The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1992

1992 is a great year. I think they got pretty much everything right here. The degrees of getting it right are specific to each category, but I think every category was genuinely on the mark. I wonder how many years that’s happened with. I guess that’s another thing I’ll do at the end of all this. Tally up which years I agree with and disagree with the most. This one will be one of the better ones, I’m sure.

Unforgiven won Best Picture this year, and Gene Hackman won Best Supporting Actor for it as well. Best Actor was one of the biggest makeup Oscars in the world, to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Best Actress was Emma Thompson, in Howards End. Best Supporting Actress was Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny. Great year, right?


And the nominees are…

Robert Altman, The Player

Martin Brest, Scent of a Woman

Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

James Ivory, Howards End

Neil Jordan, The Crying Game

Altman — Yeah, Robert Altman to me is like Woody Allen. Except, I actually like Robert Altman movies more than Woody Allen’s. I enjoy watching a lot of Altman films. I don’t like Nashville, which is arguably his best film, but I do enjoy many of the rest. However, I don’t think his directing style is for me.

Altman films — especially the ensemble ones — are very, free-form. The shining example of this is Gosford Park, which literally has about twenty characters in it, and the way he shot it was, attach microphones to all the characters, then just had them walk around a mansion and interact with one another, in character. And the film was created that way. Now, this sounds okay on paper, but, for me, watching the film was unbearable. His directing style lends itself to something with a strong script. Or a series of funny scenes, like M*A*S*H*.

This one is one of those. It’s a pretty strong script. I don’t love the film, but I do like it a lot. The film opens with a ten-minute tracking shot through a movie studio. It begins outside the gates, works its way around the lot, as we meet all the characters — who also just happen to be talking about other genius tracking shots in movies. That’s the kind of film this is. Very aware of itself. And then we end tracking all the way inside to a producer’s office, and the film continues from there. And basically the film is about Tim Robbins, who is a total douche. And then he gets these death threats from a dude whose script he rejected. And the movie is about how studios don’t give a fuck about creativity and sacrifice art for financial success. It’s not an old critique. It’s very spirited here, though. Eventually, the film gets very surreal. Almost like The Day of the Locust, or something. Robbins ends up killing a man who he thinks is the one threatening him, but ends up not being the man. Then he ends up sleeping with the man’s wife, still being blackmailed by the guy. And it gets crazier and crazier, until the very end, where the whole crazy plot ends up being the plot of a movie, and everything ends up okay. It’s like, “Hey, this dude almost killed me and blackmailed me and knows I killed a guy. Let’s turn it into a script and we can all get rich.” That’s the movie. It’s great. The reason I don’t like it is because I don’t feel the script is that strong. It’s strong narratively, but, there are just too many elements I don’t care for. Like the voiceover. And the lack of interesting dialogue. That’s another thing I don’t like about Altman’s films. The dialogue is meant to evoke inane conversation. And as such, is actually inane conversation. If you know me, and by now you should, I’m clearly a fan of stylized dialogue. Or at least, interesting dialogue. There’s a bar at which you can have interesting dialogue and still have a pulse. Altman deliberately goes under it. I just don’t care for it, which is why I end up not caring for his films as much as everyone else does. It’s a personal preference thing.

Still, the movie is very spiritedly directed. Of all the movies he was nominated for Best Director for, this is probably the one I’d have most likely voted for him for. But, unfortunately, this is the year Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven, so, it’s a shame how that worked out. Nice film, though.

Brest — Ah, Scent of a Woman, a film that’s not very good technically, and may not even be that great as a film. But it’s fucking great. I love this goddamn movie. I’m not sure what makes it great, but it is. It’s such a simple film. And kind of contrived at that. And yet…

Chris O’Donnell (yes, Chris O’Donnell, don’t overthink it) goes to a boys prep school. It’s the kind of school that rich people’s kids go to. The kind that become senators. And he’s an average kid from the midwest, who got in on pure merit, and cannot afford it if not for the scholarship he got. One night, he sees some kids, along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is with him at the time (he is the son of a rich family), pull a prank in which the dean’s car gets completely fucked up. And the dean, played by the amazing James Rebhorn, one of the finest character actors currently working (look him up. I guarantee you’ll recognize him from something. He’s always the, “Oh yeah! That guy!” guy), is a self-centered son of a bitch. That’s what the movie’s about, sort of. I like how it has two completely different themes working. The dean wants him to give up the kids he saw, and he won’t, because he’s no snitch. And the dean threatens to revoke his scholarship. Because he’s a douche. So, he goes on break, and while he’s thinking about what he’s gonna do, gets hired to babysit a neighbor’s uncle. He’s a blind colonel (Pacino), who is stubborn as fuck. And they don’t want him on vacation with them. So, he goes, and Pacino, who he suspects is gonna sit inside for the weekend, has other plans. He takes O’Donnell with him to New York for a crazy ass weekend. And he basically teaches him about life. He shows him how to pick up women, what the two greatest syllables in life are “Pus-sy.” Hence the film’s title. Yes, it is, in fact, a sexual reference), all that. And he just so happens to be planning on killing himself at the end of the weekend. But, you know, that comes up later. And then at the end of the movie, O’Donnell convinces Pacino not to kill himself and shows up at the hearing the dean has to vote to expel him, and gives an impassioned speech that gets the board to vote to not expel him, and everything’s great.

And to answer your question, yes, this movie was essentially remade as Finding Forrester eight years later. But with a black kid. And instead of a blind guy, it’s Sean Connery. (Note: “Jamal Wallace.”)

I fucking love this movie. There’s something about it that’s just so wonderful. Either because Pacino goes “Full Pacino,” or because it’s directed so well — I don’t know. I just know that I love this movie. Even though I know there’s probably nothing especially exceptional about it in the conventional sense. You can’t really point out what’s great about it aside from, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. So, I can’t really vote for this to win Best Director (unless of course it was a Rain Man-type deal, where I liked it the best of the nominees, where there was no standout winner), even though I’m ranking it very high. I have one to vote for already, so that puts this right where it should be, in the awesome file.

Eastwood — Christ this is a great movie. This is a movie that became a classic as soon as it came out. It’s like There Will Be Blood. Within six months it’s like, “This is already in the canon.” That’s what this movie is.

Brief — and I mean brief — history lesson. The western ended in 1976. After The Outlaw Josey Wales (for the most part — that’s my benchmark film because, well, I took Richard Slotkin’s westerns class, and, that was our “end of the western” film), also an Eastwood-directed film, the western was pretty much dead. There was a one-off here and there, but, the genre was pretty much dead aside from as a technical exercise. It used to be infused with social and historical parallels, but after ’76 it was just, a western. The equivalent of if you made a silent film now. You’re doing it for technical reasons and to emulate a type of film.

So, this movie, is basically like the epilogue of the western genre. It was like, “Here’s what happens after the western ends.” It’s about Eastwood, a retired gunslinger, who has, for a long time, settled down on a ranch, raised pigs, had children. Then, his wife dies. She’s been dead for a while at the start of the film. And the farm is going under, since it’s not the work he’s cut out for, so it’s a constant struggle for survival. And along comes a younger gunslinger who is like, “Hey, I heard you were great. Come along and do a job with me.” And Eastwood goes, partially because he needs the money and partially for moral reasons. What happened was, a whore (all women in westerns are either hookers, schoolmarms, or somebody named “Ma”) was with a customer, and he beat the hell out of her and cut up her face (along with his friend). And the madam puts a price on their heads. So, this kid is going to collect. And he, being young and not having shot anybody before (this is revealed later), the wannabe cowboy, gets the guy who’s done it before to help him. So Eastwood goes, enlists the help of his friend — Morgan Freeman (which, a black man in a western as a supporting character that isn’t a slave, is a very subtle genre tweak), married to an Indian (another nice subtlety. That’s how iconic all this is. The tiny variation reverberates huge), comes and helps. Freeman is a talented sharpshooter. So they go, and while this is happening, Gene Hackman, the sheriff of the town, is trying to make things civilized. But he’s kind of a dictator, and demands that there are no guns in the town and any time an outlaw comes in, he harasses him and throws him in jail. Shit like that. And there’s a nice subtle bit about Hackman trying to build a house, but he can’t quite fix it up (the roof keeps leaking — get it? I’ll give you a hint. The simplest theme of the western is man’s attempt to civilize the wilderness. Get it now? Yeah. Fuck I love this genre). And basically, the movie is about all this happening, and it’s a perfect little love letter to the genre. It’s like the final, poignant performance of an old movie star. The nice silver-screen sendoff. That’s what this is. Now, a western is just that, a western. This was the last time it meant something.

This movie deserved Best Picture and Best Director for so many reasons. First off, it’s a great, great movie and is so well directed. And it’s also got the whole western ideology backing it up, which, from a historical standpoint, really makes it a worthy choice. This is one of the best decisions the Academy has ever made. I really mean that.

Ivory — Yeah, the Merchant Ivory movie. You know about these. Stuffy, British, period pieces. Nice sets, boring as shit most of the time. The only one I really like is The Remains of the Day, but that’s because I love the book. These movies are boring and standard, and thank god they aren’t more entertaining, because they’d have swept Best Picture. This is how Harvey Weinstein’s done so well with Oscar movies.

Anyway, this movie is about Emma Thompson, a middle class woman, who makes friends with a rich old woman, Vanessa Redgrave. And it’s England in the 19th century, so the classes won’t interact with anyone beneath them. But Vanessa Redgrave is a rebel. But we know that already. And they’re friends, and then when Redgrave dies, she leaves her entire estate to Thompson, which pisses off her entire family. A mudblood, in our house! You know? And Anthony Hopkins is the oldest son, and he’s charged with finding a way to get her kicked out and restore the property to the family name. And in doing so, he falls in love with her, and they marry, which really pisses off the family. And the film is about the middle class gaining respect or whatever. You know, she ends up with the property and status, and an heir, and her sister, who went to hating her at some point, reconciles. Shit like that.

So, it’s okay and all, but, it’s a boring British Merchant Ivory film. You know what you’re getting. I’m not voting for this. It’s too — on-the-nose.

Jordan — Yeah, this movie is pretty good. I don’t love it, but, it has its novelty. It’s the film that’s famous because — well, I’ll just explain it.

Stephen Rea is an IRA agent. He’s hired to kidnap Forest Whitaker. They kidnap him while he’s out at the fair with his girlfriend. Then they bring him to a shed and tie him up and put a hood over his head. They try to interrogate him but he refuses. They leave Stephen Rea with him and the two bond. Rea doesn’t really want to hurt him, even though he does go along with the party line. So, they talk, and they become friends, sort of. Anyway, Whitaker gets shot like, midway through, and Rea goes to tell his girlfriend. He finds her working at a bar, and starts talking to her. He’s immediately attracted, and starts talking to her. They become close. Eventually they become intimate. And then — about, say, 100 minutes into the two hours — it’s revealed, right as they’re about to have sex — that she is a he. That’s right, the girlfriend’s got a dick. That’s the big reveal through the movie. They do a good job of misleading the audience, making you actually think it’s a woman. Then there’s some stupid revenge plot deal, where the militant leader of the group comes to kill Stephen Rea, but, that’s not the big deal here.

So, the film is pretty good. I don’t love it, but, it’s good. As for the direction, no vote. Just not that well directed to get a vote for Best Director. I personally wouldn’t have nominated it, but, that’s me. I’d have nominated Richard Attenborough for Chaplin instead.

My Thoughts: Eastwood is the only choice here. It’s not even close. Altman is a distant, but well-worthy, second.

My Vote: Eastwood

Should Have Won: Eastwood

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. I love me some westerns, and this is one of the best westerns ever made. This deserved every award it got. Eastwood blew all his competition out of the water here. And easy, easy decision to make.

Ones I suggest you see: You really should see Unforgiven. Unless you hate westerns. In which case you should still see it, because it’s a Best Picture winner. Scent of a Woman is an amazing movie, if not one that’s an all-time classic. It’s so fucking fun to watch. I love it to death. I think everyone should watch it. This is Pacino going full-Pacino too. It’s great. And The Player has some great moments. I enjoy it, as far as Robert Altman movies go. Which is, less than a lot of other people. Still, this is one of like, four of his movies that I can stomach. Mostly because it’s a satire about Hollywood. I always like those.


5) Jordan

4) Ivory

3) Altman

2) Brest

1) Eastwood

One response

  1. Glad to hear I’m not the only person who can’t stand Merchant Ivory movies in the general. “Remains of the Day” is the only one I can stand as well.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

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