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SF in film and TV
January 1999

Movie Notes
• Roger Ebert has named Armageddon the single worst film of 1998. The choice was announced on the syndicated Siskel and Ebert show broadcast the weekend of January 16th. (Gene Siskel's choice was Patch Adams.) Of 14 other films mentioned by the two critics as worst of the year, 5 were SF or fantastic: Godzilla, Jack Frost, Phantoms, Deep Rising, and Lost In Space.

• There are at least as many various awards for films as there are for science fiction, and one of them focuses specifically on films as realizations of books: the Scripter Award, presented by the University of Southern California (USC). This year's winner was Steven Zaillian for his screen adaptation of Jonathan Harr's novel, A Civil Action. Other nominees the 11th annual awards were Elaine May's Primary Colors (adapting the novel by ''Anonymous'' Joe Klein), Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (from James Jones' novel), Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters (adapting Christopher Bram's Father of Frankenstein), and Scott B. Smith's adaptation of his own novel as A Simple Plan.

• An article in the Saturday, January 9th New York Times describes the politics and contrariness that went into the National Society of Film Critics' choice of Out of Sight as best picture of 1998. Film critics groups typically debate their choices through multiple ballots and open voting, and the National Society of Film Critics in particular takes pleasure in challenging conventional wisdom -- which this year meant not voting for Saving Private Ryan. The group delibately waits until after the New York and Los Angeles critics groups have announced their choices, and is well of aware of its possible influence on Oscar voting, or at least publicity. Said one member, ''If people resent Spielberg because he has every resource in the world at his disposal and still ends up making middlebrow movies, they'll want to use the award to give recognition to someone else.''

• The Chicago Film Critics Association does things differently from the other critics groups: it announces a full ballot of nominations, five in each of various categories, as a prelude to announcing the winners at a benefit ceremony open to the public. Among the nominations announced January 19th, The Truman Show tied with The Thin Red Line for the most by any film, with 5 each. The Peter Weir film is cited in the categories for best picture, best actor (Jim Carrey), best director, best screenplay (Andrew Niccol), and best original score (Burkhard Dallwitz).

(Thu 21 Jan 99)

SF Films Among Best, Worst of 1998

• Film Critics' Top Ten Lists
Peter Weir's The Truman Show is one of the most frequently cited films of 1998 on year-end Top Ten Lists compiled by US film critics. The film, scripted by Andrew Niccol and starring Jim Carrey, appears on 11 of 18 Top Ten Lists surveyed by Locus Online. Four of those 11 lists, including those by Los Angeles Times's Kenneth Turan and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, rank the film in first place. In comparison, 14 of the lists include Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (6 ranking it first) and 11 lists include John Madden's Shakespeare in Love, to tie for citations with The Truman show.

(Next most frequently cited are Todd Solondz's Happiness with 10 mentions on 18 lists; Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy with 9; Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan with 8; Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight and Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line with 7 each; and Don Roos' The Opposite of Sex with 6.)

Top Ten Lists surveyed include those from Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, and critics for Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, CNN, Rolling Stone, Premiere, and the webzines Salon and Slate.

Other SF films cited on year-end lists include Alex Proyas' Dark City, which remarkably is ranked in first place by Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, who comments:

The best film of 1998 was also one of the more obscure. It opened without a compelling campaign, and was yanked before it could find an audience. Now, on video, it's beginning to build a reputation that may eventually link it with ''Blade Runner,'' another slow starter that gained cult status.

Fellow Chicago critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both include on their lists Gary Ross' Pleasantville (in 2nd and 3rd places respectively), a film cited by only one other reviewer (CNN's).

Gods and Monsters, the film biography of Frankenstein-director James Whale (based on novel by Christopher Bram), appears on 5 of the 18 Top Ten Lists. Babe: Pig in the City is on 3 lists (including both Siskel's and Ebert's), and the Cinderella fantasy Ever After is on 1 list (Rita Kempley's in Washington Post). The animated insect films Antz and A Bug's Life are frequently cited honorable mentions, as is Darren Aronofky's Pi.

• Critics Groups' Awards
Gods and Monsters has been named best picture of the year by two of the several film critics organizations, the National Board of Review and the San Diego Film Critics. Both groups named the film's star, Ian McKellen, best actor, as did the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. (The New York and Los Angeles critics groups named Saving Private Ryan best picture, while the National Society of Films Critics, and the Boston Society of Film Critics, both named Out of Sight.)

The San Diego Film Critics also recognized Peter Howitt's original screenplay for Sliding Doors. Howitt previously won the European Film Award for the same work (see story below).

• Golden Globe Nominations
The Truman Show figures prominently in the nominations for the Golden Globe Awards, announced Dec. 17th. The film tied with Shakespeare in Love for most nominations by a single film, with 6. The Golden Globes are voted by the 92 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and are commonly seen as a bellwether for the Academy Awards (Oscars). Winners will be announced January 24th.

The Truman Show received nominations for best picture (drama) and for Andrew Niccol's screenplay, as well as for director Peter Weir, actor Jim Carrey, supporting actor Ed Harris, and score composers Burkhard Dallwitz and Philip Glass.

Gods and Monsters also was nominated in the best picture (drama) category, along with stars Ian McKellen and Lynn Redgrave in the acting categories. In the television categories (the Golden Globes span both film and TV), The X-Files was nominated for best drama series, while stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny both received nominations for their acting.

• And the Worst
Meanwhile, People magazine's year-end issue names several SF films among the year's 10 worst: Godzilla, What Dreams May Come, Small Soldiers, and Lost in Space.

• Links
Complete nominations and winners are given in the following stories from Mr. Showbiz:

  • Golden Globe nominations
  • New York Film Critics
  • Los Angeles Film Critics
  • National Board of Review
  • Boston Film Critics

    (Thu 17 Dec 98, amended Fri 18 Dec 98, amended Tue 29 Dec 98, amended Thu 21 Jan 99)

    European Film Awards Honor SF
    Sliding Doors and The Truman Show, two films with strong SF themes though not generally identified as science fiction movies, captured honors at the 10th annual European Film Awards ceremony in London. Sliding Doors was honored for screenwriting, while The Truman Show won the Screen International Award as best non-European film.

    The British film Sliding Doors, written and directed by Peter Howitt and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, follows a single character in two parallel time lines. It was released earlier this year in the US and is currently available on videotape. The American film The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol, directed by Peter Weir, and starring Jim Carrey, was a substantial summer hit and was well-received by critics. In the Oscar buzz already beginning in Hollywood, The Truman Show is seen as a possible best picture nominee.

    The European Film Award for best film went to the Italian-language Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella). The awards ceremony will be broadcast December 15th on cable's Sundance Channel.

    (Tue 8 Dec 98)

    Previous Media Refractions

  • Hollywood, Media, and the Supernatural
  • New York, Radio, and the Movies
  • Psycho Trailer
  • Frankenstein Meets Y2K
  • Groening in Space
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