Friday, December 5, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2002

The Contenders:
Rob Marshall: Chicago
Martin Scorsese: Gangs of New York
Stephen Daldry: The Hours
Roman Polanski: The Pianist (winner)
Pedro Almodovar: Talk to Her

What’s Missing

The list of five nominees is pretty solid for 2002, but there were a number of other noteworthy films worthy of some consideration. I’m mildly surprised that Spike Jonze wasn’t nominated for Adaptation, and I’m a little surprised (although much less so) that Peter Jackson was skipped over for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I’m still impressed with Todd Haynes’s work on Far From Heaven, and I might also consider Doug Liman for The Bourne Identity and Christopher Nolan for Insomnia, which seems to be sadly forgotten. On the non-English front, both Fernando Meirelles for City of God and Zhang Yimou for Hero could be easily argued for a place on the list (and it's worth noting that City of God was nominated the following year). In the “not Oscar’s style” realm, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II, the best of the series, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were noteworthy. Finally, Steven Spielberg had two good and often underrated films in 2002--Catch Me if You Can and Minority Report.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Sometimes I get the feeling that the Academy gives lifetime achievement awards in the guise of competitive Oscars. That’s very much how I feel with Polanski winning for The Pianist. It wouldn’t be hard to argue Polanski winning before 2002. I tend to like his films, but The Pianist left me cold. It’s a good, potentially great movie, but I don’t love it and don’t see that Polanski’s direction here is noteworthy when compared with Rosemary’s Baby or Chinatown.

4: I also tend to like Pedro Almodovar, and Talk to Her is a hell of a good film. But with that said, I’m not willing to say that Almodovar did anything here beyond tell a good story. I like the story he tells. I just want something more from a Best Director than accurately interpreting a screenplay. I think it’s likely that Pedro Almodovar will win an Oscar for directing (he did win one for this screenplay), but I don’t think Talk to Her is the movie that should do it.

3: I find myself in the position of not wanting to keep repeating myself but almost forced to in discussing Stephen Daldry’s work on The Hours. This is a film I like very much, and I appreciate how seamlessly the three stories blend together. That’s where I give Daldry credit and it’s why he ended up ahead of such luminaries as Polanski and Almodovar here. But as much as I like it, I don’t call it an Oscar-winning performance.

My Choices

2: Gangs of New York is my favorite film of 2002, so it’s hardly a shock that I’d put Scorsese below the fold. There’s always a push for epics when it comes to Best Director, and that’s what this is. It’s a complicated story but beautifully told. It also features a massive and diverse cast used nearly perfect, and a lot of that comes from Scorsese. Had he finally won his Oscar in 2002, I’d have been fine with it, and I think I can make a case that he deserved to win it for this film.

1: So here’s the shocker. I dislike Chicago as a movie and still don’t think it should have won. However, I maintain that while Best Picture is for the best film of the year, Best Director is for, more or less, the best storytelling. As a stage show, Chicago could have just gone with a staged production but Rob Marshall did a lot more. This film is brilliantly put together, keeping a live theater feel but exploiting the cinematic format to its hilt. Chicago should not have won Best Picture, but Rob Marshall deserved to win this.

Final Analysis


  1. Yup. I'm with you on Chicago. Pat and I talked about this whole thing when we did the We Sing Poorly on Chicago. I like Chicago, but it didn't deserve Best Picture for this year. In fact, I would have flipped the two. I think The Pianist should have gotten Best Picture and Rob Marshall Best Director. But I actually loved The Pianist, so...

    Though I also think Adaptation should have been in there, as well. And if City of God could have been in there, that one totally wins them all.

    1. I agree with you on City of God, but since it received a nomination in 2003, it's hard to push for it in 2002.

      I'd have no problem with Adaptation on the ballot. To me, it's the biggest miss.

  2. Among those not nominated, the excellent work that Curtis Hanson did on the moody 8 Mile should have placed him in contention.

    1. I'm honestly not sure how I missed 8 Mile in the write up. Good catch.

  3. I saw four of these movies. I seem to view this category differently than you do. Gangs of New York is way too long and spotty for my liking. Chicago is just mediocre overall. The Hours was good but hardly great. I would vote for Polanski easily, out of the four nominees I saw.

    I am certainly not always in agreement with the oscars. Actually, I thought Two Towers was the best Rings film and would have voted for not nominated Peter Jackson.

    Out of the 4 nominees I saw, I do feel the right decision was made in this case.

    Still , you give a good explanation for your reasoning. Keep up the good work.

    1. I think that's a general concensus. I'm in the minority in not loving The Pianist.

  4. It took 45 minutes for me to get so fed up with Chicago that I simply had to shut it down and return the DVD (yup, it was in those days). I hated that movie in every way possible, so if there is a price for the worst top-budget stinker of the year this one would get it. I think that goes for the director as well. He is after all responsible for the end product.
    The Pianist however remains a favorite of mine. True enough, this may not be the best Polanski ever did, but it is close. My problem with that one is the opposite of yours. It is so gripping that I find it hard to watch it. There is a numbness near the end where I feel almost overloaded and I suppose that is the intention of the film, a tiredness of all the destruction and killing. Polanski orchestrated this and for that he gets the award.

    1. I knew your opinion of Chicago was about the same as mine. Marshall is responsible for what's on screen, but he's not responsible for the script. He's responsible for showing us what's in the script, and I argue that he came at the material in the smartest way he could.

      If I could pick the movie that Polanski would win an Oscar for, it would almost certainly be Chinatown.

  5. Unlike others here, I think the right movie won. I enjoyed Chicago and thought it was directed in an appropriate,flashy and fast manner. Marshall deserved the credit.

    1. I kind of knew I'd get some grief on this choice, mainly because I like The Pianist a lot less than everyone else seems to. I was aware of that going in, but I have to go with the gut, come what may. I don't plan on watching Chicago again because I didn't like it, but Marshall's direction is really outstanding.

  6. I've mentioned before how I have trouble separating Best Picture from Best Director, and this year illustrates it. I am surprised by your choice of Marshall since I knew you didn't care for Chicago that much. You do a good job of explaining why, though.

    I'm almost the opposite of you when it comes to the films. I liked The Pianist and Talk to Her. I hated The Hours and somewhat disliked Gangs of New York. I was thoroughly entertained by Chicago.

    I agree that The Pianist was not as good as a couple prior Polanski films, and he was getting up there in years, but I think he did a really good job with the film. I don't have a problem with him winning.

    1. I think that's a lot of people's opinions. I'm cool with being in the small opposition camp.

  7. Chicago is a feast for eyes and ears that didn't stay with me.
    Gangs of New York is a grand spectacle, but unnecessarily long, contrived, and violent.
    Haven't seen The Hours.
    The Pianist is epic and somber, though Polanski has done better in Repulsion and Chinatown.
    Talk to her is one of Almodovar's harshest and strongest, but not his best.

    So where does that leave me? Adaptation, maybe...

    1. I don't have a huge problem with that. Spike Jonze is the director I think is most missing from this group, and I can see pushing for him winning.

      For me, the fact that Chicago manages to stay true to its stage roots and still capitalize completely on being a film is why Marshall should have walked away with this. It's easy to adapt a play--just adapt the play. Doing more and making it work completely within the context of the film is harder. Marshall gave fans of the show what they wanted and did a lot more and made all of it work. That's impressive, even if I ended up not loving the film itself.

      I'll disagree with you on Gangs of New York. Violent, yes, but I'm never bored watching it and there's not much I'd cut from it.