The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1998
Oh, 1998. The year that lives in infamy. I think I can sum it all up with three words: Shakespeare in Love.
Personally, I don’t know why people hate on the decision so much. I mean, sure Saving Private Ryan is a film most people prefer, but as films, I think they rate about even. Private Ryan has that amazing opening sequence, but the film peters out by the end. That last battle is kind of meh. Shakespeare, however, is a great film. It’s funny, entertaining, and really well made. The problem is though it’s a bit too — I don’t know, on the nose, maybe. There’s something that keeps it from being a “perfect” film. Plus, even though Private Ryan didn’t win Best Picture, it won the award that really mattered for it — Best Director. The split is really what makes this year okay for me. I will say though, that the fact that this one was (aliteration) the way it was, was one of the reasons that 2010 was not okay for any reason. Fool me twice — fuck you two. It would have been a lot more palatable if there was a Picture/Director split. But there wasn’t. And that’s why 2010 will — probably — I hope — go down as a greater offense in Academy history than 1998 did.
Oh yeah, also, Best Actor was Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful (not gonna say a word), Best Actress and Supporting Actress were Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench for Shake-a-spere, and Best Supporting Actor was James Coburn for Affliction.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1998
And the nominees are…
Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful
John Madden, Shakespeare in Love
Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line
Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
Peter Weir, The Truman Show
Benigni — How did this film get so many nominations? You realize this film is one step away from being one of the most offensive things ever put to film, right? Sure, he made it charming and poignant and all (using just about every dirty trick in the book), but, is this really that good a film to earn a Best Director nomination?
I’m sure you all know about this film, right? Do I need to — oh fuck it. I think everyone should know what we’re dealing with here. It’s a comedy about the Holocaust. Let’s not sugarcoat this. A father and his son are put in a concentration camp, and the father, to protect the son’s innocence, pretends it’s all a game. Everything that happens is all part of some “elaborate game” that they’re playing. He says that the person who wins the game ends up getting a tank. So he makes these elaborate fantasies that basically make the kid think — oh yeah, it’s all a game, people aren’t being incinerated five feet away from me. You know.
I really don’t like this film as much as everybody else does. I don’t know. For some reason, instead of being taken in by it like I normally would be in a situation like this, I immediately found myself seeing it try to manipulate me and just not falling for it at all. Which then amounted to me sitting there, pointing out all the tricks they were using. It’s like when a film, just to get that “aww” moment, for no reason at all, inserts a shot of a kitten. And everyone in the audience starts salivating. I just had no saliva to give to this movie. That’s my review in a nutshell. As for the direction, it was fine. Never gonna vote for it though. I mean, come on, it’s Saving Private Ryan. If the first forty minutes of the film were the only thing that was released, and that was nominated for this award, it would still win. That was a hell of a feat Spielberg pulled off, and he deserved this award. So, no Roberto. You got your consolation prize.
Madden — Taking a break from calling Monday Night Football, John Madden came over to direct a movie about Shakespeare.
Sadly, it’s not the same guy. Upsets me every time. The film, if you don’t know — and I feel a lot of people might not, since it’s gotten enough bad press to make people believe (me included) that the film wasn’t very good. But I bought it before I’d even see it and watched it — it was amazing. The film is hysterical all around. It was written by Tom Stoppard, which, says a lot. And it’s about Shake-a-speare, as a young fledgling playwright, trying to write his next play. And the first half is nothing but wacky hijinks — very screwball comedy — as he sets up his production of his new play, “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.” Yeah, you get the joke. The most famous play in history almost was a comedy about a pirate. And then, he falls in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, a noblewoman who wants to act, but can’t because they don’t allow women on the stage. And she’s also engaged to Colin Firth. And their romance inspires Bill to write “Romeo and Juliet.” And, not plus. Totally different version, that is. It’s a fun movie all around — perhaps a bit long at times, and perhaps a bit formulaic at times — but overall, it is a good film. It all leads up to that climactic first performance of it and all that. Great, great film. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Did it deserve to win Best Picture? That’s up for debate. Did it deserve to win Best Director? Hell no. It’s a clean second (well, third for me, but, it’s close) choice though. It is well-directed. Just, not a winner. Not with Spielberg in here.
Malick — What a great fucking movie this is. Probably my third favorite of Malick’s films, behind Days of Heaven and The New World, but this is a very well-done film. A lot of people might find it hard to watch, because Malick’s style is very — he likes to show nature a lot. So, scenes will be very freeform, and in them he’ll cut to trees blowing, insects jumping off of rocks — it’s almost like Planet Earth, in a way. This movie is about the Battle of Guadalcanal — so, it’s kind of like The Pacific, only as made by Terry Malick. His films are gorgeous, and I recommend that everyone see Tree of Life when it comes out next month, or whenever it officially comes out. There’s not much I can say about the film except — it’s beautifully shot, even though there isn’t so much of a plot. But, is a plot essential to directing? I don’t think so. This film does, in the loose sense of the word, have a plot, but, not the way Shake-a-speare has a plot. Hell, not even the way Shakes the Clown has a plot. (It’s the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies.) Plus there are like, thirty famous people in this movie who show up for like, ten minutes at a time. It’s a little jarring if you’re not ready for it. This was actually my first Terrence Malick film, and I most certainly was not ready for it at the time. I watched it again after seeing Days of Heaven and New World and got more appreciation for it. I think I need to watch it again soon to really appreciate it. But, as it stands, easily a #2 for me. Not gonna win, ever. Because if Spielberg didn’t win then it was gonna be Madden. But, or me, if I had to pick which films I’d just watch, like, strictly for the direction, this would be second. Can’t vote for it though. Sorry, Terry.
Spielberg — God-damn! This is how you direct a movie. This movie will have nothing said about it because — if you haven’t seen it, you’re not a real American. Even if you’re not actually an American, you should still see this movie. It is one of the finest directorial efforts ever put to film. That D-Day sequence is fucking spellbindingly good. It deserved this award ten-fold, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Weir — Poor Peter Weir. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. Every time I want to vote for him, I can’t. It just never works out. This is probably how the Academy felt about Robert Altman. But such things don’t interest me as much.
Peter Weir is a great director who never really got that complete recognition. And it’s a shame. But, I will say, he was never gonna get it for this film. His direction on this was amazing, but, nuh uh. Not this one. There’s something about The Truman Show that just doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe it’s the whole Ed Harris crazy director bit. I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit well with me. The premise, though, is fantastic. Andrew Niccol is a genius at fantastic concepts. They just don’t always translate perfectly to the screen. (See: S1m0ne.) This one is one of the ones that did translate, it’s just, I don’t know, something about it wasn’t there for me.
I’m sure you all know, but, The Truman Show is about a dude — Jim Carrey — whose life, from birth, has been one big television show. His entire town exists on a giant soundstage, all his friends and family are paid actors, and every moment of his life is watched by the rest of the world. And he doesn’t know it.
Then — since the point of a film is that these two hours we see are two hours that irrevocably change a character’s life (a fact that is lost on most of the films today. Or is taken really loosely) — he slowly starts figuring it out. He notices little malfunctions here and there, people breaking character, discrepancies in stories, things like that. And eventually he figures it out and finds out he’s on television. Which poses a problem. I think his “wife” is who tells him. And then the movie builds toward him facing his fear of water and building a boat and going out onto the “ocean” — which is basically set up as a buffer between the town and the end of the giant soundstage — in order to get out in the real world and give up the fake existence he’s been living in.
It’s a fascinating, fascinating movie. Something about it didn’t totally click for me, but the amount that it makes you think about all of the stuff going on more than makes up for it. I really do recommend this film very highly, and also wish I could rank Peter Weir higher on this list and even vote for him — but I just can’t.
My Thoughts: Spielberg, all the way. Not even close.
My Vote: Spielberg
Should Have Won: Spielberg
Is the result acceptable?: One of the best decisions they’ve ever made. Surprising, considering how often there’s a Picture/Director link-up. But I guess Spielberg can overcome such things.
Ones I suggest you see: All of them, I guess. They’re all, good movies. I don’t like Life is Beautiful as much, but I know a lot of people who watch it certainly will. I’d say, go for Saving Private Ryan first — that’s an essential for everyone, doesn’t matter who — then Shakespeare in Love, since that is a very entertaining and great film. Then Thin Red Line isn’t for everyone, but is beautiful. So, if you can’t take plotless films, just get really high and watch it. It’ll be just like Planet Earth (while high), trust me. And then The Truman Show is one that everyone really loves too. So, you should see that as well. It’s great.