Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Titanic (1997).
James Cameron’s knack for making films destined to fail that somehow become the world’s biggest sensations found its peak in Titanic, even if Avatar did eventually top his own records and usher in the digital era. The love story set aboard the ill-fated ship that spends half its runtime on a fairly goofy relationship and half detailing the sinking of a ship in excruciating detail, all mixed with a bit about a senile old lady who has frustrated me more than most any other film character, feels like it should be offputting in some manner to anyone who came seeking any one of those things (though I doubt anyone but my friend Sam was really there just to see the ship sink), but somehow it all works together to make something immense and undeniable. As with anything on that level of profit and praise, it’s obviously overrated and can’t really compete with the idea of what it should be, but somewhere in the lengthy runtime it manages to come together and win over even the biggest naysayers as Cameron’s commitment to being the thinking man’s Michael Bay lets him find that perfect balance of excitement and melodrama to appeal to everyone without demanding too much of them that it may turn anyone away. It’s mass appeal cinema at about its absolute peak, not setting up anything else and asking for a return to the story or giving anything to stay up at night thinking about, but transporting the viewer to another time and place for a couple hours and letting every single person become wildly invested for a moment.
The Real Best Picture:
It’s not Affleck and Damon’s fault that their great work was released alongside Titanic’s inexplicable smash success and in a year that generally had some very strong contenders, but I’ll always maintain that Good Will Hunting was the film of 1997 and an all time great.