Friday, April 8, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1979

The Contenders:

Bob Fosse: All That Jazz
Francis Ford Coppola: Apocalypse Now
Peter Yates: Breaking Away
Edouard Molinaro: La Cage aux Folles
Robert Benton: Kramer vs. Kramer (winner)

What’s Missing

Like any year and any race, there are places for improvements, or at least some suggestions that I can make. Werner Herzog’s work on Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht is the first one that comes to mind followed immediately by Tarkovsky’s Stalker, both of which I like more than the one foreign film representative on the actual nominations list. Honestly, though, my first thought should have been Ridley Scott for Alien, which still holds up beautifully, in large part because of how well Scott uses the camera and creates the Nostromo as its own character. I’ll toss out The China Syndrome and James Bridges as a possibility as well. I like Escape from Alcatraz as well, but I don’t think there’s enough from Don Siegel to earn a nomination. The same is true of the underrated The In-Laws and Arthur Hiller. I love Woody Allen, but don’t like Manhattan enough to consider it. For a final nod, I give it to Franc Roddam and his work on Quadrophenia, which should be more well known.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: It honestly feels like Edouard Molinaro was nominated for La Cage aux Folles as a sop to the subject matter. “Hey, we’ve got a long-term gay couple who need to fake being a straight couple!” I like the movie well enough, but this is a case where I genuinely prefer the remake over this original. I’d prefer most of the movies I mentioned above to this one on the nomination list. It’s great to see a foreign director and a foreign language film get some recognition; the Academy just picked wrong one.

4. I’m booting Kramer vs. Kramer quickly as well. I was completely on board for this film until the last few minutes, when it completely shits the bed. The biggest reason I’m getting rid of it here, though, is that I don’t really know what Robert Benton did to earn the nomination. The film itself won Best Picture, and it very much seems like Benton won because the film did, when I really don’t understand why he was put on the list in the first place. Ridley Scott deserved this spot more. So did Werner Herzog. Once again, the Academy gave a prize to someone who didn’t even deserve to be on the list.

3. Breaking Away and Peter Yates hits third place for me only because I like this film more than I like Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s a classic underdog story done about as well as that standard story can be done, which is why it’s worth watching. The problem is that I don’t know specifically what Peter Yates did other than simply film the story that’s so worthy of note here. It’s a great film because of its script and because of how well it tells the story. If anything, Yates got great performances from his actors, but I don’t know what else he did here.

2: I’ve not been shy about my love for All That Jazz and I won’t be shy about it when praising Bob Fosse. Fosse’s work here is great, and if nothing else he earned the nomination for his work in the incredibly inventive third act, some of my favorite film work from its decade. I could make a solid argument for Fosse, and think it’s one nomination that I’d definitely want to keep, even with my suggestions up top. It might still not end up in second place, but it would be on the list.

My Choice

1: I’m giving this to Coppola if for no other reason than the fact that he survived the filming. If you haven’t seen Hearts of Darkness, it’s worth your time to check out and see exactly what the man went through to get this on the screen. That it not merely made it to the screen but is the seminal work concerning the Vietnam War and a reworking of a classic Joseph Conrad story is truly astonishing. Even with some different films in the list, Coppola wins, albeit with much more competition from Ridley Scott.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm not going to argue with your choice. Parts of this film are just dazzling. Manhattan is my favorite Woody Allen movie and I think he deserved a nod for his love letter to New York but I would still have voted for Coppola.

    1. There's something about Manhattan that bothers me. I want to like it more than I do, but it doesn't rank particularly high for me in terms of Allen's films.

  2. No real arguments with Coppola winning from among the nominees. Here are four more from 1979 worth adding to the conversation:

    Martin Ritt for Norma Rae
    Hal Ashby for Being There
    George Miller for Mad Max
    Walter Hill for The Warriors

    My personal top 3 would likely be 1. Hill (I think The Warriors is an all-time gem), 2. Coppola (Apocalypse Now is great despite some obvious deficiencies, particularly in the final act), 3. Miller (the universe he created back in 1979 is still compelling today.)

    1. Of your mentions, The Warriors is the one most likely to make my list. NOrma Rae is decent and I like Mad Max even if I don't love it. I'm not a fan of Being There at all.

  3. For me it is a toss up between Alien and Apocalypse Now. Both are very strong directional efforts.

    1. I agree. They're my winner and runner-up without much thinking.

  4. You pretty much have to give it to Coppola for Apocalypse Now.

    1. This is one of those cases where I really don't get the winner. I think an argument could be made for Ridley Scott, but the argument for Coppola is a lot stronger.

  5. 1979 may still be my favorite movie year. I agree completely with your top three choices. I'd probably give it to Coppola, though Fosse is a deserving candidate as well. I think Breaking Away looks better with age. I liked Kramer more than you did, but Robert Benton still wouldn't have been my choice in this field. Ridley Scott, Woody Allen and James Bridges would have all been Oscar nominee worthy for their films for this year. I do disagree with you on Being There. I would like to put Hal Ashby on the director nominee list...though if I'm limited to five it's a very hard list to break into! Peter Sellers would have been my choice for Best Actor that year, but that's another story.