Friday, June 20, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1982

The Contenders:
Wolfgang Peterson: Das Boot
Steven Spielberg: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Richard Attenborough: Gandhi (winner)
Sydney Pollack: Tootsie
Sidney Lumet: The Verdict

What’s Missing

Before movie studios started backloading their catalogs in an effort to gain Oscar nominations, the greatest single month of movies (in my opinion) was June, 1982. Within three weeks of each other, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing, Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Poltergeist were released. Of those, only one received a nomination for director. The Academy’s bias against horror kept John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper out of the running. The bias against science fiction negated Nicholas Meyer’s chances. That and the crappy voiceover killed the nomination of Ridley Scott. Who else got snubbed? How about Ingmar Bergman for Fanny and Alexander? How about Werner Herzog for Fitzcarraldo?

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Best month of film ever notwithstanding, I’m punting E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial off the top as the film least deserving of this nomination. There are plenty of films where Steven Spielberg deserved a nomination, including a few he wasn’t nominated for, but this is one he didn’t deserve at all. There’s nothing particularly terrible about it, but there’s also nothing really exceptional in the direction that I can see. It’s fine, but except for specific Spielberg touches, this isn’t a film that couldn’t have been as good in someone else’s hands.

4: I have the same complaint with Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict. There’s nothing particularly terrible about this film, but there’s also nothing particularly great about it. There are significant story problems with the film, and I have trouble taking it seriously. Again, while I don’t really have a lot of negatives regarding the direction here, I also don’t really have a lot of positives. I like the way the ending was handled—the bit after the trial—but that’s not nearly enough to raise it to the level of Best Director.

3: There is an evident sense that a well-made epic deserves a nod for the director. That’s almost certainly the case with our winner, Richard Attenborough for Gandhi. Attenborough almost certainly benefited by directing the film that eventually won the Oscar, but did he really deserve to? He gets a lot of credit for managing to keep the whole story coherent and putting the thing on the screen, but so what? The biggest problem with Gandhi is that it’s too damn long in the first place and not a film that bears a lot of rewatching. I don’t think he gets this Oscar if the votes were tallied today. He probably still gets a nomination, but not the statue.

2: Tootsie is a smart movie from start to finish, and I appreciate that about it. There’s a lot to like in the direction as well. Pollack tells the story well, and for me, that’s what this award is all about. I like that he focuses on things that aren’t always a part of the main story. I appreciate how well the humor works in the context of a film that isn’t always funny or trying to be funny. More than that, I like how subtle it frequently is. We’re given moments of humor that we have to find the funny in rather than having neon signs pointing to the jokes. Sydney Pollack treats his audience like it has a brain, and that’s a good thing.

My Choice

1: For me, though, there is really only one choice for this award based on the five nominees. I’d have loved to have seen a nomination for Werner Herzog, and had he been nominated for Fitzcarraldo, I’d have had a hard time choosing. But of the five we have, Wolfgang Peterson’s work on Das Boot is far and away the best of the bunch, and I think the best directorial performance of 1982. This is a movie I can’t sit to watch. I can sit for parts, but the claustrophobia runs thick in it, and all of that comes from Peterson, who manages to make the submarine a character in its own right. He was robbed here, and I think anyone who has seen both this and Gandhi knows it.

Final Analysis


  1. I think Das Boot and Gandhi are both very impressive films, so I would have a difficult time choosing between them. Like you, I wasn't overly impressed with E.T. or The Verdict, but I'm also not that much of a fan of Tootsie, either.

  2. This would be a tough call in the Best Picture category. But since you are doing Best Director, I think your choice of Peterson is a very sound one. But how often has the Academy given this award to a non-English language film? Ever?

  3. Again I may be mixing up cinematography, script and direction, but for me it is a toss up between Bladerunner and Das Boot. Both feel incredibly original despite representing well established genres. I like E.T. but you are right, most directors would get the same out of this film.

    1. @Kim--Gandhi may well be impressive, but beyond keeping the whole thing coherent, I don't see it as being particularly impressive from a directorial standpoint.

      @Chris--They've given this award to directors whose first language is not English, but never to a non-English language film. Nominations themselves are rare as hell.

      @TSor--The problem with Blade Runner is the theatrical release, which is substandard. Based on the director's cut, I'd agree with you.

  4. Finally, we hit a year where I have seen all the nominated films. I'm with you all the way on this one.

    1. If you want to work ahead, it's extremely likely that next week will be one of the Best Actress years where I've seen everything.

      I think a case could be made for some of the other films, but I don't think I'm capable of making that case.

    2. If it's the one I'm thinking of there's a film on there I have been avoiding and I think I'm going to go right on avoiding it. Will look forward to your ratings though!

    3. Based on the two years of Actress I have done and what's in them, I'm thinking it's the other year.

  5. I'd definitely go with Das Boot, too. Tootsie wouldn't be my number two because I think it's overrated. It's not a bad film, but I never got all the acclaim it received. I thought it was mostly a one joke movie where the joke got tired after a while. I understand the win for Gandhi. It's both because the movie won Best Picture and because of the "epicness" of it, which people like to reward directors for.

    1. I think that frequently the directors of epics get credit for holding it all together. There are times when they do more than that--and those are the times when I think the Oscar (and the nomination) are warranted.

  6. Within three weeks of each other, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing, Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Poltergeist were released.

    Holy cow! That *is* incredible.

    1. It's absolutely my favorite month of movies ever.
      June 4: Poltergeist, Star Trek II
      June 11: E.T.
      June 25: Blade Runner, The Thing

      I saw four of them in the theater when I was 14. It was a hell of a month!