The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1985

I really hate 1985. Out of Africa was a terrible Best Picture choice. The Color Purple should have beaten it. Geraldine Page was a terrible Best Actress choice for The Trip to Bountiful (as I said here). Whoopi Goldberg really should have beaten her for The Color Purple.

Anjelica Huston was a weak choice as Best Supporting Actress for Prizzi’s Honor (talked about here). Oprah Winfrey or (my personal choice) Meg Tilly should have beaten her, for The Color Purple or Agnes of God, respectively. Don Ameche is an okay choice as Best Supporting Actor for Cocoon, but it doesn’t really help the year any.

And then there’s this category. Steven Spielberg wasn’t even nominated for The Color Purple. And the category just feels so weak and generic without him. The choice here comes down to two people — the Best Picture-winning director (who is a great director in his own right), or the legend who only got this single Oscar nomination. It should be obvious which of the two I’m taking.


And the nominees were…

Héctor Babenco, Kiss of the Spider Woman

John Huston, Prizzi’s Honor

Akira Kurosawa, Ran

Syndey Pollack, Out of Africa

Peter Weir, Witness

Babenco — Kiss of the Spider Woman is such a wonderful film. It’s about two men in a Brazilian prison. Raul Julia is with a radical group that’s agains the totalitarian state, and William Hurt is a gay window dresser who had sex with an underage boy. The two are not really friendly at first — Hurt talks incessantly about this film he saw once (which is actually a propaganda film, but he sees as this very romantic story), and Julia is like, “Shut up, leave me along.”

Eventually they become friendly (and lovers), and it’s revealed that Hurt was put into the cell in order to get information about Julia’s contacts within the radical group. He was told that if he got something, his sentence would be reduced. But he falls in love with Julia, and doesn’t want to do it anymore. And then Hurt is eventually released, and as he leaves, Julia actually gives him the name of his contacts. But Hurt refuses to tell the guards about it. And then as he goes, he is followed anyway, and when he contacts the group, a big shootout occurs, and the group, thinking he led the cops to them, shoots him, and he is killed. And then the film ends with Julia, back in prison, knowing nothing about this, being tortured for information, and then getting some morphine from a kind doctor, and him slipping into a dream state.

It’s a really good film. as for the direction — good, but I can’t vote for it. Pollack and Kurosawa are seriously the only people to vote for here.

Huston — Prizzi’s Honor. Mob film. Dark comedy. Nicholson is a hitman who falls in love with Kathleen Turner, also a hitman. Hitwoman. Things get complicated, and eventually they are tasked to kill each other. It’s very good, and you should see it. (I must have talked about this like five times by now. It gets tiring, repeating the same thing over and over.)

Huston did  great job directing the film, but, honestly, the dude’s lost for better films than this. And he has an Oscar (two, even). So I see no need to vote for him at all. Plus, again, Pollack and Kurosawa. Let’s stay on point with this.

Kurosawa — Ran. What a film. Not for the faint of heart. If you like Apocalypse Now and Pulp Fiction and haven’t seen much else, an think that makes you a movie person — you’re not ready for this.

The film is like a big Shakespearean tragedy set in feudal Japan. It was the biggest and most expensive film made in Japan at the time — big production. Really big. And the film is about the fall of a family. A father is old and decides to give up control of his domain to his three sons. And there’s scheming and back-room deals, a Lady Macbeth, manipulating her husband’s way to the throne — just great, great stuff. And the way the film is staged — second to none. It’s just genius. This isn’t really a film you summarize, it’s more one you experience.

But trust me on the sunscreen, if you’ve only seen Rashomon or Seven Samurai and think the rest of Kurosawa’s films are gonna be like that, and are not yet at the state of film viewing where you can handle severe deviation from what most people consider to be that director’s “style” —

Example: If I, as a film viewer, at age 18, having only seen Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Casino and all the recent Scorsese films, and then sat and watched Kundun, I’d have went, “What the fuck is this?” and not watched it properly, thought it was boring as shit, and went on not liking it. Because I wasn’t ready to watch it yet. I wasn’t at the level where I could watch any film on its own merit and not compare it to other films until maybe afterward, if at all. Ran, for a lot of people, will be like that. But trust me — this is a masterpiece.

The direction is really great. Now — normally I’d say I couldn’t vote for this direction. However — we’re in a very unique situation. The man who I’d probably have voted for in this category isn’t nominated (it’s like 1995 all over again). And the guy who won, while I love him as a director — I don’t like his film. Add to that Akira Kurosawa, a man responsible for some of the greatest films ever made (several of which were openly poached for Americanized versions not long after they were made), was only nominated for one Oscar. Just one. This one. And the effort — which is really fucking strong — coupled with the entire career this man has had — well, to me, this is like Martin Scorsese and The Departed. Maybe it’s not his strongest overall, but goddamn if he doesn’t deserve it any less.

Pollack — Out of Africa is a terrible Best Picture choice and dare I say it — it might be a terrible film. I’m sure it’s not a terrible film and that’s just the bitterness talking, but — I saw nothing there when I watched it (and I’ve seen the film twice in my life).

Meryl Streep marries Klaus Maria Brandauer and they go to Africa. He goes off and fucks other women and gives her syphilis. She gets upset and gets rid of him. She decides she wants to start a coffee plantation. She does this. She meets Robert Redford, a big game hunter. They have an affair. This affair continues for a while. They break up, because he’s much happier living a simpler life. He dies in a plane crash. Her plantation burns down. She returns home and writes about it. This movie is made.

Where the fuck is the film there? Seriously…

I will never be convinced that this is a great film. I am convinced that Sydney Pollack did a fine job directing this, but the film was boring as hell, overly long, and honestly, I thought The English Patient, a film I really don’t like very much, was actually better than this, because at least there I was remotely interested in the Fiennes/Binoche scenes. And there I could see where a good film of that story could have been made back in the 50s without all the excesses of modern Oscar films. Here, I see nothing.

But, we’re here to talk about the directorial effort, and it is indeed strong. Sydney Pollack deserved an Oscar for all the great work he did. But I still say it’s Kurosawa. I’m cool with him winning, because, if anyone was gonna be acceptable who wasn’t Kurosawa, it’s the director of the Best Picture winner.

Weir — Witness is a film about a young Amish boy who witnesses a murder committed by a cop. The cop knows he saw it and is gonna come after him. Harrison Ford investigates this to protect the boy, the guys come to kill him. So he goes undercover as one of the Amish in order to catch the guys when they come for the kid. It’s kind of an action film, kind of a drama, kind of a Harrison Ford fucks an Amish chick who looks like Kelly McGillis. It’s not bad. I don’t love it as much as some people do, but it’s a fun film to watch.

The direction is fine. Very action movie, lots of slow-mo. But I’m not voting for this. Come on. Come on. Peter Weir’s done better.

My Thoughts: It’s a very simple decision: Pollack or Kurosawa.

Weir’s film was too much of a mainstream action film (it wasn’t really, but, in terms of Oscar nominees, yeah, it kinda was. Harrison Ford isn’t exactly known for making art films, ya follow?), Huston had an Oscar (and lost for better efforts than this), and Babenco’s film is basically just a play with some flashbacks and dream sequences.

Now — I totally get why the Academy — notorious for hating foreigners, blacks, and — really anyone who isn’t white — went with Pollack. He’s directed some great films, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? — he should have an Oscar. So I’m not gonna fault the Academy for going the way they did. But to me — the film wasn’t very good. Sure, the direction was the standout aspect of the film, but my dislike of the film outweighs my need to give Sydney Pollack an Oscar.

And then you have Akira Kurosawa — the man fucking made Rashomon! Yojimbo! Seven Samurai! Masterpiece after masterpiece, and this was his only Oscar nomination! His only one! And yet you nominate Federico Fellini for fucking Satyricon? Jules Dassin for Never on Sunday?

I swear, I’ll never understand the Academy and what they like in terms of foreign films. You nominate Divorce, Italian Style and La Cage Aux Folles — but no Jacques Tati? No Melville? I don’t get it at all.

Making a long story short — Akira Kurosawa is like John Wayne — give this man an Oscar for whatever he does. I know Ran isn’t his most accessible of films (I myself will have trouble watching this again unless I’m absolutely in a mindset to watch it — I said recently it’s like with Kubrick, working yourself up to sit through Barry Lyndon over Dr. Strangelove or Full Metal Jacket — all three brilliant, just the one takes much more of an effort to sit through), but it’s still a masterpiece and should have easily won this based solely on who Kurosawa is. No contest.

My Vote: Kurosawa

Should Have Won: Kurosawa, Pollack

Is the result acceptable?: Has to be. The Academy just refuses to give foreign directors Oscars. Kurosawa was clearly the right person to give it to here, and yet they didn’t do it. So, knowing that, this was the second best choice. Sydney Pollack is a great director, and he was also nominated for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They and Tootsie, two great efforts. Add a Best Picture winner to that, and you have a clear and easy good decision. So, yes, acceptable. But I’m not happy about it.

Ones I suggest you see: Prizzi’s Honor is very enjoyable and will be the film the largest amount of people will end up enjoying from this list. It’s really great, and you should definitely see it.

Ran is a masterpiece. Definitely worth seeing. But I will say that unless you are a true film person, you will probably be bored to tears here. It’s not the easiest film to watch. But it’s still amazing, and you should probably see it if you’re serious about film.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is a great film. Probably one of the most unlikely of stories for people to like, but this is a really great movie and it features two great performances by William Hurt and Raul Julia. I highly recommend this one. It’s really great.

Witness is an action film with an interesting hook. Definitely worth a look, even though I’m not the biggest fan of it.

I hate Out of Africa, but it won Best Picture and all those other awards, so I have to at least recommend people seeing it just so they can see just how much better The Color Purple really is.


5) Weir

4) Huston

3) Babenco

2) Pollack

1) Kurosawa


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