Friday, February 15, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2005

The Contenders:

Ang Lee: Brokeback Mountain (winner)
Bennett Miller: Capote
Paul Haggis: Crash
George Clooney: Good Night and Good Luck
Steven Spielberg: Munich

What’s Missing

Once again, we have a year with a surprising number of great movies in it. Unlike many of the times I say this, though, the nominations reflect this surprisingly well. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some room for improvement. As usual, we can start with the ones that will never get a nomination. In this case, we can start with the people the Academy almost certainly wouldn’t nominate. These include David Cronenberg for A History of Violence and Shane Black for the always-entertaining Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The Descent was the wrong genre for 2005, which left out Neil Marshall. While the Academy was willing to consider a film like Batman Begins for acting, it might have been too much to ask to consider it for director. Transamerica was probably too unknown to get any love for Duncan Tucker, something that could probably also be said of Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now. David Slade was probably left out for just how harsh Hard Candy is. Then we have the three that I think could really be here in the sense that they are deserving and that Oscar likes these sorts of films. These include Syriana and Stephen Gaghan, Joe Wright for Pride & Prejudice, and James Mangold’s work on Walk the Line

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I understand why Spielberg was nominated for Munich, but it’s the one nomination here that I think is a significant mistake. Spielberg, of course, is a fine director, but he has his foibles and problems just like anyone. Munich felt like it was a darker turn for the director, and because of that, it doesn’t work nearly as well as he wants it to. It feels like it’s only about two-thirds of a movie, though. It felt to me like it ended long before the credits rolled. You can point fingers wherever you like on that, but some of that responsibility is Spielberg’s.

4. Crash takes a lot of shit for winning, a movie that is a victim of its own success, or at least a victim for being selected over films that were much more the consensus pick. It’s a better movie than people remember, their anger at it winning the big prize blinding them to what is honestly a pretty good film. But it’s not a great one. And beyond that, it’s not a film that is terribly exceptional when it comes to the director’s chair. I’ve got nothing against Paul Haggis, but I’m not sure he belongs here.

3. George Clooney made some really good choices with Good Night and Good Luck, and it’s frankly my favorite movie of these five. But in this case, it’s not what happened on Clooney’s part that makes this worth seeing, but the performances and (my opinion) the most compelling story of its year. While I’d love to give Clooney a great deal of credit for making this story interesting, he doesn’t get that credit. He was smart to film it in black-and-white and smart to let the story tell itself. That’s not a win in my book.

2. Capote is a hell of a movie, in no small part because all of the roles are filled in ways that might be impossible to improve upon. While the film belongs almost entirely to Philip Seymour Hoffman, there is not a weak link in the cast or in the performances. Certainly those actors are credited with a great deal of that, but Bennett Miller needs to get a great deal of that credit as well. When one actor kills a role, we can ascribe it to that actor. When all of them do, the director has to be at least a part of that.

My Choice

1. Ang Lee won this Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, and that’s where I’m going to go with this Oscar as well. There is a great deal that could have gone wrong with this movie, but it never sets a foot wrong. Lee was even lauded in China, a country that still has significant restrictions on same-sex relationships. It’s that good, and a great deal of it comes from the fact that Lee directs this not as (no pun intended) a straight romance. It works because it respects the characters and the forbidden love they have as people, and not as something to gawk at. The Academy picked him, and so do I.

Final Analysis


  1. I'd stack these in the same order though it's a hard choice between Capote and Good Night for second.

    I hated Munich so much, more so because like Good Night and Good Luck it had a fascinating story to tell but unlike that film it made it into a dull slog. So surprising for Spielberg.

    I didn't hate Crash but when it was nominated the buddy I saw it with and I had to rattle our brains to remember what it was about specifically. That should never be the case with something that wins a prize for Best Picture.

    Ang Lee is amazing in his ability to jump genres and cultures and consistently turn in memorable films, he reminds me of Michael Curtiz that way.

    I like your suggestions for alternates especially Joe Wright for Pride & Prejudice. I was surprised he was snubbed, if he'd been nominated he'd be my choice for second place. The only other suggestion I'd have would be Woody Allen for Match Point. Leaving his signature New York after a series of lackluster films the change of scene to England revitalized Woody and he turned out his best film in a long time. He'd never be my winner but it belonged in the running more than Spielberg or Haggis.

    1. I was very close to putting Capote in third. It really came down to the fact that I think all of the performances in it are damn close to career performances. Anyone with any sort of substantive role in that film could've been nominated and I wouldn't have been surprised.

      Michael Curtiz is a fine analogy for Lee. My thought when it comes to a director who can move from genre to genre is Billy Wilder.

      It was a good year. There are a lot of movies that, had they been nominated, I would have thought they were good choices.