Friday, October 26, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1995

The Contenders:

Chris Noonan: Babe
Mel Gibson: Braveheart (winner)
Tim Robbins: Dead Man Walking
Mike Figgis: Leaving Las Vegas
Michael Radford: Il Postino

What’s Missing

Best Director 1995 is such a frustrating category. Look at the five movies listed above. It’s a fine collection of movies, but for a year this good, it’s not that representative. Based on the sorts of movies that Oscar typically likes, it’s not a bad list, but there’s a lot here worth considering. As typical, let’s start with the movies that, for one reason or another, will get left out of Oscar’s consideration. We can start with Todd Haynes and Safe (not nearly a big enough movie), Terry Gilliam and Twelve Monkeys (science fiction and Oscar hates Gilliam), Barry Sonnenfeld and Get Shorty (comedy), Kathryn Bigelow and Strange Days (science fiction and a female director), and Jim Jarmusch and Dead Man (the Academy apparently hates Jarmusch, too). It’s possible that no one knew what Richard Linklater was doing with Before Sunrise, which caused it to be overlooked. Emir Kusturica and Underground may not have been seen enough to get much play. With all of that out of the way, I’d suggest three directors for serious consideration. These are David Fincher for Se7en, Ron Howard for Apollo 13, and Martin Scorsese for Casino.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Let’s be honest about the movies that we have here: Babe didn’t really belong at the Oscars. It’s a sweet movie, very cute, wholly entertaining, and not a great deal more. I mean, on one level, I rather like that it earned nominations, because in that sense it’s nice to see Oscar rewarding a film that is simply well-made and really, really good. On the other hand, with the snubs for this category, there’s nothing here worth the nomination. Okay, so working with animals is hard. And? There needs to be more for me to consider this a serious nomination.

4. Il Postino took up the “non-English nomination” slot here and it’s a very good movie. It’s sweet and heartfelt and rather beautiful. At the same time, I can’t help but think that the nomination here comes more from the story behind the film than the film itself. It is both tragic and in its own way artistically beautiful that star Massimo Troisi died less than 24 hours after filming wrapped on this movie, and that he died in many ways because of this movie. How that reflects on Michael Radford is beyond me.

3. I’ll happily admit that there are parts of Braveheart that are pretty great. I don’t really understand why Mel Gibson decided that William Wallace needed to be seen as a founder of American democracy, though, aside from that seems to be a part of Mel’s weird, insular worldview. The battle sequences are an achievement, I will happily admit. And yet, beyond that, there’s not a great deal here for me to get excited about when it comes to the direction. It was the flavor of the month, which is why Gibson won. He shouldn’t have.

2. Ultimately, the director is responsible for everything we see on the screen in one way or another. That fact is what keeps Tim Robbins off the top spot for me with Dead Man Walking. This is very much a performance piece, and it’s clearly a vehicle for both Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. The problem for me is that this movie takes forever to end. We know where this is going to go, and yet it just keeps going and going, getting us to the point that we know is coming. It seems gratuitous, and Robbins should have known better.

1. This means that for the nominations, we’re left with Mike Figgis and Leaving Las Vegas The reason that he, based on the nominations, would get my vote is the same reason that Tim Robbins didn’t. Everything on the screen is his responsibility in one way or another, and this is a film that has multiple career performances. Given an open field, Figgis doesn’t win, but given the five nominations that we are given, I can’t really see going somewhere else. In an open field, Figgis would get a nomination from me, but he wouldn’t win.

My Choice

I cannot fathom why Ron Howard was not nominated for Apollo 13. I freely admit that I am a NASA junkie and that any movie that features NASA in this sort of light is going to get a lot of passes from me. But consider the fact that anyone with any knowledge of the space program knew the ultimate result of these events, and we still have a movie that is compelling, exciting, and filled with drama. That’s an amazing thing, and while it’s great that Howard eventually did win an Oscar for his work, this is the one that he should have one. I think it’s his best work in a damn good career, and it’s my clear winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I can’t speak to Il Postino because I still haven’t seen it, must correct that, but otherwise I’m not crazy for these films at least as far as nominations go.

    Babe is a sweet little fable but there is no way in hell it rates a director nomination. I HATED Braveheart with a passion, finding it both stupid and self-indulgent. Dead Man Walking is about the performances not the direction which is true of Leaving Las Vegas. I didn’t enjoy either film from an entertainment standpoint but I suppose if one has to come out on top that Leaving is probably the best directed of the bunch….he says unenthusiastically. It’s a year where nothing that received an actual nomination would be something that I would have chosen.

    Some that you mentioned I’m not a fan of (Before Sunrise, Dead Man and Strange Days) but there are several that would have made better choices.

    My list would run this way though:

    Alfonso Arau-A Walk in the Clouds (It’s not a great film but Arau lush sense of romanticism makes what could have been a bland love story much more)
    Terry Gilliam-12 Monkeys
    Amy Heckerling-Clueless
    Ron Howard-Apollo 13
    Ang Lee-Sense and Sensibility

    I’m really torn between Apollo 13 and S&S which are both beautifully directed films but I think I’d land on Apollo’s side for exactly the reasons you enumerated. I remember sitting in the theatre being well aware of the outcome and still being on the edge of my seat, it’s very much like Hidden Figures in that way.

    1. Both Sense and Sensibility and Clueless are great suggestions and clear misses on my part in the opening paragraph. Sometimes I go through the possibilities too quickly and I miss a few.

  2. I'm with you on Figgis being the best choice out of the nominees. In an open field, though, Fincher gets my vote for Se7en. What he does with that film is masterful. Others I really like:

    Martin Scorsese - Casino
    Michael Mann - Heat (the next biggest snub after Se7en & Casino)
    The Hughes Brothers - Dead Presidents (way underrated, imho)
    Larry Clark - Kids (probably just too hard to watch)

    1. Heat is a huge miss on my part. I'm actually shocked that I missed it, since I tend to be a Michael Mann apologist.

      That's three that I've missed on that deserved to be here, not including the unnominated film that I think should have won. Add in Fincher--who would almost certainly be my runner-up--and you've got a completely new set of nominations, all of whom deserved this more than the five we got. Man, Oscar sucks sometimes!

  3. I agree with most of the above comments in that many of the best for this category were overlooked. Michael Mann, David Fincher, Terry Gilliam and Scorsese would all be fine choices. I may need an Apollo 13 re-watch.

  4. Catching up on some posts. :-)

    Apollo 13 for the win. Howard's direction is really excellent, layering on the suspense in a story you know the ending to, and giving you a front row seat on an Apollo flight. Plus, they filmed much of it on the Vomit Comet to get actual weightlessness. Who does that? No contest here.