The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1991

What a stacked year for Best Director this is. Seriously. Just, wow.  There was not one bad choice to make here. I mean, there would have been a weak one compared to the category, but still, all these nominees were really fucking strong.

Just to recap, before we get into it, The Silence of the Lambs sweeps the Big Five, which means, along with Best Screenplay (Adapted), it wins Best Picture, Best Director for Jonathan Demme (talked about here. No link. I mean here, here, where we are now), Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (talked about here) and Best Actress for Jodie Foster. All great decisions. Also this year, Jack Palance wins Best Supporting Actor for City Slickers (which I talked about here), and Mercedes Ruehl wins Best Supporting Actress for The Fisher King. So, in all, 1991 is a great fucking year, aside from that one category I don’t really agree with so much.

But still, how about these fucking directors, right? How great is this list?


And the nominees were…

Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs

Barry Levinson, Bugsy

Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise

John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood

Oliver Stone, JFK

Demme — What can you say about Silence of the Lambs that people don’t already know? I mean, I feel like this is a movie that, either people have definitely seen it, or they won’t see it for whatever stupid reason they have. I don’t think there are many people who are “meaning” to see it but haven’t yet. And if there are, what good is putting in a plot synopsis here?

Briefly, it’s about — serial killer, on the loose. Buffalo Bill. The FBI is trying to catch him. They want the help of Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant psychiatrist. Also a cannibal. Locked in a mental institution. They bring in Clarice Starling, a trainee, to talk to him. They figure he’ll talk to an attractive woman over some schmuck with a suit and tie. And that’s the film, really. It’s NOT a horror film, you fuckers afraid to see it. It’s also brilliant and is a Best Picture winner, so stop being so fucking full of yourselves.

That was today’s “Fuck you, “I don’t like scary movies” people” moment.

The movie  is brilliant, the direction is brilliant. That’s just how it is. What more can I say? If you’ve seen it you can’t really say otherwise, right? So we’re all in agreement here. Right?

Levinson — Bugsy. I feel like I’ve talked about this film so fucking much recently. Though I guess it’s because of all the lead and supporting nominations it got. Well, we’ll saddle up one last time.

Bugsy. Bugsy Siegel. Gangster from New York. Goes out to Los Angeles. Immediately takes up a mistress in the form of Annette Bening while his family is still in Scarsdale. He gets the idea for Las Vegas. He borrows $2 million to build a casino out in the desert. The budget balloons to $6 million. The mob has no idea what the fuck he’s doing. It starts to fail at first, but he knows it’ll work. They kill him, because — money. And it becomes Las Vegas and they all become rich. That’s basically the plot.

The direction is fine, and even good. Do I think it’s good enough to win? No. Why? The category is so strong. Plus he won for Rain Man. So, that eliminates him from a vote here automatically. There are much better choices here than him.

Scott — Ridley! Oh, man, I bet most people, unless they knew already, wouldn’t have guessed that this movie was directed by Ridley Scott. I mean, it just doesn’t seem like his thing, does it? Well, he also made G.I. Jane, so figure that shit out for yourselves.

This film is pretty widely known, right? Two women, one a housewife in an unhappy marriage and the other a waitress, go away for the weekend. Pretty quickly, bad shit happens. One ends up shooting a guy who sexually assaults her friend. They run away. The police go after them. They continue to run. Eventually they drive their car off the cliff into the Grand Canyon. That’s basically the story. The film is actually much more than that. It’s much more engaging. But there’s really not much more to say without getting into a hardcore synopsis, which, I just don’t want to do. Either you already know you should see this film or you’re not going to. There is no in-between here. The film is great, so, I suggest you see it.

Ridley’s direction is great, but — mainstream. You can see it when you watch it. Not that mainstream is bad. It’s just — watch JFK. Watch Silence of the Lambs. Watch Boyz N the Hood. You can feel the passion with which those films were made. Ridley just looks like he took the job for the money. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. That’s not for me to say. All I’m saying is, the direction was great, it’s just — I’m not voting for it. Ridley deserves and Oscar, just, not for this.

Singleton — If I were voting based purely on passion in the directorial effort, this film would win no matter what year it was in. Seriously, this is one of the most passionate efforts I’ve ever seen put to film. Singleton shot the shit out of this film.

I really don’t want to spoil the film by talking about it. Not that there are spoilers, I mean, it’ll spoil just engaging with it. It’s about a bunch of boys growing up in — well, yeah. And it focuses on three of them: Cuba Gooding, the smart, well-mannered one who is gonna go to college and everything, Ice Cube, the gangster one who won’t make it past high school and will be in a gang and dead by the time he’s 27, and Morris Chestnut, the football player about to get a scholarship. And we first see them as children, and we focus on Cuba Gooding, because Laurence Fishburne is his father. Fishburne is so fucking awesome in the movie. But, we see them just living. That’s it, really. Shit happens, but we just see them and follow them. And that’s it, really. There’s not much to say here except, it’s a brilliant movie and everyone should see it once in their lives. Just to say they’ve seen it. Trust me, once it’s over, you feel like you just experienced some shit. And that’s what movies are supposed to do. Trust me. You will not be disappointed by this movie.

Singleton’s direction really is great. There’s a reason he was the youngest Best Director nominee ever (beating Orson Welles by a good two years). His direction was fantastic here. Was it good enough to win? Absolutely. Would it have won? Never. Would I vote for it? Good question. It’s definitely top three. Can it hold up with Lambs and JFK? Dunno. But, the suspense is killing you, isn’t it?

Stone — And, Oliver. I really just want to say, “It’s fucking JFK,” and leave it at that, but I realize some people just might not have seen it. So, for their uneducated sakes, we’ll go through it.

Believe it or not, the JFK assassination might have been a conspiracy. Okay I won’t treat you that dumb, I mean, what do you think I am, Hollywood? But, yeah, the film is about a lawyer who starts looking into the JFK thing and all the shady business that surrounds it. That’s the film. There really isn’t all that much to say except, it’s about the real case that was built that purports that the government actually had something to do with the killing of JFK. The movie, I guarantee you, is one of the most fascinating things you will ever watch. Even if you disagree 100%, if you just watch the movie as a movie and try not to get upset at its politics (in either direction. Liberals, you’re not innocent here either), I guarantee you that you will be spellbound by the way Oliver Stone constructs this movie. From the sheer interest of the case and the prosecuting argument that Garrison used to just the simple editing and reconstruction of all of these things — it takes a very fucking talented man to do something like this. This film is directing. If you want a master class in directing, this is a film you NEED to see. Editing too. But also directing. This film is brilliant beyond words. You will get through this movie and be like, “That was three hours?” because it’s so fucking engaging all the way through.

Based purely on direction alone, Oliver Stone wins this in a fucking landslide. But there’s the other thing to take into account — he won twice before this. I’ve said — or will say, whichever it is — he shouldn’t have won for Born on the Fourth of July, so, in my mind, this would be a perfect second Oscar for him. Think about it, one for Vietnam and one for Presidential movies. Perfect symmetry. But, he won for Born on the Fourth of July, and the only directors to have more than two Oscars are Frank Capra and John Ford. Does Oliver Stone belong on that list? Should he have three Oscars in a time period when Stephen Spielberg has zero (wouldn’t win his first until ’93), Martin Scorsese has zero and Three Six Mafia has zero? That fact puts him back in an almost dead heat with Demme with Singleton also in the mix. That, plus the other two nominees that would be at worst a 3 in most other years make this one of, if not the, strongest Best Director categories of all time.

My Thoughts: Okay — what do we do here, Maria? (Note: How do we solve a problem like this category? I felt the wordplay might have been too obscure.) I guess, we’ll have to rule out one by one. But who comes off first?

Uhh — I guess Barry Levinson comes off first. He directed a hell of a picture here, but, he won for Rain Man, so, he doesn’t need it. Whew. That’s one.

Next — has to be Ridley. Sorry Ridley. You probably should have won one, but, well, Gladiator was very CG, and I get why they didn’t vote you there, and Black Hawk? Well, you should have won for that. But, you weren’t, so, blame the Academy. But this film shouldn’t have won Best Director. Ridley should have won, but not for this. So he’s off second.

Third, has to be Singleton. I mean, he directed the hell out of the film, but he can’t get my vote. The other two are just too good. I think he understands.

Okay, now, Demme and Stone. Which, actually makes this a lot easier. It’s Demme. Stone’s won two already. And really, I don’t think he should have won for Born on the Fourth of July. But he did. So, that makes it really tough to give him a third statue. He’s no John Ford. Or Frank Capra. But, had he not won the second one, man, it would be even tougher than it already is. I mean, JFK is his film. That’s his masterpiece. But he won two, so I have to go for Demme. Which, isn’t really a consolation, since, I might have just voted for him anyway. The direction, along with the film itself, is perfect. And he did actually deserve the award. So, I’m glad I can vote for him with a clear conscience. It’s really Oliver Stone that has the consolation prize here — two other statues to make up for not winning this one.

My Vote: Demme

Should Have Won: Demme, Stone

Is the result acceptable?: Yup. Best decision in this category. Stone directed a hell of a movie, but he shouldn’t have won in ’89, so I was only gonna vote for him if there was no one on his level. Which, considering JFK, is close. But, Demme was note perfect in his direction here — everyone involved with the the film was — and he deserved this 100%. Thank god, because, Stone made a hell of a case for a third statue.

Ones I suggest you see: The Silence of the Lambs and JFK are essential films that everyone MUST SEE. They are perfect films with a capital P. Seriously, if you haven’t seen either of these, hang your goddamn head in shame. Go. Go sit in the corner. You get to come out when you see them. (Best punishment ever.)

Bugsy and Boyz n the Hood are very, very good movies that I highly recommend, Boyz n the Hood more so. Bugsy is great, but some people might not like it as much as I do. It’s a “classy” film. It’s about the 30s, its about gangsters, and some people just might see it as, I don’t know — cold (?). It’s a great film though. Boyz n the Hood is something I think everyone should see, but it’s not essential on the level the first two are. Close, but not quite that level. It’s just wonderful all around. And Thelma and Louise is also a very good film worth watching. Like I said, this category is stacked.


5) Scott

4) Levinson

3) Singleton

2) Stone

1) Demme

One response

  1. Chad

    My rankings:
    1. Jonathan Demme
    2. John Singleton (tie with Stone)
    2. Oliver Stone (tie with Singleton)
    3. Ridley Scott
    4. Barry Levinson

    August 16, 2013 at 5:12 pm

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