Friday, March 9, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1987

The Contenders:

Adrian Lyne: Fatal Attraction
John Boorman: Hope and Glory
Bernardo Bertolucci: The Last Emperor (winner)
Norman Jewison: Moonstruck
Lasse Hallstrom: My Life as a Dog

What’s Missing

The more I do these roundups, the more I realize just how miserable the 1980s were for Oscars. This may be simply my opinion; it is the decade where I came of age, so it’s easy for me to think that the Oscars didn’t represent me at all. Sure, I like a few of the nominations here, but 1987 was such a good year for movies, and that’s just not evident by our Best Director nominations. We can talk about some of the foreign films that didn’t get nominated because of Lasse Hallestrom’s (completely warranted) spot on the list. This would include Louis Malle’s work in Au Revoir, Les Enfants and might include Gabriel Axel and Babette’s Feast, although that’s much more about the story than the direction for me. The clearest and biggest foreign miss is Wim Wenders’s astonishing Wings of Desire. Horror and comedy are often Oscar’s forgotten genres, which leaves out the Coens and Raising Arizona, Alan Parker’s work on Angel Heart and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. Related genres of science fiction and horror are also commonly overlooked, which made nominations for Paul Verhoeven and RoboCop and Rob Reiner for The Princess Bride sadly unlikely. For movies that really had a chance, Oliver Stone and Wall Street feels like a miss, as does Stanley Kubrick’s work on Full Metal Jacket.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. For the life of me, I don’t understand why everyone seems to love Moonstruck as much as they do. To me, it’s a mildly interesting romantic comedy that features a lot of stereotypically screaming Italian people. And it’s a shame because I tend to really like the work of Norman Jewison in general and I’m generally happy when he gets nominated for anything. The more I look at this nomination compared with the films that were ignored, the less I understand why anyone wanted this here. In all honesty, it doesn’t belong.

4. Everything I just said about Norman Jewison and Moonstruck I could happily (or sadly, really) repeat about John Boorman and Hope and Glory. I get that there are some nice shots in this film and I think Boorman does as much as he can with a story that meanders a bit and doesn’t seem to have a point beyond being a piece of someone’s life. It’s a fine movie, bit it’s another case where I look at the finished film and wonder specifically what Boorman did to earn a nomination for himself.

3. With Adrian Lyne and Fatal Attraction I can at least start to understand the nomination. This is a classic thriller with a twist, and a lot of Lyne’s job here was to maintain that sort of thriller feel while giving us something that felt new in a lot of respects. Sure, this story picks at the bones of something like Play Misty for Me a little, but does so with a lot more vicious of an edge. I’d have loved for this to work out a different ending—the “one more time with feeling” reprisal of the killer feels more trite than a movie of this caliber needs.

2. Lasse Hallstrom’s nomination for My Life as a Dog is the first of these nominations that I am absolutely 100% behind. This is an intensely personal movie filmed in an intensely personal style and it works. I like the movie quite a bit, and I especially like the way that Hallstrom tells the story. To me, that’s the essence of Best Director, and while I wouldn’t give him the Oscar, I love that he was nominated, because this is the sort of work that should be recognized. Hallstrom made the story better because of how he told it.

1. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar for The Last Emperor possibly happened because The Last Emperor also won Best Picture, and that’s a common combination. It’s also possible that it won because The Last Emperor is a massive, sweeping epic film that tells a huge story that is also desperately personal. Bertolucci’s triumph here isn’t that he tells a coherent story, it’s that he tells it very well on such a grand scale that feels so personal. I understand his win, and of the nominations, I agree. But I’m not limited to the nominations.

My Choices

I don’t dislike the choices of My Life as a Dog or The Last Emperor, and in an open field, I’d still nominate both. But this blog doesn’t limit itself to the nominations. In a purely open field, I could very easily see handing this to Rob Reiner for The Princess Bride. The genius of the film is how quickly and frequently the audience forgets that this is a story being read to a child. I also love how well it works as an endearing comedy for adults and a pure fantasy adventure for kids. I’d be more likely to give this to Wim Wenders, though, for Wings of Desire, for what is probably the most achingly beautiful film of its decade.

Final Analysis


  1. I wasn't a fan of Wings of Desire when you made me watch it. So this goes to Princess Bride, hands down.

    1. Wings of Desire is admittedly slow, but I think it's beautiful. It's all about immersing in it, not so much about anything else. It's dreamy, and sometimes I like that.

  2. I hated The Last Emperor, it had its moments of beauty (it deserved its wins in costume & art direction) but I found it endless and by the conclusion I couldn't have cared less about the characters or the film. I will admit I had a bad experience with it. I was managing a theatre when it was out and the film caught fire during a matinee and caused no end of commotion though thankfully no damage (except to the film). So I'm not kindly disposed to it but I wasn't a fan even before the incident.

    Of the others nominated I'd give them all the heave-ho.

    I do like Moonstruck more than you but agree Jewison doesn't belong here, the only one of its nominations I'd support is Olympia Dukakis's ace work as the matriarch. Cher's was a make up for being ignored for her deserving work in Mask.

    I just saw Wings of Desire within the last month, I wasn't as enraptured as you but a nomination for it wouldn't be out of place. I'm all for Malle's work on Au revoir les enfants which it seems incredible to be left out considering the other places it did show up in the noms that year.

    I'd add Woody Allen who was able to capture a real sense of the wonder of childhood and memory in the lovely Radio Days. While I don't think No Way Out is Oscar's kind of film and doesn't really belong there anywhere else Roger Donaldson does a great job of making its often preposterous story propulsive, involving and taut. I'd never say he deserved to win but it's an excellent job of direction. I'd also add James Ivory who made the stately Maurice everything Last Emperor wasn't.

    But the omission that is most glaring, even more than Reiner, is James L. Brooks for Broadcast News. The film was showered with nominations in every other major category but not direction! How? Did all that good work create itself in a vacuum? I don't feel that a film that gets a nomination for Best Picture should automatically score a director nod but when it gets nominations in actor, actress and supporting actor as well than someone was steering the ship to that sort of excellence. He'd be my winner.

  3. I considered Radio Days, but for me, the real joy of that film is the screenplay, which remains my favorite of Allen's screenplays. It's well directed, but I don't know how much the direction is more than just good.

    I hated Broadcast News. In fact, I hated it so much that it's probably responsible for my disliking Holly Hunter on sight for years, since I associated her with it. Say what you will about it, I've never understood why it earned the nominations it did.