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Though the image of him holding a Silver Bear trophy in the air, with producer Lawrence Bender beaming beside him, would suggest that director Gus Van Sant reigned triumphant at the 1998 Berlin International Film Festival, that wasn’t quite the case. His film Good Will Hunting was indeed awarded a Silver Bear — but it went to Matt Damon, who, as star and co-writer (with Ben Affleck), was given the honor for “outstanding single achievement.” (The jury did not specify to which single achievement it was referring.) Van Sant, meanwhile, saw the Golden Bear for best film go that year to Walter Salles’ Central Station.
Still, Van Sant had plenty to smile about. The openly gay auteur had early art house successes with 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy and 1991’s My Own Private Idaho. But Hunting, about a troubled young math genius (Damon, then 27) and his therapist (Robin Williams, then 46) would launch him like a rocket into the movie mainstream. The $10 million Miramax film ($15 million today) grossed $225 million worldwide ($343 million in current dollars).
It also won two of its nine Oscar nominations — Williams for best supporting actor and Damon and Affleck for best original screenplay. In its review, The Hollywood Reporter anticipated the coming glory: “Good Will Hunting” went the opening line, “equals good certain Oscaring.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Feb. 17 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.
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