March 1, 1997 -- I wondered why "Evita" didn't pick up more Academy Award nominations than it did. Now that I've seen it, I know why, zzzzzzzzzzzzz, huh? Is it over?
"Evita" was Hollywood's big attempt to gather some awards, and it did net some Golden Globes, but it didn't get many Oscar nominations, and most of the ones it did get were in technical categories. The only nominations it received were for cinemaphotography, art direction, original song, film editing and for sound. The film's musical score wasn't nominated. Why? It's a big spectacle. A cast of thousands, wonderful sets, snappy photography, knock-'em-dead costume designs and some of the top names (Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) in the business worked on the music.
True, it's got all of that, but it has problems, too. Some of the songs, like "High Flying Adored," "Rainbow High," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," and "You Must Love Me," are very good, but most of the rest of the stuff is mediocre at best. One scene, in particular, is very clumsy when Evita (Madonna) and Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce). They try to sing a greeting to each other simultaneously, with each singer singing different words. That's a tough thing to do well. It falls flat in the film.
This film is essentially an opera, with nearly all of the dialogue being sung. While Pryce and Antonio Banderas (who plays a sort of one-man Greek Chorus named Che) give it a good try, they are not great singers. Madonna acts and sings her heart out, but aside from two or three good songs, there's just not much for her to sink her teeth into.
The film lacks dramatic tension. It tries to be a romance, but Evita's ruthless use of men to get to the top doesn't translate into romance. It is mere opportunism. It really isn't a tragedy either, because Evita basically got what she wanted out of life before she died. So she died young. Her tale is just not that tragic, especially compared to the lives of the peasants of Argentina. Evita and Juan are not Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps if the story had concentrated more on people, instead of the great sweep of history, it might have been more compelling.
The way I see it, in order to be an Oscar selection, "Evita" needed one of the following three elements. A great romance, a great tragedy, or great music (and great performers). It was zero for three, but you have to give Hollywood credit for trying. This is much more ambitious than any other 1996 film I have seen, so I'll be lenient and give it a B-.
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