Titanic won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1996, and equalled both the record of fourteen nominations set by All About Eve, and the record of eleven wins set by Ben-Hur. The other ten were: Best Director (James Cameron), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart were nominated in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively, but did not win. (At 87, Gloria Stuart remains the oldest ever nominee for Best Supporting Actress.) The Hugo that year went to Contact.
I have not seen any of the other four Oscar nominees, which were As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential. I have seen nine other films made in 1998: Men in Black, Starship Troopers, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Contact, Wag the Dog, The Peacemaker, Spice World, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Mrs Brown and Fools Rush In. These are all enjoyable films, especially Spice World, and to be honest I’d rank Titanic somewhere in the middle. IMDB users are much more wowed than me, and put it top of both rankings. Here’s a trailer.
Three of the cast of Titanic also appeared in the Whoniverse. First off, David Warner, Spicer Lovejoy here, went on to pay Professor Grisenko in the 2013 episode Cold War. He was also the unpleasant Bilfil in Oscar-winning Tom Jones, way back in 1963.
Martin Jarvis plays Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon here, and has been in Doctor Who three times: as the Menoptra leader Hilio in the 1965 story we now call The Web Planet, the villains’ sidekick Butler in 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and the Governor of Varos in the 1983 Vengeance on Varos.
On rather a different scale, there’s Derek Lea, who is stoker Frederick Barrett here and played an alien posing as a paramedic in the 2008 Torchwood episode Sleeper.
There’s a couple of overlaps with Hugo-winning films also directed by James Cameron. The versatile Jenette Goldstein shows up here as the Irish mommy, having previously been John Connor’s foster mother Janelle Voight in Terminator 2 and tough-as-nails Vasquez in Aliens.
Also in Aliens was Bill Paxton, here treasure hunter Brock Lovett, there Sergeant Hudson.
A couple more Hugo-winner appearances: Elsa Raven is Ida Straus here and was the Clocktower Lady in Back to the Future.
Mark Capri is one of the Stewards here and was imperial comms officer M’Kae in The Empire Strikes Back.
And, getting to the end, there are two more crossovers with previous Oscar-winners apart from David Warner. Frances Fisher is Rose’s mother here, and was Strawberry Alice, the brothel manager, in Unforgiven.
Last but not least, Bernard Hill plays Captain Smith here, having previously been Sergeant Putnam, the soldier on the railway station roof, in Gandhi. We will be seeing him again.
Before we get into the meat of it, there’s an interesting linguistic quirk that caught my attention (and probably won’t catch anyone else’s). Thomas Andrews, the engineer who designed the ship, is played by Canadian actor Victor Garber, who I don’t think I have seen in anything else. He’s the very first character in 70 Oscar-winning films to be explicitly from Northern Ireland. Garber gives him a bit of a lilting brogue, to signal to the audience that he is vaguely Irish.
There are no surviving recordings of Thomas Andrews’ voice, as far as I know. But his brother, John Miller Andrews, was interviewed when he became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1940, and as you can hear he has a much more distinctly Ulster twang in his voice. (He lasted only two and a half years, becoming the first but not the last Unionist leader to be ruthlessly ditched by a rebellion in the ranks.)
Anyway. As if you didn’t know, the film is about the 1912 sinking of Titanic, the largest ship in the world at the time, on its maiden voyage. My great-grandmother, born in 1887, told me when I was a child that she had seen it pass along Belfast Lough as it emerged from the Belfast shipyard where it was made, and it’s not difficult to imagine how this massive man-made object would have briefly dominated the natural landscape as it went by.
Belfast has a slightly ambivalent relationship with the ship and the story; there is a massive and impressive museum dedicated to the disaster on the site of the dock where the ship was built, and a big memorial in the grounds of the City Hall. But for a city which has since acquired a strong relationship with tragedy – twice as many were killed in the Troubles as died on Titanic – it’s not a comfortable bit of heritage. The final exchange with the doomed ship is very poignant.
A friend of mine lost her father on the Estonia in 1994Van Ling (also briefly in Terminator 2).
The only other film I’ve seen Leonardo di Caprio in is the 1996 Romeo + Juliet. Sorry to be heretical, but I don’t think he’s a particularly good actor. His part in Titanic doesn’t have much to it, but I don’t feel he brings much to it either. I think he particularly fails to connect smirking self-confident Jack to sensitive artistic Jack. It’s just about plausible that Rose falls for him on the ship, especially given the awfulness of the alternative, but I can’t believe she would have stayed with him for long.
Those are the only two negatives, though. The music teeters on the edge of being annoying, but just about manages not to be. Only five Oscar-winning Original Songs were also in the Best Picture or equivalent; before “My Heart Will Go On” we had “Swinging on a Star” in Going My Way, and “Gigi” in, er, Gigi; we’ll get to the two others in due course. Just in case you had forgotten, here’s Celine Dion.
Kate Winslet on the other hand has a great part and does it well. Rose is one of those rare leading women characters with a serious and interesting arc. The sequence of her wielding the axe is tremendous.
And the film does a traditional story-telling job very well – introducing us to a bunch of very human people, some of them more interesting than others, and then hitting them with a disaster that many of them do not survive. The core narrative is not original but very competently executed, and tying it back to the present day with Gloria Stuart’s brief but impressive performance as older Rose gives it a firm sense of grounding and relevance.
And the effects of course are spectacular. Cameron has set a high bar with his previous work, and just about exceeds it. The sense of scale of the sinking ship, and the subsequent horror of the slow deaths of the shipwrecked, are particularly effective.
So, I thought it was good but not superb. I’m putting it just under halfway down my list of Oscar winenrs, ahead of The Last Emperor which also look good but has no attractive characters, and behind Out of Africa which also looks good but does have interesting men as well as women.
That takes me to 70 Oscar-winning films. The most recent ten have had four really good, four medium (The English Patient is very medium, but I gave it extra marks for having Juliette Binoche) and two awful, which I guess is not too bad. Here’s my full ranking.
Just for fun, I’ve broken down the 70 Oscar-winning films by main date and time of setting. (Obviously some straddle timelines and locations – I’m calling the two Godfather films as set in New York, as that’s where their hearts are, and calling All the King’s Men as set when it was made although it is based on real events that happened between the wars.) Five of the eleven “Other Europe” films are set in France.
The next Oscar-winning film will be Shakespeare in LoveContact.
1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011)