Friday, December 19, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1992

The Contenders:
Neil Jordan: The Crying Game
James Ivory: Howards End
Robert Altman: The Player
Martin Brest: Scent of a Woman
Clint Eastwood: Unforgiven

What’s Missing

It would seem that 1992 was a pretty good year for film, but Best Director is traditionally limited to five entries, which means we’ve got some people left off here. In terms of the movies left off, the best unrepresented film from this year in this category is James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross. I’d also put Rob Reiner for A Few Good Men into the mix, because I think it’s a well-directed film. Quentin Tarantino was still too new to get much attention for Reservoir Dogs, but this feels like a film where he deserved a little consideration. I’ll also put Jonathan Lynn for My Cousin Vinny and Penny Marshall for A League of Their Own as possible choices as well. I haven’t seen Malcolm X, so I can’t comment on Spike Lee. I like Sneakers, but don’t think the direction is all that spectacular. I also feel like I should mention Far and Away, if only for Jason Soto.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Scent of a Woman is not my least favorite film of the five here, but it’s the one nominated for Best Director that makes me scratch my head the most. My memories of this film are of it being too long and overwrought. I also remember a lot of classic Al Pacino overacting and scenery chewing. It’s a pretty good movie, but it’s not a great one, and when we’re talking about naming the best directorial performance of a given year, it really should be a great one, and I should be able to tell exactly what the director did. I can’t here.

4: At the very least, with Howards End I can see the director’s influence on the film being shown. I can’t say that I like it much, but Merchant/Ivory pictures aren’t made for me, even a little. I didn’t really have much hope for this going in, and I didn’t love it. It’s a consisten look, though, and the story is well told even if I don’t like the story that much. I can’t fault James Ivory for turning out the movie he did with this one. I can say that I have no desire to watch it again, which is why I wouldn’t give him a statue.

3: I have a love/hate relationship with Robert Altman. Sometimes, the man is brilliant and he tells a great, complicated story. Sometimes he just confuses me. The Player is one of his best films and it’s the first of these nominations I’m happy to see in the mix. I think this is a wonderful skewering of the Hollywood system, and Altman gets fantastic performances out of everyone in his extensive cast. There’s a lot to love here, and Altman is rarely this focused or coherent, which is noteworthy. It’s a great effort, but not the best of 1992.

2: One of the great things about The Crying Game is that even if the viewer knows the big twist, the film still works completely. I knew the “shock” moment before I watched it, and I still found the entire thing compelling. Much of the credit for that goes to the performances and to the screenplay, but a lot of credit goes to Neil Jordan as well. Movies that work based on a shock moment or sudden turn tend not to have a great deal of replay value, but The Crying Game does, and Jordan gets the lion’s share of the credit for this film’s rewatchability.

My Choice

1: But there really is only one choice for Best Director in 1992, and the Academy got this one right. Clint Eastwood deserved to be recognized for what he did with the Western genre in Unforgiven and for coaxing such real and natural performances out of his cast. I often forget just how deep this film is and how richly textured it is on the screen. Eastwood made pretty much every right choice he could in putting this film together, and the Academy was right to recognize his efforts.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree that Unforgiven was the right choice out of the five options. On the other hand, the real winner should have been Spike Lee for Malcolm X. I'm surprised that it isn't part of the 1,001 movies book. It's his best film and a slight notch about Do the Right Thing for me.

    1. I need to get to Malcolm X. Right now, Do the Right Thing is my favorite Lee film, with Inside Man in second place.

  2. I agree with Dan on Malcolm X. I consider it Lee's best overall film. (Inside Man is my favorite Lee film just because it's more fun to watch.)

    I'm being a broken record here, but I'm prefacing this with my usual disclaimer that I have trouble separating director from film. I should probably make this my last such declaration, or simply stop commenting when the post is on a Best Director choice.

    I really don't disagree with a single thing you said on Unforgiven, The Crying Game, and The Player. I will say that when I read the five nominees at the top of the post my immediate choice was Altman, both for managing the large cast and for keeping the intricate story threads going without losing them. One dropped piece and the entire film's point would have not been made.

    1. I like The Player, and I think it's my favorite Altman film, if not specifically his "best" film. I'd hear arguments for it winning, because it is really well done, but my vote would still go to Eastwood. Unforgiven is a re-invention of its genre, and Eastwood manages to root it in the past and still move it into the future.

  3. In the early nineties I would have agreed with you, but twenty some years later it is the Crying Game I remember. Probably because The Unforgiven started a lavine of brutal, harsh and realistic films, but I still have not seen anything like the Crying Game. I know that is more of a Best Picture critique, but a lot of that hangs on the director.

    1. I can see that, and my ranking of The Crying Game second here indicates I agree to some extent. It's a hell of a good movie all the way around, and a lot of that comes from the direction.

  4. I totally agree with you on Unforgiven. For me, the only real competition would be Spike Lee for Malcolm X, but for some reason he wasn't nominated.

    1. I think there was a time when Spike Lee made the Academy very nervous. Couple that with a biopic about one of the more controversial figures of the Civil Rights movement, and I think we might have our reason.