What do Forrest Gump, Dances with Wolves, and Crash, all have in common? They all won the academy award for ‘Best Picture’ and shouldn’t have. Were they good movies? Sure. Well, Crash is total trash, but other than that, for the most part, all good. But good, isn’t the best. Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction. Dances with Wolves beat Good Fellas. Yes. Good Fellas. And Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck. I mentioned all the other nominees facing Crash, because all were superior to that pile of dung. “Wow, he really hates Crash“. Yup. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to explain one of the biggest travesties in the travesty filled history of the academy awards –Titanic beating LA Confidential for ‘Best Picture’.
The year is 1997. Americans were marveling at the existence of Dolly a cloned sheep, watching and rarely laughing to Dharma & Greg, and waiting on line to see the biggest movie of the year about a really big boat- Titanic. To call Titanic a blockbuster would be an understatement. I enjoyed it the way I enjoy cotton candy. It’s fun and kind of tasty, and it’s easy to go down because it’s so light that it feels like it’s made out of air. And it’s also easily forgettable because there’s not much there.
Written and directed by the humble James Cameron, Titanic was a triumph of set design and special effects over story. Sure, there’s romance, action, Kate Winslet’s breasts, and Leonardo DiCaprio yelling that he was king of the world, but that’s it. For a movie about a ship that sinks, Titanic brings new depth to the meaning of shallow. Not the water though. That was at least deep. My synopsis of Titanic is young love, bad people try to keep them apart, some other crap, iceberg! And sink. The end. LA Confidential on the other hand has no big boats or any nudity from Kate Winslet. Hell, it doesn’t even have Billy Zane! Nope. All LA Confidential has is an incredible script by Brian Helgeland, adapted from James Ellroy’s pulp novel, masterfully crisp direction from the late and great Curtis Hanson, and fantastic performances.
Set in 1950’s Los Angeles and Hollywood, it was a golden age for Hollywood and the city of angels. A place where studios ran the show, actors did what they were told, cops were in on the scams, and everyone from the District Attorney, press, and everyone else on down, were willing to look the other way if the price was right. The world of LA Confidential is much different than the world that Titanic set sail in. In 1950’s LA, the good guys are hard to tell apart from the bad guys. In Titanic, it’s so obvious who the bad guys are that you might as well dress them in dark suits, top hats, and evil looking pencil thin mustaches. Oh wait- they do wear that. Seriously, Billy Zane looks like when he’s not on the boat, he’s tying damsels in distress to railroad tracks.
Titanic was a cultural phenomenon. But is that the basis to name something The Best. Donald Trump is a cultural phenomenon. Is he our best? My point is that once you strip away all the bells and whistles, you get to the essence of what makes a movie great- story and performances. Let’s set aside performances. I’m not going to waste time in critiquing individual performances. Let’s just say I prefer LA Confidential. What I’m asking you dear reader, is if you think the story to Titanic was original? Was it something story-wise that you’ve never seen before? Of course, you’ve seen it before. Its characters were stock, it’s beats predictable, and the film formulaic. Sure, you get Bill Paxton sporting an earring- I admit I didn’t see that coming. But other than that, this was just glossy paint by the numbers.
LA Confidential on the other hand is far from formulaic or predictable. It’s film noir of the highest order. Who is good? Who is bad? Where do I put my trust and allegiances? What are the motivations of these characters? LA Confidential keeps you guessing. Titanic? What’s there to guess? Will the ship sink? Spoiler alert! It does. And unlike the end of LA Confidential which holds twists and turns and surprising revelations that gave me chills, when Titanic sunk, I felt relief. Do yourself a favor and either watch or re-watch the true deserving winner of 1997’s ‘Best Picture‘ Award. And if you still have time, then watch Titanic and take a shot of whiskey every time Billy Zane overacts. You’ll be drunk in no time.
Contributed By David Goldberg