Friday, October 24, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2001

The Contenders:
Ron Howard: A Beautiful Mind (winner)
Ridley Scott: Black Hawk Down
Robert Altman: Gosford Park
Peter Jackson: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
David Lynch: Mulholland Drive

What’s Missing

There were plenty of good movies in 2001 and a number of directing performances I liked quite a bit. In fact, there were a number that I liked more than most of the nominees. To start, Amelie was released in 2001, and I love the vision of Jean-Pierre Jeunet in this film. It’s also the year for Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Memento was released in 2001, and Guy Pearce deserved a little love here. I also rather like Alejandro Amenabar’s work in The Others. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I’m launching Gosford Park straight away. I tend to be iffy on Robert Altman in general although I do like some of his films. As it happens, Gosford Park is not one of Altman’s films that I like much at all. Too many characters, too little plot that I cared about. I suppose I should congratulate Altman for keeping it all straight, except that he kind of didn’t because this film was far too convoluted for me to care about for more than five minutes after the film was over.

4: I’m going to bump eventual winner A Beautiful Mind next. I’m fairly ambivalent on A Beautiful Mind. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a film that manages to be that interesting past the first viewing. Sure, we can write that off to the screenplay, but doesn’t the director bear some responsibility for a film’s lack of rewatch potential. This isn’t a terrible movie; it’s actually a pretty good one. Once. That’s not good enough to win Best Director in my book.

3: I was not a fan of Black Hawk Down, but that was entirely based on the fact that the film was completely unrelenting. It’s a hard movie to watch, which was very much the point of the film. So, while I didn’t love the film and have no desire to watch it again, I have to give a lot credit to Ridley Scott. The movie was exactly what he intended it to be. And as much as I didn’t like the film as an experience, it’s directed about as well as it possibly could be. I suppose Ridley Scott gets penalized here for doing an excellent job on a film I don’t like much.

2: So let’s talk about David Lynch for a moment. If this makes me a film snob or a geek, guilty as charged. I like David Lynch’s films in general, even when I’m not sure I actually understand them. Mulholland Drive is a bizarre film, but it’s also cohesive and even kind of coherent. I’m not sure that anyone else could have pulled this film off and made it something remotely watchable. We’d have ended up with something closer to Southland Tales in anyone else’s hands. Lynch’s work on this is top-notch; it’s one of his better films behind the camera.

My Choice

1: I’ve been vocal in the past about the fact that The Lord of the Rings trilogy couldn’t really be judged until the entire trilogy had been released. I stand by that, but I still think that Peter Jackson turned in the best directorial performance of 2001. There was so much that could have gone wrong, and the film holds together beautifully. There was no question that Jackson was going to win in 2003, but he should have won in 2001 as well. That said, I wouldn’t have been terribly upset had Jean-Pierre Jeunet won.

Final Analysis


  1. For once, I've actually seen all 5 films on this list. I'm mostly in agreement with your order, too. I hate Gosford Park and would also put it #5. I might switch Beautiful Mind and Black Hawk Down. I haven't seen BM in the longest time of the 5 nominees, but I remember liking it far more than BHD (which I didn't care for because the characters were so flat and boring). I also like Mulholland Drive, but I'm with you that the statue should have gone to either Jackson or Jeunet.

    1. The decision of what to put fourth and what to put third were my hardest choices here. 1, 2, and 5 were easy.


  2. I'm a huge fan of A Beautiful Mind, and I don't mind repeat viewings. Knowing the "twist" doesn't bother me; I just love the entire vibe that Howard created, and the (admittedly fictional) devoted tenderness between husband and wife.

    As to other less heralded candidates: I'm in a very small minority in that I loved 3000 Miles To Graceland, and Demian Lichtenstein made that beautiful mess into quite an experience. Other directorial efforts from 2001 worth a mention are Michael Mann for Ali, Jean-Jacques Annaud for Enemy At The Gates and Cameron Crowe for Vanilla Sky.

  3. ...and I almost forgot: Antoine Fuqua's work on Training Day just gets better with time.

    1. I've seen most of those. I liked Ali. Enemy at the Gates left me pretty cold overall.

  4. Although very few people claim and probably no-one actually understod Mulholland Drive this is exactly the Oscar it could have (and probably should have) won. It is far more a directors vision in the classic auteur definition than the other films. Even if this is not my favorite movie of the year I think it was favorite to Best Director. When I am still holding up on saying it was robbed is it because Amelie may be even more a directors vision. The difference being that it was not even nominated. Talk about being robbed!
    I would prefer considering the three LOTR movies as one piece and as such it would only be eligible in 2003.

    1. I get that, and with the LotR films it's hard for me to disagree with you. Had Jeunet been nominated, I'd have had a very difficult time picking my 1 and 2 for this year.

      That said, even though this was only a third of the story, there was a huge amount riding on Jackson's performance on this first film. No one really knew if he could do what he set out to do, and with Fellowship, that answer was a resounding yes.

  5. Among the five nominees Peter Jackson is so far out in front of the others you can't even see whoever is in second. He did something that pretty much everybody thought was impossible after multiple people/studios had failed over the prior few decades: not only make a LOTR movie, not only have it be one that fans of the book would like, but most importantly, get critics and general audiences to take all this stuff about hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and whatnot SERIOUSLY.

    He not only succeeded, he did so brilliantly. And this all came from a man who at the time had not taken on anything remotely resembling a large project. I still consider this the best of the three films because it had the hardest job - to introduce everything, get people to take it seriously, AND engage people in the story. The next two films had it much, much easier because everyone had already bought into it after the first one. They just had to tell the story.

    Outside of the nominees I agree that Jeunet deserved one for Amelie over any of the other four.

    1. I'm always kind of sad that the Academy seems to feel that the Best Foreign Language Feature category is enough for anything that wasn't made in English. I think every year that I've done this has included multiple nominees in non-English languages that deserved more consideration than that single sop to "Oh, there are other places that make films, too."

      But yes, Jackson did what a lot of people thought was impossible--and did it so well that it was a commercial success and a critical success. That deserves more than a pat on the back.

    2. Completely agree! Jackson for the win. This is my favorite of the three movies and, I think, even more deserving than Return of the King.

    3. You're not alone in that. I like Return of the King the best of the three, but it's by the smallest margin. Seeing the first one in the theater--and having it be that good--is still one of my favorite theater experiences.