The 1995 battle seemed to mark one of those Hollywood turning points, like the races of 1968 or 2006 or 2011, when it wasn’t merely two movies clashing, but two competing visions of what movies should be. On one side was Forrest Gump, a Hollywood historical epic that broke some new technical ground in digital manipulation of existing film footage (the trickery that allowed Tom Hanks’ Forrest to interact with various long-dead historical figures). Still, it told a fairly traditional story, full of candy-box pieties and accompanied by a Baby Boom’s Greatest Hits soundtrack.
On the other side was Miramax’s Pulp Fiction (pictured), the independently-made, non-linear crime tale that introduced to the mainstream the brash new voice of Quentin Tarantino and his sheer joy in the kinetic possibilities of all that cinema had to offer, from John Travolta’s dancing to Samuel L. Jackson’s verbal fury to Bruce Willis going medieval with a samurai sword to Dick Dale dropping machine-gun surf-guitar licks on the soundtrack. In retrospect, Pulp Fiction seemed to mark the moment when the indies took over from the studios as the most vital force in American filmmaking (a status they didn’t hold for long), but at the time, the seniors who make up the Academy wanted something more traditional. Tarantino and Roger Avary won Best Original Screenplay, but Gump won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Director (for Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor (for Tom Hanks, even though he’d won the year before for Philadelphia), and Best Picture. The lesson, for Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein: Never let your opponents outdo you in selling traditional, classy, epic fare to the Academy. It was a lesson he learned with a vengeance, as he displayed in years to come.