Oscar Rewrite: 1996


Best Picture: The English Patient   Fargo

The Coen Brothers made us laugh in The Big Lebowski and thrilled us in No Country for Old Men, but they threw both into the wood chipper for this genre-bending masterpiece. Fargo features a botched kidnapping, dialogue with imitable accents, harrowing music by Carter Burwell, snow-white cinematography by Roger Deakins and career roles by William H. Macy, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi, all backed by symbolic Coen direction that foreshadows Macy’s downfall.

Best Director: Anthony Minghella (The English Patient)  Danny Boyle (Trainspotting)

Best Actor: Geoffrey Rush (Shine)   Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire / Mission: Impossible)

Tom Cruise has earned plenty of haters since his 2005 couch jump. How quickly we forget that 1996 was his year, launching a franchise role as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible and carrying the ultimate date movie in Jerry Maguire, which ranked in both the AFI’s 100 Passions and Top 10 Sports Movies. His mission, which he chose to accept, was to show us the money, and he had us at hello.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand (Fargo)  Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves)

Best Supporting Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire)   Will Smith (Independence Day)

Jeff Goldblum was the protagonist and Bill Pullman the president, but Will Smith stole the show, completing his evolution from boombox to TV to silver screen. With ID4, Smith launched a 16-year run where 12 of his films grossed at least $100 million, four grossed $200 million and one grossed $300 million. His Men in Black franchise was directly inspired by the success of Independence Day.

Best Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche (The English Patient)  Drew Barrymore (Scream)

In the tradition of Janet Leigh getting offed early in Psycho (1960), Drew Barrymore had the most star power of anyone in Wes Craven’s Scream — and was gone in 10 minutes. The post-modern opening entered Scream into the pantheon of horror classics, thanks to Barrymore’s phone call trivia terror.

Best Original Screenplay: Fargo (The Coen Brothers)  Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sling Blade English Patient (Anthony Minghella, Michael Ondaatje’s book)


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