Jim Sheridan: In the Name of the Father
Jane Campion: The Piano
James Ivory: The Remains of the Day
Steven Spielberg: Schindler’s List (winner)
Robert Altman: Short Cuts
Like all Oscar categories, Best Director is really subjective both in terms of nominations and in terms of snubs. I think, for instance, you can make an interesting case for Martin Scorsese going far afield with a film like The Age of Innocence. You can also say that while Spielberg was a lock for a nomination for Schindler’s List, in virtually every other year, he’d be a nomination lock for Jurassic Park. There are three movies from 1993 I love that won’t typically get any play for this award despite their directors’ solid work. We can start this part of the list with George P. Cosmatos and the over-the-top and ridiculously fun Tombstone. Also included here is the surprisingly effective The Fugitive from Andrew Davis, which was the only film evidently good enough to be nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director. I’d conclude this trio with Harold Ramis and Groundhog Day, a film that is still as good now as it was 25 years ago. If I can only add one director, though, I’m adding Krzysztof Kieslowski and his work on the stunning Three Colors: Blue.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I have an odd relationship to the films of Robert Altman, and Short Cuts is a film that very much ends up on the shorter end of the stick. One of the problems I tend to have with Altman is that so many of his films have so many characters that it becomes almost impossible to keep track of everyone. That’s certainly the case here. Short Cuts feels like three weeks out of a soap opera, like we got about a month’s worth of stories in a much larger narrative that we’re never going to see. That’s a problem.
4. I’m very conflicted with The Piano. I appreciate the fact that this is a film that attempts to even the full-frontal nudity playing field, but there’s a lot here that I think amounts to window dressing. The Piano frequently gets labelled as a feminist film, and while I can see that from one perspective, it feels like the antithesis of that from another. More importantly, if you remove the fact of Holly Hunter’s muteness and get rid of Harvey Keitel’s nose tattoos, I’m not sure there’s much here that isn’t in pretty much every other romance movie ever.
3. When I watched In the Name of the Father, I said that it wasn’t a great film, but a good film with great performances. I stand by that. It’s also a film that is almost genetically designed to outrage the audience in the way that means it gets nominated for Oscars. We’re supposed to be pissed off watching this movie, and not at the movie, but at the injustice that it portrays throughout its running time. That’s great for getting nominations, but it’s like rooting for the Yankees. It’s not much fun when the deck is stacked in your favor.
2. I was never much of a fan of the Merchant/Ivory movies, but I also contend that in the main, they weren’t really made with me in mind. The Remains of the Day is a beautiful movie, though, the sort that gets a lot of nominations but no wins. Oh, you can say about it what I said about The Piano, probably. Does this really have anything new to say about romantic films? I get that (even if I think it might), but it’s such a beautiful film, so well filmed and so appropriately sad and yearning. I think it’s a masterpiece, and in another year, I could see it winning for James Ivory.
1. Let’s be honest here: there’s no way that Schindler’s List wasn’t going to win this Oscar in competition, and I’m not going to be the one to take it away. My knock against Spielberg is that he regularly goes too much for the over-emotional and maudlin, a charge that is impossible to level against a film about the Holocaust. Had Kieslowski been nominated, we might have a slightly different conversation since I think I can make a case for him to win, but Spielberg tackling this subject was going to win provided the film was even moderately good. It’s better than that, and so the win was virtually guaranteed.