Milos Forman: Amadeus (winner)
Woody Allen: Broadway Danny Rose
Roland Joffe: The Killing Fields
David Lean: A Passage to India
Robert Benton: Places in the Heart
There are plenty of directors worth bringing up for 1984, but as is often the case, these are directors who were working in genres that don’t normally turn the Academy’s head. It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of movies from 1984 like Dreamscape, Beverly Hills Cop, Night of the Comet, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension that I genuinely love that don’t specifically excite me in terms of what the director did, so I won’t mention them here. 1984 was formative for me in a lot of ways—this was late high school for me—so while the movies are important to me, this is about the director. Even with that caveat in mind, there’s a lot to bring up here. The “these aren’t Oscar-style films” would include Wes Craven’s work on A Nightmare on Elm Street, James Cameron for The Terminator, Rob Reiner for This is Spinal Tap, and Ivan Reitman for Ghostbusters. Truthfully, David Lynch probably doesn’t deserve consideration for Dune, but I do love it so. I think I’m on much firmer ground with Michael Radford for 1984, Jim Jarmusch for Stranger than Paradise, and Wim Wenders for Paris, Texas. It may have been too early in the careers of Joel and Ethan Coen for a nomination for Blood Simple, but I think it’s a hell of a great directorial debut. For me, though, the biggest miss is Sergio Leone’s work on Once Upon a Time in America. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have been in the running.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I like David Lean and I like a lot of his movies, but I really disliked A Passage to India, which I found to be dull and dreary. Oh, I’ll freely admit that it lives up to the standards of Lean in terms of spectacle; it’s a pretty film by any standard. But the story is weak, virtually all of the characters are weak, and I found the entire experience unpleasant. If all you need to do to get a nomination for Best Director is make an epic, then epics should be the only things offered here. It’s the only reason I can see for Lean’s nomination here at all for a film that is otherwise unpleasant, overlong, and telling a drippy story.
4. I tend to like Woody Allen as well, so I find it frustrating that I’m putting him fourth with Broadway Danny Rose. The truth is that I think the best parts of the film are Allen as actor and Allen as writer, but I don’t see a great deal specifically from Allen as director. It feels like he got this nomination based on reputation. There are plenty of times when I think Woody Allen deserved a nomination for director, but I have real trouble finding a reason to nominate him here. Leone, Jarmusch, and Wenders deserved to be here more. They did more with their stories from the director’s chair.
3. I liked Places in the Heart a lot more than I thought I would when I came to it, and certainly some of that had to come from Robert Benton. This is a story that has all of the earmarks of maudlin melodrama, and while there are moments where it flirts with slipping into easy emotionality, it never really gets there. I appreciate that greatly, and for a film with this name, I found it surprising that we didn’t end up there. This is the first of the nominations that I actually start to understand, even if in my own set of nominations, it would probably just miss. I don’t hate it as a nomination, but I’m satisfied that Benton didn’t win.
2. The Killing Fields is one of those films that truly defines the idea of “must-see.” This is a brutal and terrible film, but the only thing I can think of that detracts from it is that Sam Waterston’s accent isn’t consistent at times. Everything else here is terrible in the original sense of the word. There is a stark brutality to this film, and while it’s not easy to say that a film that contains these events contains beauty, it truly does in many ways. Roland Joffe made a film about terrible films, and while the audience might flinch, he didn’t. Here’s a film that would definitely make my short list, and the nomination is clearly deserved.
1: Compare the work of Milos Forman on Amadeus with that of the other epic here. In every case, Forman’s work is head and shoulders above that of Lean. This is a huge, complex story that works on multiple levels at all times, and Forman holds the whole thing beautifully, keeping every moment of it working toward its inevitable conclusion. No one in the audience is ever confused and every moment is a joy. Amadeus is, for me, an example of what is meant by an Oscar film for all of the right reasons. Forman’s work is flawless and despite all of the movies I love from 1984, there is no better choice than Milos Forman for Best Director.