'Good Will Hunting' & 'L.A. Confidential': Glitzy Neo-Noir & Corny Boy Genius

Good Will Hunting Matt Damon
Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon.

Gus Van Sant's 1997 Best Picture nominee Good Will Hunting will be the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The film will be screened on Monday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Following the screening, editor Pietro Scalia, producer Lawrence Bender, co-producer Chris Moore, and production designer Melissa Stewart will take part in a discussion about the film.

Good Will Hunting is a melodrama about an aimless mathematical genius who finds love and purpose after spending time with Robin Williams, of all people. The likable Matt Damon plays the angst-ridden genius Will Hunting as a likable, un-angsted young man with fits of bad temper whenever he notices there's a camera around.

Cole Hauser Casey Affleck Matt Damon Ben Affleck Good Will Hunting

Why such a bad case of miscasting? Well, Damon and pal Ben Affleck wrote the cliche-ridden screenplay for themselves – though rumor had it that veteran William Goldman had a strong hand in it. Affleck, who has done much better work as an actor elsewhere, has a supporting role in the film as a thoroughly unconvincing construction worker. And in another bad case of miscasting, Minnie Driver is Will Hunting's love interest.

Shelley Winters liked Good Will Hunting, telling a reporter that her Oscar vote went to it. Audiences in the U.S. – and probably elsewhere – apparently also liked the film, as it became by far Gus Van Sant's biggest box office hit, and turned Matt Damon into a star. The Academy liked it as well – at least in part thanks to distributor Miramax's Oscar-obsessed marketing. Robin Williams even took home the best supporting actor Oscar that, as far as I'm concerned, had Burt Reynolds' name (for Boogie Nights) engraved on it.

Robin Williams in Good Will HuntingGood Will Hunting earned a total of nine Academy Award nominations, winning Oscars for Actor in a Supporting Role (Williams) and Writing – Screenplay written directly for the screen (Affleck, Damon). The film also received nominations for Best Picture (Bender), Actor in a Leading Role (Damon), Actress in a Supporting Role ( Driver), Directing (Van Sant), Film Editing (Scalia), Music – Original Dramatic Score (Danny Elfman) and Music – Original Song (“Miss Misery,” Music and Lyric by Elliott Smith).

Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential each received nine nominations and won two Academy Awards in 1997. L.A. Confidential was screened in May as part of the series.

Aleksandr Petrov's Oscar-nominated animated short The Mermaid will be screened prior to the feature.

Passes for part five of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Including Good Will Hunting, there are 12 films left in the series. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two, three or four of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

L.A. Confidential James Cromwell Guy Pearce Russell Crowe Kevin Spacey

Kim Basinger L.A. ConfidentialCurtis Hanson's 1997 Best Picture nominee L.A. Confidential will be the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The neo-noir crime drama will be screened on Monday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Following the screening, cast member Jim Metzler, costume designer Ruth Myers, novelist James Ellroy (on whose book the film was based), producer Michael Nathanson, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and sound re-recording mixers Anna Behlmer and Andy Nelson will take part in a panel discussion about the film.

In my view, 1997 is one of the worst Best Picture years in the history of the Academy Awards. Not one of the five nominees were at least good. Apparently, however, most people (as usual) would disagree: Titanic (not counting inflation) became the biggest box office success in history; The Full Monty was a major sleeper hit; Good Will Hunting became Gus Van Sant's official entry into the mainstream and made a star out of Matt Damon; As Good as It Gets received widespread praise from myriad well-respected critics; and L.A. Confidential won countless accolades both in the United States and elsewhere.

My problem with L.A. Confidential is that despite Curtis Hanson's earnest attempt to create the mood of a 1940s film noir, missing is one key element: truthfulness. L.A. Confidential looks, sounds, and feels artificial. Save James Cromwell's spot-on performance as a crooked cop, everything else about the film is phony, from the contrived plot and Hanson's sentimental touch to Dante Spinotti's pretty cinematography and the inadequacy of the four leads (Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger), none of whom even remotely suggests the darkness lurking inside real film noir characters.

As I stated above, most people would doubtlessly disagree with my assessments: L.A. Confidential earned nine Academy Award nominations, winning Oscars for Actress in a Supporting Role (Basinger) and Writing – Screenplay based on material previously produced or published (Brian Helgeland, Hanson). Its other nominations were for Best Picture (Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson, Producers), Art Direction (Jeannine Oppewall; Set Direction: Jay R. Hart), Cinematography (Spinotti), Directing (Hanson), Film Editing (Peter Honess), Music – Original dramatic Score (Jerry Goldsmith), and Sound (Nelson, Behlmer, Kirk Francis).

Steve Moore's Oscar-nominated animated short Redux Riding Hood – with voices by Mia Farrow, Don Rickles, Adam West, and Fabio, among others – will be screened prior to the feature.

Good Will Hunting also received nine nominations (winning two of those) in 1997. Therefore, it will be screened as part of the “Great To Be Nominated” series on June 2.

Russell Crowe Kim Basinger L.A. ConfidentialPasses for part five of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Including L.A. Confidential, there are 13 screenings remaining in the series. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two, three or four of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

Frances McDormand Fargo

Joel and Ethan Coen's quirky – and very violent – Fargo will be screened as the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' “Great To Be Nominated” series. The pitch-black comedy, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, will screen on Monday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Following the screening, cast member Peter Stormare (“Gaear Grimsrud”), art director Thomas P. Wilkins, set decorator Lauri Gaffin, supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Skip Lievsay, costume designer Mary Zophres, casting director John Lyons, and line producer John Cameron will take part in a panel discussion about the film.

Peter Stormare Steve Buscemi FargoFargo was the best of the five Best Picture nominees of 1996. It is a suspenseful, incisive, and quite funny look at greed and its consequences – though I must admit that I was unable to figure out how the pieces fit together. (I'm not sure if that was a result of holes in my attention span or holes in the plot.) Frances McDormand is good (in what amounts to a supporting role) as the police officer investigating a kidnapping and several murders, while William H. Macy, Peter Stormare (above, with Steve Buscemi), and Harve Presnell are excellent as criminals of various stripes and attires.

Fargo won two Oscars: for Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand) and Writing - Screenplay written directly for the screen (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen). Additionally, the film was nominated for Best Picture (Ethan Coen, producer), Actor in a Supporting Role (William H. Macy), Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Directing (Joel Coen) and Film Editing (“Roderick Jaynes,” the Coen brothers' montage alias).

For the record, the Best Picture winner that year was The English Patient.

David Frankel's Oscar-winning live action short Dear Diary and Richard Condie's Oscar-nominated animated short La Salla will be screened prior to the feature. (Frankel hit the big time with The Devil Wears Prada two years ago.)

Frances McDormand FargoPasses for part five of “Great To Be Nominated” are $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Including Fargo, there are 14 films remaining in the series. A $5 discount is available for those who wish to renew their passes from parts one, two, three or four of the series. Individual tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

'Good Will Hunting' & 'L.A. Confidential': Glitzy Neo-Noir & Corny Boy Genius © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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