Friday, March 30, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1993

The Contenders:

Jim Sheridan: In the Name of the Father
Jane Campion: The Piano
James Ivory: The Remains of the Day
Steven Spielberg: Schindler’s List (winner)
Robert Altman: Short Cuts

What’s Missing

Like all Oscar categories, Best Director is really subjective both in terms of nominations and in terms of snubs. I think, for instance, you can make an interesting case for Martin Scorsese going far afield with a film like The Age of Innocence. You can also say that while Spielberg was a lock for a nomination for Schindler’s List, in virtually every other year, he’d be a nomination lock for Jurassic Park. There are three movies from 1993 I love that won’t typically get any play for this award despite their directors’ solid work. We can start this part of the list with George P. Cosmatos and the over-the-top and ridiculously fun Tombstone. Also included here is the surprisingly effective The Fugitive from Andrew Davis, which was the only film evidently good enough to be nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director. I’d conclude this trio with Harold Ramis and Groundhog Day, a film that is still as good now as it was 25 years ago. If I can only add one director, though, I’m adding Krzysztof Kieslowski and his work on the stunning Three Colors: Blue.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I have an odd relationship to the films of Robert Altman, and Short Cuts is a film that very much ends up on the shorter end of the stick. One of the problems I tend to have with Altman is that so many of his films have so many characters that it becomes almost impossible to keep track of everyone. That’s certainly the case here. Short Cuts feels like three weeks out of a soap opera, like we got about a month’s worth of stories in a much larger narrative that we’re never going to see. That’s a problem.

4. I’m very conflicted with The Piano. I appreciate the fact that this is a film that attempts to even the full-frontal nudity playing field, but there’s a lot here that I think amounts to window dressing. The Piano frequently gets labelled as a feminist film, and while I can see that from one perspective, it feels like the antithesis of that from another. More importantly, if you remove the fact of Holly Hunter’s muteness and get rid of Harvey Keitel’s nose tattoos, I’m not sure there’s much here that isn’t in pretty much every other romance movie ever.

3. When I watched In the Name of the Father, I said that it wasn’t a great film, but a good film with great performances. I stand by that. It’s also a film that is almost genetically designed to outrage the audience in the way that means it gets nominated for Oscars. We’re supposed to be pissed off watching this movie, and not at the movie, but at the injustice that it portrays throughout its running time. That’s great for getting nominations, but it’s like rooting for the Yankees. It’s not much fun when the deck is stacked in your favor.

2. I was never much of a fan of the Merchant/Ivory movies, but I also contend that in the main, they weren’t really made with me in mind. The Remains of the Day is a beautiful movie, though, the sort that gets a lot of nominations but no wins. Oh, you can say about it what I said about The Piano, probably. Does this really have anything new to say about romantic films? I get that (even if I think it might), but it’s such a beautiful film, so well filmed and so appropriately sad and yearning. I think it’s a masterpiece, and in another year, I could see it winning for James Ivory.

My Choice

1. Let’s be honest here: there’s no way that Schindler’s List wasn’t going to win this Oscar in competition, and I’m not going to be the one to take it away. My knock against Spielberg is that he regularly goes too much for the over-emotional and maudlin, a charge that is impossible to level against a film about the Holocaust. Had Kieslowski been nominated, we might have a slightly different conversation since I think I can make a case for him to win, but Spielberg tackling this subject was going to win provided the film was even moderately good. It’s better than that, and so the win was virtually guaranteed.

Final Analysis


  1. I don't know whether you watch the Crash Course channel on YouTube (it's aimed primarily at high schoolers), but Crash Course Film Criticism just did a good video about "Three Colors: Blue." You might find that video, and perhaps the whole series, interesting.

    Me, I only ever saw "White." The movie is half in French, half in Polish, I think. I understood the French just fine, but I couldn't read the Korean subtitles fast enough to understand the Polish dialogue. Very frustrating.

    1. I haven't seen that channel, although I will take a look.

      I own a copy of Kieslowski's trilogy. Most people will tell you that Red is the best of them, but I disagree. I think Blue, which deals in large part with the nature of grief and of how our past finds its way over and over into our present despite our best wishes, to be truly sublime.

  2. The one name I might add to the mix is Lasse Hallstrom for his work on What's Eating Gilbert Grape. But regardless, it was a much deserved win for Spielberg.

    Regarding Tombstone, substantiated rumours are that star Kurt Russell essentially directed the film after original director Kevin Jarre was fired and Cosmatos was brought in at short notice with no prep time.

    1. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a big favorite of my younger daughter. It's probably a good thing she doesn't read this blog since I didn't include Hallstrom here. For what it's worth, I do tend to like Hallstrom.

  3. Not having seen the Red, White and Blue trilogy, I've meant to for years but haven't made it there yet, I would also go with Schindler's List. As you said the award was as good as Spielberg's the moment the nominations were announced since not only was the film worthy it played into so many of the Academy sweet spots. Then he had Jurassic Park out the same year as additional leverage and up to this point he had come a cropper as far as winning went. They could have inscribed the sucker with his name the film's opening day.

    My quarrel is more what else was nominated than Schindler. The one that is the sorest spot for me is Remains of the Day. I am a huge Merchant/Ivory fan but man I hated that movie with a passion. It was slow and muted to the point of somnambulism, like staring at a beautiful picture for over two hours. It left me with just as bad a headache as if I had done that as well.

    Love the suggestion of The Fugitive. Davis takes what could have been just another action movie and makes it incredibly kinetic, how he was bypassed over the glacial pace set by some of the others I just don't get.

    Anyway I'd scrap the entire rest of the slate. Besides Davis for The Fugitive I'd add John Dahl for Red Rock West, Ang Lee for The Wedding Banquet and either Ivan Reitman for Dave or Ramis for Groundhog Day. It wouldn't have been out of line for Spielberg to get a nom for Jurassic but when there was qualifying work by others why double dip.

    1. I honestly wouldn't have minded a double-dip for Spielberg this year; there are some years where that is warranted for a director, and 1993 certainly might qualify for him.

      Dave is an interesting suggestion. I really like Dave a lot, but mostly because of the screenplay and the very charismatic performances from Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. It's also one of my favorite performances from Frank Langella. I'm not sure I'd put it up for director; I'd rather have Ramis.

      I suppose it says something that you consider yourself a Merchant/Ivory fan and hated Remains of the Day and I'm the opposite on both counts. There has to be something there, right?

    2. I think perhaps a large part of my problem with Remains of the Day is the source material. I've read other Kazuo Ishiguro novels which are full of the same muted measured emotions but in book form he goes much deeper into them than film can. His novels can try the patience but ultimately if you stick with them there's a payoff that doesn't translate in film. I've found what's textured on the page becomes, at least for me, dull on film. I hated the film version of his Never Let Me Go for the same reason.

  4. I have to disagree with you on Altman. I'd have him as a close second to Spielberg for this year. I'd also have him winning in 1992 for The Player (Though I love Unforgiven). I'd probably have him winning in 1975 for Nashville (It's still hard to take that away from Cuckoo's Nest, I admit). Altman did make some clunkers, but I do love the ones he got right.

    1. I agree that Altman made some clunkers, and I agree that he got some very much right. I think Short Cuts is kind of a clunker.

  5. Yep, fully agree with you here. A Kieslowski nomination would've been nice, but this was Spielberg's, no question. You're right, in any other year, Spielberg would've been a lock for a nomination for Jurassic Park. Would've been fun to see him land two in 1993.

    1. It's not often that a director can pull that kind of a two-fer, but Spielberg clearly earned it with those two.

      Really, though, I think there's room for Kieslowski.