By Ann Silverthorn
Let’s talk notable Academy Award winners from the 1990s, the decade the Internet was born. In the nineties, big book stores nearly obliterated the small shops; VCRs were wiped out by the DVD player; and Netflix found a niche. It shipped its first movie, Beetlejuice (1988), on March 10, 1998. Movie theaters, which had already taken a hit from VCR rentals, managed to survive, although there are far fewer houses now.
The Internet was clunky, slow, and sparsely populated in the 1990s, but it would soon explode with streaming. Online booksellers and entertainment streaming seemed as though they would make everything tangible obsolete, but the tangible prevails today. Small book sellers are making a comeback, movie theaters are still relevant, and with its massive library, DVD Netflix is still shipping discs, including those of major Academy Award winners. So, let’s take a look at some notable Oscar winners from the 1990s.
The best picture award in 1990 went to Driving Miss Daisy, which also won for best actress (Jessica Tandy), makeup, and writing. Tandy, who played an elderly Southern woman in need of a chauffeur, was 80 years old at the time, and this was her first and last Oscar. Morgan Freeman co-starred as the chauffeur who became a friend to Miss Daisy.
The pairing of fava beans and a nice chianti will forever bring to mind the 1992 best picture winner, Silence of the Lambs. It also scooped up best actor (Anthony Hopkins), actress (Jodie Foster), directing (Jonathan Demme), and writing (Ted Tally). At the award ceremony, host Billy Crystal entered the stage strapped to a dolly, wearing a replica of Hannibal Lecter’s mask.
A western won best picture in 1993. This time it was the four-star and four-award packed Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris teamed up for this drama set in 1880. Eastwood, who played a retired gunslinger, produced and directed the film, winning an Oscar for the latter. Gene Hackman won best supporting actor for his role as a heavy-handed sheriff. Joel Cox won for film editing.
Among its many qualities, the most memorable scene in the 1994 best picture winner, Schindler’s List, lies at the end. This is when the black-and-white film bursts into color as the holocaust survivors saved by Schindler, along with the actors who played them, place stones on the righteous gentile’s grave. Schindler’s List, which won a total of seven Academy Awards, also marked Steven Spielberg’s first. He said, “This is the best drink of water after the longest drought in my life.”
“Run, Forrest, Run!” Best picture winner, Forrest Gump, suspends our disbelief as the title character finds himself in historically iconic scenes, as he meets the president, gets put up in a fancy Washington hotel, and witnesses (and reports) the Watergate break-in. We accept that Forrest (Tom Hanks), who spent his childhood in leg braces, becomes a war hero, runs across the country, and tops it off by becoming a ping-pong champ. Hanks took home best actor and the movie won several other Oscars.
Another memorable film from the 1995 awards is The Madness of King George, which won for best art direction.
Unforgettable (and difficult to watch because of his character’s bitter end) is Mel Gibson in Braveheart, the 1996 best-picture winner. A lesson in history, it’s also a reminder of how barbaric the world can be in the name of war. Gibson won for directing and the movie won several other awards as well.
Also unforgettable is Apollo 13, which one for film editing and sound. In the days before McIver, Jim Lovell and his crew had only the items they had brought along on the space mission to fix a seemingly unsolvable technical problem.
It also should be mentioned that the original Toy Story won in 1996 for best song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
Don’t listen to Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. The 1997 best picture, The English Patient, is not boring at all. Yes, it’s long (2:42), but there’s plenty of WWII action, intrigue, romance, and heartbreak to make it worth watching. The Seinfeld episode aired on March 13, 1997, and within two weeks, The English Patient had the last laugh when it won nine Oscars, including best supporting actress for Juliette Binoche. As for Elaine, because she hated the movie, she lost a boyfriend, got fired, and had to fly to Tunisia.
Even longer than The English Patient, was Titanic at 3:14, and no one seems to complain about it being boring or too long. Titanic tied All About Eve (1950) for the most nominations ever earned by a single film (14). No actors received Oscars for Titanic, but it won eleven Academy Awards, including James Cameron’s for directing and “My Heart Will Go On,” for best song.
The last best picture of the nineties was Shakespeare in Love, which fictionalizes the bard’s writing career and relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. Gwyneth Paltrow won best actress for her portrayal of a young woman determined to perform in one of Shakespeare’s plays when only men were allowed on the stage. Judy Dench, who played Elizabeth I, won best supporting actress. Shakespeare in Love won a total of seven Oscars.
Also notable in 1999 was the WWII drama, Saving Private Ryan, which nabbed five Oscars, one of which went to Steven Spielberg for directing.