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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1979-1980)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1979

Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer

Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now

Bob Fosse, All That Jazz

Edouard Molinaro, La Cage Aux Folles

Peter Yates, Breaking Away

Analysis:

Kramer vs. Kramer. What a wonderful film. I want so much to love this as a Best Picture winner. But it’s difficult. Given my love of the other two films in the category that are right there for the vote. But anyway…

This is a movie about a divorce. Meryl Streep is married to Dustin Hoffman, a workaholic. She is tired of being a housewife and wants to go do her own thing. So she up and leaves. The opening scene is her telling her son she’s leaving and that it’s not his fault. And the next hour or so of the movie is Dustin Hoffman raising his son by himself as a single father. And it’s great. And then Meryl comes back and wants custody of the son, and a nasty court battle ensues.

This movie is PERFECT. I want to stress that. This is a perfect movie. That said, no way this effort ranks even third for me. The effort is fine. But it’s all in the writing and the acting. I think, being as objective as I can, that this was a horrible choice for Best Director. Now, I know that they like to have Picture and Director match, and that’s what also happened the year after this (kinda fitting the two years are linked in this article). But seriously, now. This effort is just fine. One effort is outstanding and the other is all-time great. So, if we’re going by the very definition of the category, this was not the best director effort.

Apocalypse Now. There’s nothing I can say about this movie that would come close to simply experiencing it. Also, it’s Apocalypse Now, shouldn’t you have seen this by now if you’re reading this article?

This is also a perfect movie. What Coppola achieved with this movie is nothing short of breathtaking. Not to mention all the chaos that went into the making of it. Back then, I guess that worked against you. This year, it worked just fine for The Revenant.

This will always be my vote in this category, and that’s also taking into account that a second movie besides this one that is also one of my ten favorite movies of all time appears on this list. Which…

All That Jazz. I LOVE this movie. I remember seeing this movie for the first time. It was almost a religious experience. This movie is something else. Some people think Cabaret is Fosse’s masterpiece. I say it’s this.

This movie is about Roy Scheider, who is essentially playing Fosse himself. He takes too many pills, works too hard, doesn’t get enough sleep, and is essentially driving himself to the grave. We follow him as he tries to put on a show, edit a movie (which is basically Lenny) and also in fantasy sequences, where he literally flirts with the angel of death. The musical sequences are astounding, and the filmmaking is top notch. The finale is a thing of beauty. Literally ANY other year and I would vote for this, and I still want to vote for this. But there’s no denying Apocalypse Now. There just isn’t. Catch me on another day and I may want to switch to this, but in the end, I’ll always take Coppola. Because when you get down to it, no matter how much I love this, you remember so much more of Apocalypse Now than this movie.

La Cage Aux Folles. This one is easy. Our first foreign nominee since 1976. You may think you have no idea what this is. But that’s not true. You do know what this is. Because if you know The Birdcage, then you know this movie. Because this was the movie that The Birdcage was a remake of.

Two gay men own a drag club and their son brings his fiancée and her super conservative parents to see them. So they have to pretend to be normal. And hilarity ensues.

It’s a great story. The film is well done, but at best we’re looking at fourth in the category. Maybe you could make a case for third. It’s not beating the other two. It just isn’t.

Breaking Away. I had no idea what this was going in, and I came out LOVING it.

It’s a coming of age film about a group of kids (all played by 25+ year olds, of course) who try to figure out what to do with their lives after high school. One of them is obsessed with cycling, and eventually he and his friends start a team. There’s also romance and comedy and stuff in between, and it all culminates in a big race at the end. And let me tell you, that race is THRILLING. It’s like National Velvet. That horse race at the end is absolutely riveting even if you don’t care at all about the sport. That’s the power of sports films. They get you going when the climactic game happens.

This movie is so well done. Yates absolutely belongs here, but there’s no way I could put him higher than third. I mean… All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now. You’re not beating those.

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The Reconsideration: It’s so clearly either Coppola or Fosse. (For almost the third time. It’s crazy how they both made masterpieces in the same three years.) Benton made a great movie but his effort might actually be five of five. Molinaro — good job, but the nomination is the reward. And Yates — I wish I could put him higher, but I just can’t. And between Fosse and Coppola, it’s not even 1 and 1A. They’re both 1s. They’re both top ten all time favorite films of mine. I side with Coppola (for the third time of three, too) simply because of what he achieves with Apocalypse Now. There are images and scenes that are all time famous. All That Jazz is incredible, but no one’s going back and remembering the amount of moments that came out of Coppola’s film. That’s the only thing I could use to break the tie, because fuck, man. I wish they could have tied here.

Oh, and the DGA — they actually had Woody Allen on there for Manhattan. So I’m surprised the Academy didn’t include him. They also had James Bridges for The China Syndrome, who would have been a terrific inclusion (probably at Molinaro’s expense).

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now
  2. Bob Fosse, All That Jazz
  3. Peter Yates, Breaking Away
  4. Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer
  5. Edouard Molinaro, La Cage aux Folles

Rankings (films):

  1. Apocalypse Now
  2. All That Jazz
  3. Kramer vs. Kramer
  4. Breaking Away
  5. La Cage aux Folles

My Vote: Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now

Recommendations:

Apocalypse Now is a prerequisite film in order to be a film buff. Not having seen it almost disqualifies you from being able to talk about movies. Beyond essential.

All That Jazz is essential. Bob Fosse made three masterpieces. Those three are essential for film buffs. The other two are negotiable, but we can talk about those another time.

Kramer vs. Kramer is essential too. Best Picture winner, won a bunch of Oscars (if Meryl were considered a lead it would have won the Big Five), some of the best performances of all time, and simply one of the great films of all time. Needs to be seen. It’s perfect.

Breaking Away is a WONDERFUL movie that needs to be seen. It’s not essential, but I’m telling you that you need to see it because you will like it. It has a lot of charm and will win you over. One of the best gems of the entire Oscar Quest.

La Cage aux Folles is great, but you’re not required to have seen it. In many ways, The Birdcage is better. It’s worth seeing, and it’s an easy watch if you know the story already. Definitely not something you need to overly seek out, though.

The Last Word: It’s either Coppola or Fosse. They are so far and away the two in this category that it’s unfathomable to me that anyone would vote for anyone else. I understand why Benton won, but if we’re really looking at the definition of what should win this category… well, I guess that also gives us a grey area. Since theoretically the best picture should also have the best direction. You know what I mean. If you watch these five purely for the direction, there’s no way it’s not either Coppola or Fosse. Take either one, they’re both perfect. If I could vote for a tie, I would.

– – – – – – – – – –

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1980

David Lynch, The Elephant Man

Roman Polanski, Tess

Robert Redford, Ordinary People

Richard Rush, The Stunt Man

Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull

Analysis:

The Elephant Man. You ever see Operation Dumbo Drop?

That has nothing to do with this movie. I’m just asking.

This is about Joseph Merrick, a man born with Elephantitis. You can guess what that disease is. He is found at a low rent circus, being beaten savagely and forced to work in the freak show. And he is saved by Anthony Hopkins, a doctor, who wants to take care of him and study him for science. And the rest of the film is Hopkins taking him in and learning that he’s actually quite intelligent.

It’s a terrific movie. The entire movie is very well made, and is arguably (which goes against how his films usually go) David Lynch’s best film. John Hurt is something else in this movie.

The direction is great and is definitely top three in the category no matter which way you slice it. You could easily vote for it.

Tess. Roman Polanski making Tess of the D’Ubervilles. That’s essentially what this is. Look up the book (or read it. If you still know what those are) if you want to know the plot.

The movie is gorgeous. It looks really good. But to me, it’s no higher than fourth. Maybe some people have it third. Not that high at all for me. I thought this film was pretty boring overall. And I don’t think Polanski did all that much with it. I haven’t seen it in years, so perhaps when I do rewatch it, I’ll think differently.

Polanski also wasn’t nominated for the DGA for this. They nominated Michael Apted for Coal Miner’s Daughter instead. This is one of those instances where I think the Academy made the better decision. Which hasn’t happened often so far in the past decade.

Ordinary People. It’s such a shame that this won Best Picture. Because people really shit on this movie for the simple fact that it won. It’s really good. Sure, not the best film of the year in most people’s eyes, but shit, it’s not that bad.

It’s a family drama. There was a boating accident and one of the two sons of the family died. The older of the two. He was the favored son of the mother (Mary Tyler Moore). The surviving son (Timothy Hutton) is dealing with the after effects of the accident, and tries to commit suicide. So he ends up in counseling with Judd Hirsch, and tries to overcome his sense of guilt and also fix his relationship with his mother. And Donald Sutherland plays his father, who is very supportive during the whole ordeal.

The movie is great. All the performances are fantastic. Mary Tyler Moore could have (and arguably should have) won an Oscar for her performance. Timothy Hutton did win an Oscar for his performance. And Donald Sutherland is the quiet rock of the movie who got totally overlooked. This movie is terrific. The direction — nope. Fourth at best. Probably even fifth. Great film does not necessarily equal a vote for Best Director.

The Stunt Man. What a great movie. Words cannot even begin to describe how happy this film makes me. I had no idea what this was when I saw it, and it remains one of my favorite discoveries on this entire Quest.

A man is on the run from the cops and stumbles onto a film set. He’s almost run over during a scene as a car is driven off of the bridge. He has no idea what’s going on and dives into the water after it. The stuntman dies during all this. The only person who knows that is the director (Peter O’Toole). So he offers the man a deal — he needs a stuntman, and he figures the man is on the run from the cops. So take the stuntman’s place, and he’ll get paid, and he can lay low for a while. So he agrees. And what follows is one of the most surreal, cinematic films I have ever seen. The entire movie is about the difference between film vs. reality. So scenes that may appear to be part of real life end up being part of the film, and vice versa. We don’t know, as (insert title here) doesn’t know, what is actually happening. Which makes him really nervous, as the stunts keep getting more and more dangerous, and he starts to think that the director might actually be trying to have him killed, all leading to the finale, that bridge stunt being done one more time.

This movie is FANTASTIC. I cannot recommend this highly enough. The way he shoots this is so good, fluctuating between film vs. reality. He uses every camera trick in the book, and honestly, I almost want to vote for it. You probably could vote for it. Only, there’s an elephant in the room. Oh, and a bull in the room…

Raging Bull. It’s Raging Bull. Hard to argue that this isn’t Scorsese’s masterpiece. Goodfellas is the populist masterpiece, but in terms of pure filmmaking, this is his masterpiece. He put his soul into this movie, and it shows.

You can’t watch this and say this isn’t the choice. It’s impossible. This is arguably one of the ten or twenty greatest directorial efforts of all time. It’s so clearly him that it looks bad that he lost. Nothing against Redford, but come on now.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Marty. It’s so plainly obvious that it’s him. Rush and Lynch are solid entries and would normally be worth a vote (and you could argue that they are and maybe even take them if you wanted), but there’s no denying that Scorsese is tops in this category. I feel bad that Scorsese lost this, because this really should have been his. He could have lost Best Picture, but he shouldn’t have lost here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull
  2. Richard Rush, The Stunt Man
  3. David Lynch, The Elephant Man
  4. Robert Redford, Ordinary People
  5. Roman Polanski, Tess

My Vote: Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull

Recommendations:

Raging Bull is beyond essential. You need to see this if you like movies.

The Elephant Man is nearly essential. Very famous, very good, one of the most famous lines in all of cinema in it. Plus, David Lynch. Maybe not top tier essential, but right below that. You should get to it pretty quickly.

The Stunt Man is one of the most inventive films of all time, and one of the great films about moviemaking to ever be made. I call it essential, even though it’s not. You should see this because it’s so great and because no one really knows what this is anymore. One of the best gems you will find on this Quest.

Ordinary People is essential, because if you want to say it shouldn’t have won, you need to see it. And because when you see it, you’ll realize how good it is and how it’s not the worst thing in the world that it won. It’s just… not as good as Raging Bull. That’s not its fault. It’s great and you need to see it.

Tess — Polanski, looks gorgeous, probably worthwhile. I think it’s long and boring. Maybe when I see it again I’ll think differently. I don’t think it’s very essential at all. See it, don’t see it. You’re fine either way. It did win three Oscars, so there’s that.

The Last Word: It’s Marty. End of story. Rush and Lynch — great. Redford, solid. Polanski, fine. But Marty is the only choice here. We’re talking all-time. Legit ALL time film. You don’t argue with that.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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