The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1983

1983 is a really weak year. When Terms of Endearment wins Best Picture, you’re witnessing a pretty weak year. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just — it’s not a strong Best Picture winner.

Shirley MacLaine won Best Actress for the film (talked about here), which had to happen, since she was way overdue by this point, and despite the strength of the category, she needed to win. And Jack Nicholson won Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), which, I don’t understand. I guess they just wanted to give Jack another one. Sam Shepard really should have won there. Best Actor this year was Robert Duvall for Tender Mercies, which, the category was pretty weak, and Duvall needed to win an Oscar (his snub in 1979 was Unforgivable). So I support the win, even though I wasn’t over the moon about his performance. Best Supporting Actress was Linda Hunt for The Year of Living Dangerously (talked about here). She played a man. ‘Nuff said.

Now this category. How the fuck was Phillip Kaufman not nominated for The Right Stuff? He’d have won the category with these nominees.


And the nominees were…

Bruce Beresford, Tender Mercies

Ingmar Bergman, Fanny and Alexander

James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment

Mike Nichols, Silkwood

Peter Yates, The Dresser

Beresford — Tender Mercies is kind of like the Crazy Heart of the 80s. Robert Duvall is an alcoholic country singer trying to redeem himself. He’s living with a woman and her son, and is trying to forget his past. People come by and recognize him, but he denies that he is who he is. The film is pretty low key.

Beresford’s nomination feels like filler to me. One of those, “Well, we’re nominating it for Best Picture, so…” nominations. Which is funny to me, since the two really great Best Picture nominees, The Big Chill and The Right Stuff.

Bergman — Fanny and Alexander is a story of two siblings. They’re happy until their father dies. Then their mother starts seeing another dude, and he’s a real dick. He’s got a real iron fist, and even the mother starts to dislike him. And the kids end up having to be snuck out of the house, and the mother also burns the house down with the guy inside of it. And everything seems happy, but then — well, that last scene. I won’t give it away. You’ll need to watch it to see what happens. It’s a good movie. A bit overly long and morose, but well-done.

I’m not the biggest Bergman fan. That is, I think his films are incredibly well-made, but stuff like this, who actually wants to sit and watch it? You know? But, in a category like this, honestly, he definitely merits serious consideration. My problem with it is — this is an Academy that doesn’t like to give foreigners Oscars. And if they didn’t give one to Fellini for 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita, or Kurosawa for — anything — why would I vote for Bergman? It’s not like I loved the film that much, and if I were voting for Bergman, I’d be voting on reputation alone. That’s just not me. I blame the category, since Philip Kaufman should have been nominated and won.

Brooks — Terms of Endearment is an amazing film. There’s no denying that. A story of a mother and daughter — Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger. It’s a film that runs the gamut of human emotion, and ends as one of the best tearjerkers ever made. It’s a great film, probably not worth Best Picture, but what are you gonna do? The Academy is the Academy.

As for the directorial effort — it’s pretty clear that it’s not worth this award. However, the Academy did such a terrible job with this category (the DGA category was so much better), that he actually became the default winner. And anyone who says otherwise — Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech. Rationalization right there. Him winning for that film over the other nominees in that category is exactly the same as this, in its own way. Can’t do anything about it, best to just let it go and move on.

Nichols — Silkwood is a great film. A bit — I don’t know, filmsy, maybe, but still a strong film.

Meryl Streep is a worker at a radiation plant. And the first hour or so of the film is just us seeing what it’s like for her. And we see how the plant makes them work long hours and cuts corners on safety regulations. And eventually Streep, after realizing she’s been exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation, start working to unionize the workers, and meets intense pressure from the plant. And then she ends up dying in a car accident, and it’s not quite certain whether or not it was an accident (though I think the implication that it was murder is a bit much).

It’s a strong film, but I don’t really think Nichols needed to be nominated here. It feels like a stature nomination. He’s Mike Nichols, so we vote for him. He got a lot of these over his career. Personally, I don’t see how he should have won for this over a film like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I feel no need to vote for him whatsoever, especially considering he already had an Oscar. But the film is great.

Yates — The Dresser is a really weird film, because it’s basically a play. It was weird to see Yates essentially shoot a play as if it were 1950 and in black and white. Not that it’s not a good film, it just took me by surprise to basically be seeing a stage play shot on film.

Albert Finney is a great Shakespearean actor. The only thing is — he’s a nutcase. Totally fucking insane. And when you see the film, you’ll know what I mean. And Tom Courtenay is his personal assistant, who knows how to deal with him when others cannot. His job is to navigate through the crazy and get Finney to go out on stage, because he knows that as soon as Finney’s out on stage, he’s magic. And the film is basically all the backstage stuff that happens between acts. It’s well-acted, and a good movie, but it really should not have been nominated in this category at all. I’m not kidding when I say this is a play on film. This is a dude that directed Bullitt! And Breaking Away! And this is what you think he should win for? Get the hell out of here. No way I vote for him.

My Thoughts: What do you do here? The two best films of the year (Best Picture nominees only) weren’t nominated. No Philip Kaufman for The Right Stuff (he really should have won), and no Lawrence Kasdan for The Big Chill (at least there, I could have voted for him and been like, “I love the film. What else was I gonna do?”). Now — this category is terrible.

Beresford is a joke nomination. No disrespect to him, but — no. Yates — hell no. This is so stagy it’s ridiculous. This is a man that directed Breaking Away and Bullitt. You’re gonna give him an Oscar for this? Nichols did a great job with Silkwood, but he shouldn’t have won for it. He didn’t need the second one. And I really hate to have to vote for Bergman. I mean, he did a great job on Fanny and Alexander, and the film was really good, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for him. I just can’t. So, I’ll vote Brooks. At least it’s the Best Picture winner. But man — I hate this category.

My Vote: Brooks

Should Have Won: I guess, Brooks. Right? Best Picture winner? If not him then no one.

Is the result acceptable?: Has to be, right? Of these nominees, the Best Picture winner is the one I can defend the most. And maybe Bergman because of who he is. That’s about it, really. So, yes, it’s acceptable. I love Jim Brooks. I don’t see this as something that shouldn’t have happened. (At least, based on this list.)

Ones I suggest you see: You need to see Terms of Endearment. End of story.

Silkwood — really strong film, really great, Meryl is terrific, and it’s very well-known. You probably need to see it, but I can’t gauge. Chances are, if you watch a lot of movies, you’ll come around to this at some point.

Fanny and Alexander — to each his own. Real film people need to see it, but most people don’t. It’s long, drags, and most people won’t like it at all. But it’s a good film, and like I said, if you’re serious about film, you need to see it. So there’s nothing to recommend. Either you need to see it or you don’t. You know who you are.

Tender Mercies — decent. Don’t love it. But good. See it if you want to. He won for it, so that’s a reason for.

The Dresser — entertaining enough. Finney is larger than life and Courtenay delivers an even better performance, I felt. But very stagy and not for everyone. Good performances, though. Worth a look.


5) Beresford

4) Bergman

3) Yates

2) Nichols

1) Brooks

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