For years now, I’ve heard people talk about the Oscar best picture triumph of 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan” as a major upset. It’s not how I experienced it at the time, and the research I did for this piece in Variety today backed up my memories. An excerpt:

… Each film was strongly embraced by critics and kudos, each film
campaigned fiercely, and when the moment of reckoning arrived at the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, true suspense was in the air.

five months apart, the soon-to-be-entwined pair enjoyed strong reviews
— Variety said Steven Spielberg’s “Ryan” was “searingly visceral,”
while John Madden’s “Shakespeare” was “exquisitely acted, tightly
directed and impressively assembled” — along with their share of
detractors. “Shakespeare” was accused of a lack of heft, while others
contended that the bulk of “Ryan” failed to live up to the jaw-dropping
20-minute invasion sequence at the start of the film.

JFHaving hit
theaters in July, “Ryan” did enter awards season as the pundits’ film to
beat. It got off to a good start by winning the Los Angeles Film
Critics picture prize in December, days after “Shakespeare” first
reached the bigscreen, and soon “Ryan” bagged the New York Film Critics
Circle honor as well.

However, “Shakespeare” topped the Screen
Actors Guild Awards — a key stepping stone to Oscar success — with
five nominations, compared with two for “Ryan.” The films matched each
other with Directors Guild, Writers Guild and Producers Guild noms.

the time the Oscars noms arrived that year, “Shakespeare” —
co-starring, among others, current “Argo” director and de facto
“Lincoln” foe Ben Affleck — had emerged as a clear top rival to
“Ryan.” And then, at least on paper, it surged ahead.

drew 13 Academy Award nominations, not only leading all comers but also
matching “Forrest Gump” for the most by any film except for “Titanic”
since “All About Eve” in 1950. “Ryan” was second with 11 nominations,
ahead of a trio of best picture nominees with seven apiece: “Elizabeth,”
“Life Is Beautiful” and “The Thin Red Line.”
Variety noted in its
report on the nominations that “Tuesday’s announcement shifts the odds a
bit to ‘Shakespeare’s’ advantage: In 14 of the past 15 years, the pic
that grabbed (or tied for) the most nominations went on to win the
best-picture Oscar.” …

Read the entire piece here, and then check out the rest of our Oscar best picture preview coverage.

— Are directors behind punishing run times?
Given the assignment of finding meaning in the fact that eight of the nine picture nominees run for two hours or more, Randee Dawn came through with some interesting insights, most notably that neither the Academy nor audiences seem to mind. 

— Critics praise, punch nominees
We compile some of the critical reaction to the nine finalists, including some that’s less than laudatory.
“Amour” | “Argo” | “Beasts of the Southern Wild” | “Django Unchained” | “Les Miserables” | “Life of Pi” | “Lincoln” | “Silver Linings Playbook” | “Zero Dark Thirty”