Friday, March 13, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1985

The Contenders:

Hector Babenco: Kiss of the Spider Woman
Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa (winner)
John Huston: Prizzi’s Honor
Akira Kurosawa: Ran
Peter Weir: Witness

What’s Missing

Oh 1985, you so crazy! Seriously, though 1985 is the sort of year that can shake the faith of anyone who watches the Oscars with any amount of interest. Directors who were not merely snubbed but kicked to the curb include Robert Zemeckis for Back to the Future, Terry Gilliam for Brazil, Elem Klimov for Idi i Smotri and Paul Schrader for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I might throw in Woody Allen for The Purple Rose of Cairo, Juzo Itami for Tampopo, Agnes Varda for Vagabond, Andrei Konchalovsky for Runaway Train and even William Friedkin for To Live and Die in L.A. before I’d nominate a lot of what actually got nominated. I’m also absolutely certain that I’ve forgotten a bunch, since The Breakfast Club, Ladyhawke, Silverado, and The Goonies are from the same year, as is Shoah, which couldn’t even manage a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Witness? Really? This is a film that featured better direction than Brazil? The only minor innovation here is that we’re dealing with Amish people instead of people who actually use technology, and that comes from the screenplay and not the direction. I can’t think of a single thing that Peter Weir did to make this film better than the screenplay it started with. I don’t dislike Witness at all, but Weir’s nomination makes no sense to me.

4: Prizzi’s Honor? Really? This film features more interesting directorial choices than Mishima? I get the feeling that this was nominated because it was directed by John Huston and the Academy wanted to honor the man’s career. Don’t get me wrong; I love John Huston as much as anyone and there were plenty of films in his career that deserved nominations. Prizzi’s Honor wasn’t one of them, though. If you want to honor the man, give him an honorary Oscar. Don’t take away a nomination from someone who really deserved it.

3: At least Out of Africa is pretty. I’ll give it that. What it isn’t, at least in my opinion, is interesting. This is a bloated movie that doesn’t even really get started on what everyone wants to see (the romance) until the film has already played out for two hours. All of the reasons this film is worth watching belong not to our eventual winner Sydney Pollack, but to his cinematographer, David Watkin. Watkin won the Oscar and deserved it. Pollack won and didn’t deserve it.

2: Kiss of the Spider Woman is a film that I respect a hell of a lot more than I like. There are some good choices made in the creation of this film, and I respect the ideas that the film was made with. This is the first film that was nominated that I can kind of understand the nomination for, but if I was asked to come up with the five directorial performances of 1985, I don’t think that this would make my list. It’s a good effort, but I’m not convinced that it’s a great one.

My Choice

1: Finally, with Ran and Akira Kurosawa, we get to a film where the director absolutely deserved to be nominated. I like Ran a lot, and a great deal of what I like about it is the way that Kurosawa tells the story. I’m not someone likely to push the pleasures of King Lear in particular, but make it with samurai and do it in color, and I’m transfixed by it. Ran demonstrated that Kurosawa, thought to be washed up, still had gas in the tank. I ultimately might not give him the statue, but he definitely belongs in the conversation. For me, it’s a toss-up between Kurosawa and Terry Gilliam, but since ties always go to the Academy, the Academy misses a complete fuck up by the narrowest of margins.

Final Analysis


  1. I knew without even having to read this article exactly how it would go down, and that's exactly what happened. I've only seen Out of Africa and Witness of these, and I'm with you on both of them. I think Ran might be my biggest Kurosawa blindspot currently, and I need to get to that one eventually.

    1. I think you'd like Ran because it has a lot of things in it that would connect with you. There's the Shakespeare connection for one thing and then there's the whole samurai thing.

  2. You left Spielberg of of the contenders list. His film had 11 Academy Award nominations and his absence from the list was a huge issue. I don't think he should have won but to be ignored a second time 30 years later on your list will hurt.

    1. Oh, I didn't forget Spielberg. I don't think The Color Purple is worthy of contention. It's not a film I like at all or in any aspect.

  3. I can't disagree with Ran, but once again Oscar doesn't like to give this award to foreign language films. I also like the choice of Brazil. I wouldn't necessarily give it Best Picture, but I think it should have gotten more consideration for Best Director. I liked Huston's nomination, though I don't think he should have won for this one. Oscar did right by giving him the award for Treasure of the Sierra Madre already. Kiss of the Spider Woman I really liked the second time around more than the first and it would be high up on my list for best director, too.

    1. I think Gilliam's repeated snubs are evidence that the Academy holds grudges. They did the same thing to Orson Welles once Welles got his career started.

  4. If it was any other year, I think I'd have trouble picking a winner, but narrowing it down to five I'd come up with Ran, Come and See, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Brazil and Runaway Train. I saw Runaway Train a few months ago and I was entranced! I was kind of mad at myself for not seeing it sooner!

    But it's 1985, so Brazil is the Best Film and Terry Gilliam wins Best Director.

    And for the record, Out of Africa is my pick for Worst Best Picture Winner.

    1. I like Runaway Train quite a bit. It's currently streaming, and I've been toying around with the idea of getting back to it again. It's a hell of a good adventure film.

  5. This is a tough one for me because some of the well-liked and/or well-respected films of this year are not ones that I think as highly of as the majority. I can see why Brazil got so many people talking, and I liked it, but I didn't think it was all that. (Coincidentally, I just saw Gilliam's latest film The Zero Theorem over the weekend and it's essentially a semi-remake of Brazil, or at least a close cousin to it.) I felt Come and See was filled a with a lot of stunning visuals in search of enough plot to sustain them. I liked Ran, but I felt Kurosawa's nomination was a "career Oscar" kind of nomination and I was kind of surprised he didn't win. He had done a lot better earlier in his career, though.

    One that I definitely think is worth all the shouting is Back to the Future. It was enormously entertaining and I've seen it several times since. It would be my favorite film of that year.

    Among the nominees none of the five would get a ringing endorsement from me. I like all five, but out of all of them I've only ever felt the desire to see Witness a second time. And being brutally honest that was because I was a young man, it was the pre-internet days, and I was interested in seeing the Kelly McGillis bathtub scene again.

    In a gun to my head, gotta pick one of the nominees situation, I do agree with you that Kurosawa's effort was the one that impresses the most because of the scope of it and because he was nearing the end of his career.

    1. I agree that Kurosawa did better earlier in his career. I'd pick Rashomon, Throne of Blood, The Seven Samurai and Ikiru over Ran, which is hardly a knock on Ran at all.

      I do think Zemeckis should have gotten some consideration here. I know you're not a Brazil fan, but even so, Gilliam does a lot in that film as the director. I like the film, but it's a case where I think someone who doesn't like the film has to separate the story from the way the story is told. I won't defend it to you, but I think it's a hell of a good film, and a lot of that is specifically because of Gilliam.

      If I had to nominate five, they'd probably be Kurosawa, Gilliam, Zemeckis, Paul Schrader (for Mishima) and a player to be named later, probably either Konchalovsky (Runaway Train) or Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A., which has been sadly forgotten). Okay, in a perfect world. I'd probably nominate Juzo Itami for Tampopo.

    2. To clarify, I like Brazil; I just don't love it.

      I've never seen Runaway Train. It's one of those "someday" films. I think it was a finalist among the movies you might have picked for me to watch and review.

      I like To Live and Die in L.A. If nothing else, it shows in detail how to counterfeit money and it has a heck of a car chase (the first "wrong way on an onramp/freeway" scene I ever remember seeing that has unfortunately now been done to death since.)

    3. The car chase is the great scene in To Live and Die in L.A. and it is the first film to have that particular twist. As you say, it's been done to death now, but this is where it started.

      Runaway Train is currently streaming (and NetFlix doesn't have it on disc). It's got a lot going for it.