years is to see the evolution of a silly comedy actor into a prestige star. Even if his recent era hasn't produced as many flat out masterpieces, there's plenty of reason to get excited about every new movie of his - including this Friday's The Circle. With that in mind, it only feels right to explore his career to find some unpopular opinions, which frankly is a little difficult for me. I love Hanks and cannot find much to badmouth even his barely passable fare like Sully. So, what do I have to say about him then?
There is a part of me that could fall back on a very easy topic: Hanks should've gotten more Oscar nominations than he currently has. Considering that Meryl Streep continues to be nominated for inferior work, it doesn't make sense why Hanks hasn't been nominated since Cast Away in 2000. We're approaching two decades without him being nominated, which is a shame since that career has featured Catch Me If You Can, Captain Phillips, and Bridge of Spies to name just three. What is it about his recent work that keeps him less than popular? I don't have the answer, but I think it could be that he had a phenomenal 90's. Seriously, few actors had the enviable decade that he had: winning Oscars for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, starring in other Best Picture nominees Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan. Most actors would kill for Hanks' track record from this era. It may be why it's been hard for voters to consider the genius of his newer work, if just because they've seen it before.
Which makes me wonder if that's in part why Saving Private Ryan didn't win Best Picture. Sure, Hanks was only one actor in one of the greatest male ensembles in film history. But he lead an army through a hopeless mission to rescue Private Ryan, played by the "unknown" Matt Damon. It's got some of the most intense period piece action that not only rivals The Longest Day, but maybe tops it. Spielberg is a master of empathy and it manages to show in his ability to take characters that the audience doesn't know and sends them into the familiar peril of war. It won't end well, and you'll probably need to step away from the movie for an hour after the opening segment. Still, it's a powerful film about hope that also reflects something that was clearly passionate to Spielberg and Hanks, who would go on to make the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
What the film manages to do is place the viewer into the center of a war. While World War II has had more than a dozen movie masterpieces by this point, there really hadn't been Spielberg's take. He had done the Holocaust with Schindler's List, but he hadn't tackled the war directly. As one of the blockbuster virtuoso who could spin action into awe-inspiring visuals, it only seemed right that he would go through that phase at some point. When he did, he created an epic that was very human and featured some of his richest and most bleakest moments alongside the struggle to survive. The set design alone is inspiring, but the feeling of duty and patriotism runs through the film without ever pandering. At the center is Hanks, doing his best to keep everyone sane. It may not be as much of a showy role as most of the films that he did before, but it showed just why he needed to work more with Spielberg. He was an every man in a film by a director who appealed to that type of audience.
There's plenty of argument to be had over why Saving Private Ryan should've won Best Picture over Shakespeare in Love. The easy answer is that it's more technically impressive and arguably more important to the cultural conversation around movies. The war scene alone is some of the finest film making in history. However, it does become difficult to have this be a blanket statement in the modern view of the Oscars, where the Best Picture/Best Director wins have been split for most of the past few years. On one bright side, Spielberg did win Best Director, but Best Picture went to the period comedy about Shakespeare. It could be that it was the dawning of Harvey Weinstein's Oscar campaign manipulations, which would rarely go away after. However, it could just be the general mindset of the time.
As someone removed entirely from the zeitgeist of 1998, I can only assume why that film stood more of a chance at Best Picture. The merits in particular are tough for me to fully understand, as I don't find much that's exceptional about the film. The only logic is that, like The Artist later, it's a film about the arts. The Academy loves the arts, so they give the edge to Shakespeare in Love. This is a flimsy reasoning, but it's honestly hard to understand what made that film so special in a time where vibrant blockbusters that were changing the game were being made. Maybe Shakespeare in Love was vital to the moment, but Saving Private Ryan has withstood the test of time. Maybe it is one of the few times where The Academy thought progressively and gave Spielberg the award because it was great direction (but maybe not a great movie?).
It's tough to say, as this is one of two Tom Hanks movies that I contemplated writing this column on. I chose this one because I felt that I had already made my thoughts known on why I hate Braveheart and why Apollo 13 is better. I haven't really covered much ground on Saving Private Ryan, so here it is. My one guess as to why this film lost Best Picture probably comes from why they stopped nominating Hanks: they were just sick of giving him so much recognition. Again, it's a flawed logic, but it makes sense given Spielberg's impressive track record before this (and with Schindler's List being a "recent" win for him). There's a lot that could be considered, but I think that this is about as well as my Theory Thursday is likely to get in explaining why it should've won. It was a powerful film that arguably Spielberg has never topped again, and that's saying something.