The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1996

1996 was a good year punctuated by shitty decisions. So many good films came out, and yet  — does anyone even think The English Patient is a great movie? Good? Fine. The minimum allowable to be considered good. But better than Fargo, it is not. Hell, better than Jerry Maguire it is not. These are the kind of years that really upset me. Because it’s like the Academy is striving to meet the standard of what they think their reputation is, and yet, they’re perpetuating this reputation by picking such shitty films.

And don’t think this poor decision-making ends at Best Picture. Best Actor went to Geoffrey Rush for Shine, a performance that lasts for about, oh, fifteen minutes. The rest of the time the character is played by two different actors. This wouldn’t be a big deal except, here’s who he beat: Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire), Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade). Every single one of them would have been a better choice. I mean, have they seen Sling Blade?

Best Actress went to Frances McDormand for Fargo. They threw at least one bone. Best Supporting Actor was Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire, an okay decision, though some people would probably prefer William H. Macy for Fargo. Best Supporting Actress was Juliette Binoche for The English Patient. Most people, including herself, were not expecting her to win. That’s 1996 in a nutshell. Even the good decisions are questionable, and the bad ones are terrible.


And the nominees are…

Joel & Ethan Coen, Fargo

Miloš Forman, The People vs. Larry Flynt

Scott Hicks, Shine

Mike Leigh, Secrets & Lies

Anthony Minghella, The English Patient

Coen — What a perfect movie Fargo is. Everything about this movie is just great. You’ve seen it, right? Well, you probably don’t want to admit if you didn’t. This is the kind of thing where, the Coen brothers should have won for this, because then they wouldn’t have been such a landslide to win for No Country in 2007. Maybe something like, say, There Will Be Blood, could have won then. Just saying. Every action has its consequences. The world may never know.

Anyway, Fargo is about William H. Macy, a car salesman, who wants some extra money to save his business. His rich father-in-law won’t give him the money, because it’s not financially feasible, so he hires two men to kidnap his wife. He tells them the random will be some small amount and they’ll get half of it. Meanwhile he’s trying to get a million dollars, but isn’t telling the guys. And a tragedy of errors happens, where everything goes wrong, and Frances McDormand is a cop who is sort of on the case even though she doesn’t realize it. She’s just following the leads and slowly figuring stuff out. It’s an amazing movie. It’s one of those movies that’s deceptively slow-paced. It randomly takes a detour for no reason just because it can. It’ll show you extended scenes of people just talking. It’s great. It’s seriously a wonderful film.

This movie should have won Best Director. I understand about The English Patient, but let’s be real here.

Forman — Oh Milos. Dude’s won two already, so even if I wanted to vote for him, I wouldn’t. This just doesn’t feel like a film he directed. Then again, was there ever really a deliberate style in his films? I feel the source material of his two winning efforts really took center stage. Cuckoo’s Nest, I wouldn’t have voted for Best Director. But I understand why they did. Amadeus, I would have. This one, though, just seems like a 90s film.

It’s about Larry Flynt — I know, surprise. Shows him becoming the pornographer that he’s become. And then fighting for the first amendment, getting shot, going through periods of drug use and stuff — all that. The film is good, but it’s not great. What really makes it work are three performances. First, Woody Harrelson. He’s fucking amazing in this. The other two great ones are Edward Norton, in what’s really his first role. And second, Courtney Love. I know. Surprising as fuck. But Courtney Love knocked this role out of the fucking park. Put it this way — she got nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. Okay, comedy, I can see — they treat that category like a popularity contest. Johnny Depp got nominated for The Tourist in that category. But the Drama category, they do treat very seriously. Okay, occasionally they will take bribes (nominating Tobey Maguire for Brothers after Leo gave them all iPhones at a “For Your Consideration’ party), but most of the time, a performance on there is strong work. And this one, I can attest — it was no popularity contest. The popularity contest this year was Madonna winning Best Actress Musical/Comedy. So, the performances in this film are legit. It’s also a very entertaining film. But, a Best Director winner, this is not. Sorry, Milos. Loved Man on the Moon, though. And those other two you won for. I think you’re doing okay without it.

Hicks — Yeah, I hate this movie. Let’s just come right out and say it. This will not be an objective review. Why? Because Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for this movie and he was only in it for five minutes at the beginning, three minutes in the middle and ten minutes at the end. 90% of the film, Noah Taylor plays the character as a young man. I don’t like to call a performance undeserved, because every performance has its merits. Plus I love Geoffrey Rush. But he did not deserve this Oscar. It kills me to say it from the standpoint of just him having an Oscar. But for this performance, against the people he was up against, no way. He was literally the worst choice in the category. So, the film, which I probably would give a standard three stars and ignore because it’s just a throwaway film for me, gets some anger. It’s my coping mechanism.

The film is about a pianist who, as a child, was emotionally beaten by his father. His father made him play, play, play. It was about becoming successful. And that’s the film. He does this, and the kid grows up. Then he has a breakdown and goes into a mental institution. Then, when he’s Geoffrey Rush, he’s all fucked up. He stutters, talks a mile a minute, is erratic. But he still plays a mean piano. That’s it, really. And what’s worse — Geoffrey Rush didn’t really play piano. And if he did — they didn’t show it. I can at least see them saying, “Hey, he played all these parts in the movie, that’s why we gave it to him.” But he didn’t. They shot around his hands on the piano. So, no. I don’t like this movie or the fact that he won for it. It’s boring, it’s standard heavy-handed biopic, and I’m sure it left out so many details that don’t paint the dude as such a martyr. Nuh uh. Very anti-this film.

Leigh — Oh man, and a Mike Leigh film was nominated too? Christ this is a terrible year. The only thing missing is Woody Allen and Robert Altman. Then I really would have jumped off a bridge.

I don’t like Mike Leigh movies. I understand they are an actor’s dream and have some great performances in them, but, for me, they’re just brutal to watch. The way he works is — here’s a basic story. We’ll use this one as an example. A poor, working class woman has a daughter with a random black man. She gives her up because she couldn’t handle it, didn’t want her daughter growing up in her kind of world. She isn’t ready for a child. So, then time moves on and she ends up having a family. Then, thirty years later, the daughter, having gotten the medical records, calls her mother and begins to establish a relationship with her. And that’s the premise. Not so strange, right? Okay, now, here’s how Mike Leigh takes it.

Start the film. You, you and you, go in a room, and talk. About something. It’s really just boring, inane conversation. And the first twenty minutes of this movie are scenes of nothing happening. Then, the daughter calls. And that happens. Then finally, midway through the film, they meet. And that ten minutes is the only ten minutes that are worthwhile in the film.

There they are. Powerful stuff. Then, the rest of the film is the daughter coming over to a party the mother has for someone, and the people interacting. That’s really all it is. I don’t know how people watch these movies. at least something like Blue Valentine has more interesting characters and more going on than just completely inane chatter. Inane chatter is fine, but when you have some sort of plot interest, shit can be interesting. God I hate Mike Leigh movies. No vote.

Minghella — What does it say about a category where a film I don’t even like all that much is a default second choice? That’s fucked up.

The movie’s about a dude who is burned in a bad airplane crash. That’s all we know at the beginning. And Juliette Binoche is a nurse who takes care of him. And he tells her his story, which is, he was a count who fell in love with a married woman. And they secretly had an affair, and were in love, until one day when her husband found out and tried to kill the two of them. Well, he dies, and she is dying, but doesn’t die until he can die in her lover’s arms. That sort of thing. And then he deliberately tries killing himself to be with her. And then Willem Dafoe is there for no reason than to add another plotline, and then Juliette Binoche finds love along the way, and she also mercy kills the dude with an extra dose of morphine. It’s like three hours long, and almost intolerable, aside from Juliette Binoche. Her scenes with Ralph Fiennes were totally cool. If the movie were just that, it would have been okay. Like, 110 minutes, minimal flashbacks, no random con artist dude and bomb defusals. It would have been fine. Here, it’s a bloated mess.

Put it this way — that Seinfeld episode about this movie — was totally right. And that shit came out the year this movie came out. So people knew about this from the start. And yet it won anyway. You just can’t do anything about this sometimes. Fucking Harvey Weinstein. The man’s a genius, but, wow, this movie sucked.

My Thoughts: Coen brothers deserve this Oscar. Hands down. Sadly, Minghella is actually second choice, which means there was no way he wasn’t winning. But fuck that, I can do what I want.

My Vote: Coen

Should Have Won: Coen

Is the result acceptable?: No answer. The result — is. I leave it to everyone to collectively decide whether it’s okay or not.

Ones I suggest you see: Fargo. I think I’ve made my opinion on it quite clear. That’s it. Oh, wait, Larry Flynt. That’s also good. Those two. Fargo is a must-see. Flynt is a great movie you might want to check out if you have the opportunity. Courtroom movies always hold fascination.


5) Hicks

4) Leigh

3) Forman

2) Minghella

1) Coen

One response

  1. You’re totally right. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen should have won that year. I mean maybe I would care less if Anthony Minghella won Best Director for The English Patient, if Fargo won Best Picture that year, but no, The English Patient won Best Picture too. And that is just fucking stupid.

    September 27, 2013 at 9:32 am

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