Shakespeare in Love ★★★★½

Last year, I happened upon a Best Picture collection on Blu-ray at Best Buy containing five movies: Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Chicago, No Country for Old Men, and Crash. I'd seen the final three, but never the first two. What's particularly interesting is that this group includes three of the more controversial Best Picture winners - including this one, which bested Saving Private Ryan.

I don't care to delve into a Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan debate here, but I can easily say that I'm A-OK with the way the Academy voted. The visceral power of its D-Day opening aside, I found Saving Private Ryan a surprisingly generic commando team movie. Shakespeare in Love, however, brilliantly spins a tongue-in-cheek romcom into a truly delightful homage to the grandest theme there is: Romantic love. Its aspirations are noble as they are lofty, but the film lives up to them.

If I were to point to just one thing to appreciate, it would be how predictable it is. That's almost always a bad thing for a movie, but director John Madden and writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard wisely conceded from the outset that all the plot twists would be obvious. Rather than angling for "ironic" self-awareness, as so many recent horror movies have made the mistake of doing, they instead trusted the earnestness of the narrative and the charisma of the cast to not just keep us engaged, but to win us over.

There's not a single surprise to be found anywhere...except for how easy it is to fall in love with the movie. It's not quite on the same level as Amélie or Casablanca (I was entirely in love with both instantly), but it's awfully close.

For me, the most obvious comparison to make is with Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, which I only just saw for the first time three days ago. Shakespeare in Love is a triumph; I was far more taken in by story-within-the-story on-stage recitations of Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare in Love than I was in the actual performance of the play in Luhrmann's film.

Specifically, I would point to the scene in which Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow, who won Best Actress in a Leading Role) auditions incognito for the production. After a parade of flat recitations from Marlowe's Faustus, she presents the thesis for the entire film: That the classical Romantic themes are still as powerful as ever, and that we want to believe in them. That's what this film celebrates, and that's why it's so delightful.

How Shakespeare in Love Entered My Flickchart

Shakespeare in Love > Looney Tunes: Back in Action --> #807
Shakespeare in Love > You Only Live Twice --> #404
Shakespeare in Love > Fat Girl --> #202
Shakespeare in Love > Dràcula --> #101
Shakespeare in Love < The Virgin Spring --> #101
Shakespeare in Love < Sideways --> #101
Shakespeare in Love > Batman Forever --> #87
Shakespeare in Love > Tropic Thunder --> #81
Shakespeare in Love < Batman (1966) --> #81
Shakespeare in Love < Wayne's World --> #81
Shakespeare in Love > Quantum of Solace --> #80

Shakespeare in Love entered my Flickchart at #80/1613

1998 Academy Awards (71st)
(N) ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Geoffrey Rush {"Philip Henslowe"}
(W) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- Gwyneth Paltrow {"Viola De Lesseps"}
(W) ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Judi Dench {"Queen Elizabeth I"}
(W) ART DIRECTION -- Art Direction: Martin Childs; Set Decoration: Jill Quertier
(N) CINEMATOGRAPHY -- Richard Greatrex
(W) COSTUME DESIGN -- Sandy Powell
(N) DIRECTING -- John Madden
(N) FILM EDITING -- David Gamble
(N) MAKEUP -- Lisa Westcott, Veronica Brebner
(W) MUSIC (Original Musical or Comedy Score) -- Stephen Warbeck
(W) BEST PICTURE -- David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman, Producers
(N) SOUND -- Robin O'Donoghue, Dominic Lester, Peter Glossop
(W) WRITING (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) -- Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard