Friday, March 29, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2008

The Contenders:

David Fincher: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard: Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant: Milk
Stephen Daldry: The Reader
Danny Boyle: Slumdog Millionaire (winner)

What’s Missing

As seems to always be the case, there are plenty of movies from this year that could hace been nominated for the award at hand. There are plenty of good movies from 2008, and a number of them could be clear contenders for the director in question. Unfortunately, most of the directors I would consider here either did foreign language movies or are in genres that tend to get ignored come award season. Let’s start with Martin McDonagh and In Bruges, a movie that should have gotten a lot more attention. The chances were better for Mike Leigh and Happy-Go-Lucky and Courtney Hunt for Frozen River. On the foreign language side, we have Matteo Garrone and his work on Gomorrah, Tomas Alfredson’s work on Let the Right One In, and Kim Jee-woon for The Good, the Bad, the Weird. The one I’d most like to see here is Yojiro Takita for his work on Departures.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I tend to like the work of David Fincher, and I’m always a little surprised that he doesn’t have a directorial Oscar. But he didn’t deserve on for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I don’t think he should have even been nominated. It’s not a terrible movie, but it is one that needs a good, stiff edit. It’s long and bloated and needs to have a good 30 minutes cut out of it. You can blame the editor for something like this if you want, but Fincher needs to get at least some of the blame for a movie that runs far longer than it needs to.

4. The problems I have with The Reader are more about the subject matter of the film than it is specifically with the work of Stephen Daldry, but I also can’t really think of a good reason for why Daldry deserved to be nominated. This isn’t one of those cases where I am angry or offended by the nomination, but a case where I simply don’t understand it. Daldry’s work here is…fine. I would need someone to explain things to me like I’m a young child to understand exactly why Daldry is here.

3. I am a fan of Danny Boyle and I’m happy that he finally got this sort of recognition, but once again we have a case of someone being rewarded for very much the wrong film. One of my former coworkers was so offended by the love shown Slumdog Millionaire (she loved the novel and hated the movie) that she couldn’t bear to look at the DVD case. I don’t hate the movie, but I also think the strength is in the story and the way the story works and not specifically the way in which the story is told. Sorry, Danny—you had other films that deserved this more.

2. Our last two movies here have the disadvantage of being historical in nature, meaning that plenty of people in the audience will know the outcome. For Milk, the story is a much more brutal one, and one that is perhaps less well known to many people. That makes a compelling story, but again, we have a case where it’s much more the performances that are interesting rather than the manner in which the story is told. I like Gus Van Sant’s work here, but he wouldn’t be my choice.

My Choice

1. I’m giving this to Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon. Howard is at his best when he’s dealing with historical stories and telling them in a compelling and interesting way. That was true for Apollo 13, and it’s true for Frost/Nixon. While the history is perhaps less known for several generations than for the average Baby Boomer, it’s not exceptional history. There’s nothing here that is more than just the story of an interview. A great deal of why it works is the way that Ron Howard tells the story. He’s my pick.

Final Analysis


  1. Even if anyone else had been nominated I'd still choose Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon for the reason you stated. What could have been a dry presentation of the facts is a tight fascinating storytelling that engages the audience throughout. The actors are responsible for a great deal of that but it's Howard's skill that pulls it all together.

    I never did get all the acclaim showered on Slumdog Millionaire. I didn't hate it but I found nothing at all special about it.

    1. Ron Howard is an exceptionally capable director, which makes it so frustrating that he also makes crap like The Da Vinci Code. Films like Frost/Nixon show just how good he can be.