ethelDo you ever feel like the Academy gets caught up on one or two movies each year and it (or they) end up winning all the awards come Oscar time, but then even a year later you can’t remember who won what, or even who was nominated? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. While the Oscars can be fun and/or entertaining while they’re happening—or a dead bore, depending on your tolerance for masturbatory exercises in self-congratulation—increasingly the winners are less and less memorable. I don’t think it’s because “bad” movies or the “wrong” movies are winning, I just think it’s because everyone gets hung up on one thing and the real gem(s) of the year slip through the cracks, only to re-emerge later, when the fuss has died down.

Our goal here at Ethel HQ is to right some of the wrongs committed by the Academy, especially those “carried away” follies when the popular choice of the day starts to look really, grossly wrong several years down the line. For instance, does it make any sense that Nicolas Cage won a Best Actor Oscar (Leaving Las Vegas) over Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking)? I mean, does that really make any sense? It didn’t make a ton of sense in 1996 and it makes zero sense today.

For the first ever Ethel Awards, we’re revisiting the 71st Academy Awards, held in March 1999 to honor movies released in 1998. That’s the year Shakespeare in Love was the big winner though Saving Private Ryan was the favorite. Two very fine films were grossly overlooked and the acting awards almost look like a series of pranks today. We’re revising all the categories except the shorts, song and documentaries. And the Ethel goes to…

Best Visual Effects

Oscar: What Dreams May Come

Ethel: What Dreams May Come

Visual effects is all this movie had going for it, but even ten-plus years later, I remember how, well, dreamy What Dreams May Come was. And the visual look of the film holds up a lot better than fellow nominee Armageddon, which is starting to look cheesy these days.

Best Art Direction/Costume Design/Makeup

Oscar: Shakespeare in Love (Art Direction/Costume Design), Elizabeth (Makeup)

Ethel: Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine was only nominated in the Costume Design category and that’s a tragedy. As lush as the Elizabethan Age looked in Shakespeare in Love, as dirty and splendid as Elizabeth made it, Velvet Goldmine not only captured the 1970’s London underground scene perfectly—the worlds of glam rock and burgeoning punk colliding—but also the look of the New Wave 1980’s and pre-grunge New York. All the actors aged over the course of a decade and the makeup was never less than flawless. Christian Bale’s apple-cheeked youth contrasted sharply with his more beige, hollow adulthood. And Curt Wild (Ewan Macgregor) was a Kurt Cobain dead-ringer in his final proto-grunge reinvention. The Elizabethan movies were lavish, sure, but Velvet Goldmine is profoundly, utterly realistic.

Best Film Editing

Oscar: Saving Private Ryan

Ethel: The Thin Red Line

Look, I’m not saying Saving Private Ryan is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s just not great, either. Here’s my challenge—watch it again, and this time, skip the first twenty minutes. Watch it without the D-Day scene. Without that opener, Saving Private Ryan is meh. It was not the best World War II movie that year. No, that title goes to The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s meditative take on the Battle of Guadalcanal. As with all Malick films, editing is absolutely key to the final product as Malick’s process is to “dig” through the footage he shot and “find” his movie.

Best Cinematography

Oscar: Saving Private Ryan

Ethel: The Thin Red Line

John Toll’s cinematography in The Thin Red Line is museum-quality artwork. Poignant, haunting, lyrical—Toll should have won this. I dare you to find me a more beautiful war movie. Seriously. I dare you.

Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing

Oscar: Saving Private Ryan

Ethel: The Thin Red Line

First, I really think these need to be combined into one category. I really don’t get how you can nominate one and not the other. The Thin Red Line only got a Mixing nomination but I’m giving it both sound Ethels. The combination of silence and explosiveness, the way the score is worked in and out of scenes, the cuts combining nature shots and dialogue—sound in The Thin Red Line is used in surprising ways, ways that it wasn’t used in the more stock Saving Private Ryan.

Best Score (Musical/Comedy and Drama)

Oscar: Shakespeare in Love (Musical/Comedy), Life is Beautiful (Drama)

Ethel: Shakespeare in Love (Musical/Comedy), The Thin Red Line (Drama)

Here’s a category I’m glad they combined. Splitting the score category in two lead to Patch Adams getting an Oscar nomination. I can live with Shakespeare in Love’s win here, but guess what? THE THIN RED LINE SHOULD HAVE WON, TOO.

Best Foreign-Language Film

Oscar: Life is Beautiful

Ethel: Central Station

This is a travesty. Have you seen Life is Beautiful lately? It’s cute and all, but it’s not great. Meanwhile, Central Station is still Walter Salles’ best film to date. It’s a deep, deep movie. My appreciation for it grows with every viewing. The difference between Life is Beautiful and Central Station is the difference between bungee jumping and sky diving.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Oscar: Gods and Monsters

Ethel: Gods and Monsters

I’m actually leaving this one alone even though The Thin Red Line was nominated. It’s just that I’m not sure how much the actual script has to do with the final result in a Terrence Malick film, whereas Gods and Monsters was all about Bill Condon’s script (and Ian McKellen).

Best Original Screenplay

Oscar: Shakespeare in Love

Ethel: The Truman Show

Another travesty. I liked Shakespeare in Love a lot—still do—but its script is in no way superior to Andrew Niccol’s for The Truman Show. How prescient does that story seem today, by the way? Back in 1998 it was such a fantasy—a man living in a reality television show with no clue. But today, you could totally see that happening right? The Truman Show, like The Thin Red Line, was grossly overlooked on Oscar night in 1999.

Best Supporting Actor

Oscar: James Coburn, Affliction

Ethel: Ed Harris, The Truman Show

A lot of people thought Jim Carrey was robbed by not being nominated for The Truman Show, and while it is still his best performance ever, he got totally upstaged by Harris and Laura Linney.

Best Supporting Actress

Oscar: Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

Ethel: Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice

Have you seen Little Voice? If not, DO. And be prepared to fall for Ewan Macgregor’s character. Dench’s win here was a makeup for not winning Best Actress the year before (Mrs. Brown). This is the problem with makeup Oscars: they deny a more deserving performance the win. Blethyn was terrific in Little Voice—still my favorite performance of hers. Dench’s eight minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love winning over Blethyn’s domineering and jealous mother in Little Voice is still one of the Academy’s biggest blunders.

Best Actor

Oscar: Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

Ethel: Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters

Roberto Benigni was adorable on Oscar night. Really, very memorably adorable. But this is a straight up hi-jacking. McKellen killed it in Gods and Monsters. His performance is still great today. Meanwhile, Benigni followed up his win with the repulsive Pinocchio of 2002.

Best Actress

Oscar: Gywneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

Ethel: Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station

Watch Shakespeare in Love. Then watch Central Station. Bitch, please. No contest.

Best Director

Oscar: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan

Ethel: Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line is superior to Saving Private Ryan. In. Every. Way.

Best Picture

Oscar: Shakespeare in Love

Ethel: The Thin Red Line

DUH. By now you should be getting that I think The Thin Red Line is a classic and a war movie unlike any other war movie and while choosing Saving Private Ryan over it is like saying, “I prefer linear plots to visual metaphors”, choosing Shakespeare in Love over The Thin Red Line is like saying, “I didn’t actually watch any movies this year, but that Gwyneth Paltrow sure is pretty.” This was a gross, dumbass error on the Academy’s part. But they’ll make up for it in 2012 when Malick wins everything for Tree of Life.