The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1989
1989. A number. Another summer. Why that wasn’t nominated, I have no idea. But, you know, shit happens.
1989 goes down as one of the worst Best Picture choices of all time, and rightfully so. It was a terrible choice. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a Best Picture movie. The movie was Driving Miss Daisy, which beat out such films as My Left Foot, Field of Dreams, Born on the Fourth of July and Dead Poet’s Society to win Best Picture. It’s the last (and really only) film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. Not win. Nomination. The only other films to do that are Grand Hotel (which only got the one nomination for Best Picture) and Wings (which was in first Oscar year). Both of those came really before the Academy figured themselves out. Assuming the Oscars as we know them really started in 1934, Driving Miss Daisy is the only film to win Best Picture without even a Best Director nomination. Thus ends the bad decisions of the 80s. Then the 90s came and they only made mistakes on like, two out of the ten years. Which is pretty good.
Best Actor went to Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot, and Brenda Fricker won Best Supporting Actress for that film as well. Best Actress went to Jessica Tandy for Miss Daisy, because — well, she was old. Best Supporting Actor went to Denzel Washington for Glory. Not really bad decisions on anything except Best Picture there. I mean, Tandy wasn’t the best choice, but the category didn’t have a clear winner to take away from the sentimentality of the veteran nomination. So, you know, it doesn’t seem so bad.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1989
And the nominees were…
Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors
Kenneth Branagh, Henry V
Jim Sheridan, My Left Foot
Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July
Peter Weir, Dead Poet’s Society
Allen — It’s a Woody Allen movie. You know what that means. I don’t like it, nor do I understand why it was nominated. This movie, I think, is meant to be a “love and death” kind of movie. Half of it is a straight drama, while the other half is (allegedly) a comedy. The first half has to do with Martin Landau, a prominent eye doctor who has an affair with Anjelica Huston. And she really wants him to leave his wife, which is something he promised her he would do. But he finds himself unable to do it, so she starts making phone calls and basically tells him she’s gonna tell his wife about the affair. So what he does is get his brother to hire someone to kill her. And the guy does. And he goes over after he has a change of heart, but the deed is already done. So he’s horrified, then goes home and has to live with himself. That’s it. That’s the story. I know. I don’t really get it either.
Then the other half, which, for me is the half that salvages whatever movie is in here, has to do with Woody Allen. He’s a documentarian, trying to make a movie about some Jewish philosopher that no one really knows about. But instead, he’s hired to document Alan Alda, who is a famous producer who wants to make a film about his accomplishments. Now, I didn’t like this part either, but what saved it is how fucking awesomely douchey Alan Alda is in this movie. The man is a complete schmuck, and it’s awesome. Like, he’ll sit there and just say all this ridiculous shit, like, “Comedy is tragedy plus time,” and “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.” And the whole time Woody Allen is shooting the thing to make him look like a complete ass. He covertly films him hitting on his secretary and getting shot down. Things like that. He edits the movie to make him look like Mussolini. The part wasn’t insanely funny, but it did make up for whatever the hell the other half was. I’m sure there was some big analytical reason for doing this, but, that’s not my job here. My job here is to vote on how much I liked the direction. Which is to say, I didn’t. Come on, you know me. I’m never gonna vote for a Woody Allen movie to win for directing.
Branagh — Oh, Kenneth Branagh. How you want to be Laurence Olivier so badly. It’s really funny just how badly he wants to be Olivier. Dude’s first movie he directed is the same first movie as Olivier. Not subtle at all.
I will say, though, as much as I hate Shakespeare, I did enjoy this film. Marginally. 3 stars. But still, normally I can’t even sit through a Shakespeare film. So that’s something. It was also pretty well directed. They made the stage play look pretty good on film. He even managed to make the really boring parts mostly interesting. Hats off for that. But I’ll sum it up by saying — if Olivier didn’t win for directing a movie about Henry V, Kenneth Branagh sure the hell ain’t. No vote. Compliments, though.
Sheridan — I fucking love this movie. This movie is absolutely perfect. Jim Sheridan knows how to take a movie and make it personal. He knows how to make movies out of scenes. For instance, In America isn’t so much a straight plot as much as it is a glimpse into the life of this Irish family as they try to make it in the U.S. He gives you these scenes and these characters and breathes such life to them that it’s so great to watch. This is like that, only much, much different.
In case you didn’t know, the film is about Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, and only had control over his left foot. The film shows him growing up, from being a kid whom the family assumed was stupid, to a renowned painter. We first see him as a child, and we see the family operating and him just being there. And his siblings tolerate him, occasionally getting upset at him, you know, like a regular family. And the neighborhood kids are mostly nice to him. He sits in this wheelbarrow, almost, and they push him around and stuff. They discover he can use his foot, so they have him kick when they play soccer. Things like that. And then there’s this wonderful scene where the family is at home, and he’s screaming, because they can’t understand him, and then finally, he gets a piece of chalk and writes on the floor what he wants. That is the most amazing fucking scene in this movie, it’s so well done. The movie is so fucking uplifting. And all the performances in it are spot on. There’s one I didn’t care for so much, but, whatever. It’s not a dealbreaker. What Daniel Day-Lewis and the kid who plays him when he’s younger is just astounding. Really. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough.
As for the direction, I say it’s worth a vote. Because even if parts of it may seem as though they don’t stand out, the amount of emotion the direction elicits from the viewer counts for so much. It takes skill to be able to elicit that kind of emotion from the viewer, which is why Spielberg is such a good director. Jim Sheridan is like the anti-Spielberg. Spielberg takes big stories and makes them emotional. Sheridan takes really small stories and makes them emotional. They’re two sides to the same coin. And this film, I think, along with In America, are Jim Sheridan’s finest moments, and since he was nominated for Best Director for this one and not that one (and since Oliver Stone already had an Oscar), I say he’s the one that should have won this.
Stone — Okay, let’s get the film recap out of the way first before I get into my thoughts. It’s about Tom Cruise as a young man who enlists to fight in Vietnam right out of high school. He gets shot and is paralyzed. Loses his legs. And we see him dealing with that for most of the middle of the film. Then he goes home and has to deal with what things are like on the homefront. Which are the negative responses to the war, the lack of respect for veterans. And he goes on and starts protesting by the end of the movie and stuff like that. Great performance, great movie, well-directed.
However, I just can’t find myself voting for this movie. There’s no doubt that Oliver Stone is a great director. He definitely deserved his Oscar for Platoon. However, three years later, I’m not sure he should have won this.
Now, naturally this is mostly out of my animosity toward the fact that Oliver Stone wins his second Oscar here and Martin Scorsese had zero Oscars at this point. I accept that. Stone did a great job here, and, with these nominees is easily one of the top two people to vote for on this list. But, as a previous winner, and with Jim Sheridan the great director that he is to not have an Oscar, I say Stone shouldn’t have won this award in favor of Sheridan winning.
I’ll also say, though, that Stone winning both complicates and makes life easier at the same time. Because, two years after this, he directed JFK, which, I feel, is his best piece of directing he’s ever done. That film is fucking flawless. So I’m thinking, “How could he win for this and not that?” Right? But, the fact that he won and had two Oscars at this point made it okay not to vote for him in 1991, and allowed Jonathan Demme to win for his flawless direction on Silence of the Lambs. So it’s a catch-22. Still, taking this year alone, I say Sheridan over Stone. Stone is a strong #2, though.
Weir — I love Peter Weir. I think he’s a great director. All of his films have been very watchable. Most of them have been great. And yet, I find I never really can vote for him whenever he’s nominated for Best Director. It sucks, because he’s one of the good ones.
This movie is — well, don’t you know about this already? Robin Williams, teacher at a boys prep school. Teaches poetry. Does it in an unconventional way. Gets the boys to love him. Treats them like humans instead of future senators. Has them rip their textbook up. Teaches from the heart. All that stuff. It’s a great movie. I don’t love it too much, but I do like it a lot. Like, people who love it claim it as a 5-star movie. I think it’s a great 4-star movie. You know? I do like it, just, not as much as some people. Still, it’s a great fucking movie.
Anyway, as for the direction, I don’t think it was all that special. It was pretty standard shooting, as far as I saw. Nothing really stood out for me as anything more than solid and commendable. It’s one of those, perfect for a nomination but not for a win, films. Which sucks, because I like Peter Weir. I just can’t vote for this film over Oliver Stone or Jim Sheridan.
My Thoughts: Yeah, Stone did a great job, and probably did deserve the win. But, he won three years earlier for another Vietnam movie and Jim Sheridan is an amazing filmmaker who has never won an Oscar. So, I’m voting for him, purely because, when there’s a tie, it goes to who I like more. And that’s Sheridan, purely because Stone had two Oscars by this point (one for writing).
My Vote: Sheridan
Should Have Won: Sheridan. And Stone. Maybe. Either one, really.
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Yes and no. Like I said, Stone did a good job. I just would have preferred Sheridan to get an Oscar. I mean, dude directe My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America. And no Oscars? Really?
Ones I suggest you see: My Left Foot is my favorite film on this list. I think it’s a perfect film. I suggest everyone see that movie, because it’s impossible not to like. That’s the hard recommendation. Soft recommendations go to Born on the Fourth of July and Dead Poets Society. I like them both, they’re great movies, but, not everyone is gonna love them. More so Born on the Fourth of July. It’s a war movie. I suggest you see it if you like Oliver Stone movies or want to see what might be the best performance (or one of, anyway) of Tom Cruise’s career. Cruise is amazing, and if it weren’t for Day-Lewis, I’d say he’d be a slam dunk winner for Best Actor. And Poets Society, it is a great movie. I just don’t love it enough to recommend it any higher than, you should see it if you get the chance.