The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1987-1988)
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.
Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor
John Boorman, Hope and Glory
Lasse Hallstrom, My Life as a Dog
Norman Jewison, Moonstruck
Adrian Lyne, Fatal Attraction
The Last Emperor. To get it out of the way, this is the clear winner in the category. Maybe in a different year you could make a case for someone over him, but here — he’s the choice.
This is about (insert title here) of China. There’s a remarkable scene at the beginning of the movie where the boy becomes king at an absurdly young age. So there’s this infant child walking outside and there are a thousand people standing outside, ready to be his subjects. And he’s wandering around, looking for the sound of a cricket. And then we watch him grow up, be taught (great series of scenes with him and Peter O’Toole, as the tutor), try to escape, etc. This is all intercut with him having been captured after the overthrow of the government by the communists, being “reeducated.” It’s a really terrific film.
The film is big, epic, colorful, and the exact kind of movie the Academy loves. And it’s hard to argue with Bertolucci’s direction of it. If he’s not your vote, you at least acknowledge that he’s right at the top and have him second.
Hope and Glory. John Boorman’s magnum opus. Many directors have that one really personal movie that they poured their heart into. Like Almost Famous for Cameron Crowe. You know that was the one movie he had in him to tell. This is John Boorman’s version of that.
It’s about his years growing up during World War II. So there are a lot of vignettes of sorts that act almost as memories he had. And they all string together perfectly because they act as the moments a child remembers. They work better than a standard plot would have. Like A Christmas Story. It’s anecdotal. It’s an absolutely lovely film.
Boorman does a great job with the direction, and you get the feeling that in a weaker year, this could have won and seemed okay. Here, it actually becomes my second choice. Who knows how it would have been in another year.
My Life as a Dog. Fascinating to me that he also got a DGA nomination. I’d have said for sure he was a foreign inclusion that snuck on. But no. He was one of three DGA nominees, with Bertolucci and Lyne (of all people). Boorman must have had the BAFTA vote, and Jewison had the respect vote plus the love of the film vote. (The DGA, by the way, had instead of those two James L. Brooks for Broadcast News and Spielberg for Empire of the Sun.)
It’s about a young boy who is split up from his brother when they find out their mother is dying. He’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in a small town. So we see him get to this town and have adventures. Meet all the quirky townfolk, etc. And it’s about a boy growing up and coming to terms with the hardships of life. It’s a nice film. This is one of those movies where if it hits someone at the right age it could really have an impact.
The direction is fine. Hallstrom does a good job with it. But the nomination is the reward. He goes no higher than fourth for most people, maybe third on a sentimental vote. Though admittedly, in a year like this, he might rise as high as second. There’s not a whole lot of stability below Bertolucci.
Moonstruck. I used to hate this movie. Not that I thought it was bad, it was fine, I just irrationally hated it. Having seen it again over the past few months, I’ve come around.
It’s about Cher, a widowed Brooklyn accountant, who has just gotten engaged to Danny Aiello, who she likes but doesn’t love. She thinks she is cursed with men, and he’s a momma’s boy. He ends up going to Italy to tend to his dying mother and she is tasked with getting his estranged brother to come to the wedding. The brother is played by Nicolas Cage, and he’s got a wooden hand because of an accident he blames Aiello for. Cher and Cage end up sleeping together, which complicates things. Meanwhile, her father is cheating on her mother, so that subplot is happening as well. It’s a comedy. Romantic comedy. It’s good. A lot of fun, well-written, and a movie that’s easy to like.
The direction is fine, but I wouldn’t rank Jewison very high in this category. He’s a capable director, but never one I’d say I needed to vote for whenever he’s nominated. Nothing particularly stands out to me with the direction, and if someone were to vote for him, they’d be doing so out of love for the film and not because of the effort.
Fatal Attraction. The original crazy white lady film.
Michael Douglas is a married businessman who meets Glenn Close at one of his events and sleeps with her. He thinks it’s a one-time thing, but she’s clingy. She starts showing up all the time, expecting this to continue. And of course it turns into psycho stalking.
The sad thing about this movie is that people nowadays — people my age — only know the shitty version they made with Beyonce like ten years ago (which was terrible). This is the good version of that story. Glenn Close is amazing here, and it’s just a great movie about a crazy woman.
The direction is fine. Lyne gets tension out of it. I guess you could vote for it. Doesn’t seem overly incredible to me, but this is a sort of iconic film. I guess a case could be made for it.
– – – – – – – – – –
The Reconsideration: It’s Bertolucci and anyone else is a distant second. Lyne made a nice thriller, Hallstrom made a nice coming of age movie, Jewison made a nice romantic comedy. Boorman seems to be the closest to a vote, but even he doesn’t come close to Bertolucci. This is one of those categories where there’s one winner and one winner only.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor
- John Boorman, Hope and Glory
- Adrian Lyne, Fatal Attraction
- Lasse Hallstrom, My Life as a Dog
- Norman Jewison, Moonstruck
- Hope and Glory
- The Last Emperor
- Fatal Attraction
My Vote: Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor
The Last Emperor is a great movie. Best Picture winner, and those should be seen. And it’s just really entertaining and looks fantastic. I consider pretty much all Best Picture winners essential, so, see it.
Moonstruck is a really good movie. Very likable. Great performances. If you’re one of those people who loves Nicolas Cage, you can’t miss this performance. Plus Cher won an Oscar for this (as did Olympia Dukakis), and it has one of the most famous lines in movie history (“Snap out of it!”). It’s got a lot of terrific moments and is definitely worth seeing. One of the essential films of the 80s, just not all time. You should see it, though.
Fatal Attraction is probably the best known movie in this category. Best known for how fucking batshit Glenn Close is in this movie. It’s a really iconic performance. Still not really an essential movie, but it’s a very famous movie that should be seen because it spawned a lot of imitations over the years. A quintessentially 80s thriller.
Hope and Glory is one of my favorite films that I discovered on this Quest. It’s so enjoyable. Having grown up with films like The Sandlot and A Christmas Story, I love a good coming of age story where a childhood is recounted through various little stories. This is exactly that. It’s hard not to love this movie. Highly recommended. An underseen masterpiece.
My Life as a Dog is a really nice movie. Not essential, and most people don’t even know it exists, but it’s definitely worth a watch. It’s almost a Swedish version of Hope and Glory, in a sense. More dramatic than about war. But still. It’s worth a watch.
The Last Word: I honestly don’t see how anyone votes for someone that’s not Bertolucci here. Maybe you really love one of the other films a lot and want to vote for that director, but there’s no denying that Bertolucci is tops in the category. There isn’t that much to say here.
– – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – –
Charles Crichton, A Fish Called Wanda
Barry Levinson, Rain Man
Mike Nichols, Working Girl
Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning
Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ
A Fish Called Wanda. One of the great all-time comedies.
A bunch of criminals plan a jewel heist. and it’s just fucking insane. I don’t even want to go into details because it’ll spoil all the great elements. It’s fucking hysterical. Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese, Michael Palin — amazing.
The direction is solid. There’s a rumor that says John Cleese actually directed a lot of this movie and not Charles Crichton, but Cleese says it’s not true. He only helped out on a couple of scenes near the end. But even so, no matter who the director is, they’re not the vote here. I’m actually kind of surprised it was nominated. But I’m fine with it. The movie is hilarious. Still, probably a fourth choice in the category, maybe third.
Rain Man. You’ve probably heard of this one. It’s kind of crossed over into the cultural lexicon.
Tom Cruise is a wheeler-dealer who finds out his father died and that he has a mentally challenged brother (Dustin Hoffman) who is inheriting most of his father’s estate. He goes to the institution where his brother lives and meets him. He then decides to kidnap him in order to get the money, and when that doesn’t work, decides he’s going to try to get custody of him so that way he can control the money. And they drive across the country and eventually Cruise comes to love Hoffman. It’s a great great movie. Seriously an all time great film.
The direction is good, and I completely understand Levinson winning. Not sure if I think the effort is best, but I am kind of swayed toward wanting to vote for him. So we’ll see where it shakes out in the end.
Working Girl. I’m constantly surprised that this movie got six Oscar nominations in all the major categories. It’s pretty much just a romantic comedy. But sure.
Melanie Griffith is a secretary who wants to become an executive. She ends up working for Sigourney Weaver, who is really supportive of her. Griffith gives her an idea and Weaver says she passed it along but it didn’t get anywhere. But then Weaver breaks her leg skiing and she asks Griffith to attend meetings in her place. And while doing so, Griffith finds out Weaver was going to steal her idea and say it was her own. Meanwhile, she meets Harrison Ford, an executive, and a romance blossoms. And so much of the film is them two falling in love and Griffith learning how to be an executive and get experience in doing so. But then of course Weaver comes back at the exact wrong time and threatens to make everything come crashing down.
It’s actually a solid film. It’s very well-plotted and well-acted. I hate to say “at the end of the day, it’s still just a romantic comedy,” but… honestly, I don’t see much out of the direction here to vote for it. I could understand more of a Best Picture vote if someone loves it over Best Director. Nichols is a great director, but there’s not much here to put it higher than fifth in the category.
Mississippi Burning. Great, great movie. Three civil rights workers are murdered down south and the FBI is sent down to investigate. They are Willem Dafoe, a northern boy, and Gene Hackman, who grew up in the south and understands the way casual racism works, even if he’s against it. So we watch them investigate the people responsible (all in the KKK).
It’s a great film. Hackman is terrific, as are everyone else. This is one of those movies that you could easily see having won a bunch of major Oscars. The subject matter is intense, though, so I also understand why it didn’t win much of anything. (Just Cinematography.)
Easily you could vote for this here. I wouldn’t argue for a second. I don’t love the film or the effort enough to actually vote for it, but in terms of pure effort, it might be second best in the category. Third at worst. Very solid all around.
The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese was actually a surprise nominee. Robert Zemeckis got a DGA nomination for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And when you consider how both of those films did at the Oscars and their subject matter — it’s actually kind of surprising Scorsese ended up getting on in the end.
It’s one of the more controversial films that came out, because it depicts Jesus as a human. Rather than a pure saint, he’s actually tempted by a lot of things before he goes and fulfills his destiny, I guess is the word. He dreams of having a normal life, married to Mary Magdalene, having kids, all that stuff. The kind of shit a person would go through. But, you know… religious people like their book and they don’t like people to fuck with it. Like Marvel fans.
The movie is really good. Not one of my favorite Scorsese movies, but picking your favorite Scorsese movies is like picking which hall of famers you want on your all-time team. It’s not like there’s a bad choice, there’s just ones you respect but don’t love. The direction is probably number one overall in the category in terms of pure effort. It’s clear he put a lot of himself into this. It came at a really interesting point in his career, when he realized the films he built his career on weren’t gonna fly anymore, so he rebuilt himself from scratch. He did After Hours, which was a low budget comedy, almost like a student film for him, and then he did his studio picture, The Color of Money, which gave him enough clout to make the film he wanted to make, which was this. This was a passion project of his, and it shows. Spirituality is an important theme in his work, and this is clearly his way of working through those themes. There are benchmarks to his career, and this is one of them. (The next big one isn’t Goodfellas, though that is important. It’s actually Gangs of New York.)
But we’re getting away from the point. This film is probably tops in the category and could easily be anyone’s vote. Which brings us into the important part…
– – – – – – – – – –
The Reconsideration: I’m very torn about this category. Because on the one hand — there’s no clear winner. On the other, do I vote with my heart or with my head? Because in a way, there are crossed signals there, and my heart wants to do something my head says is a good idea, and my head says, “Well maybe the heart vote is actually the right one.”
I’ll start by saying I’m not voting for Mike Nichols. And while I loved Crichton’s job, I wouldn’t vote for him either. Parker makes a compelling case for himself, but I don’t love the film or the effort enough to consider him. Which leaves Levinson and Scorsese.
Here’s how this works — straight up heart vote, I take Levinson. I love Rain Man and think that movie is perfect. I don’t love The Last Temptation of Christ. I respect it, and I think Scorsese did a great job. But I don’t love the film. So on instinct, my heart says to take Rain Man. And then, my head says, “Well, Scorsese did do the best job…”
But here’s the thing… my heart also says, “Marty has been fucked over at least twice at this point, and now there’s finally a chance to get him an Oscar again.” So there’s that. And then my head is saying, “You know… Last Temptation is good, but it’s actually not good enough that I have to take it.” So I really don’t know what to do.
My intellect says Scorsese did the best job, but the rest of me doesn’t really care. Which is weird, since it’s Scorsese. You’d think I’d vote for him automatically. But since I actually feel good with Levinson, I’m gonna take him. I’m aware he’s probably the second best effort, but the heart wants what it wants. I’m just not as passionate about Last Temptation as I am with Rain Man. So there.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ
- Barry Levinson, Rain Man
- Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning
- Charles Crichton, A Fish Called Wanda
- Mike Nichols, Working Girl
- Rain Man
- A Fish Called Wanda
- The Last Temptation of Christ
- Mississippi Burning
- Working Girl
My Vote: Barry Levinson, Rain Man
Rain Man is so essential you should know based on title alone that you need to see it. Everything about it is essential.
The Last Temptation of Christ is Martin Scorsese, and one of the most important Scorsese films. Which basically makes it essential for any real film buff.
A Fish Called Wanda is an all-time comedy, which practically makes it essential. It’s maybe not top tier essential, but any film fan will get to it soon enough. It’s great.
Working Girl is a quintessential 80s romantic comedy. Not essential, but more like… 80s essential. Worth a watch, and a solid film, but you can skip it if the genre isn’t your thing, or you don’t care that it got a bunch of major Oscar nominations, or don’t care about the stars, or the fact that Mike Nichols directed it… there are a lot of reasons to see it.
Mississippi Burning is a great thriller, and a terrific film. Not essential, but highly recommended. Probably a top ten for 1988.
The Last Word: This will always be a tough category for me. Because Scorsese gave the best effort and I always want to vote for him. But I love Rain Man, and I really want to vote for Levinson, and ultimately that’s what won out this time. And then Parker is there, making me feel like he’s getting the short end of the stick. I feel like all three are legitimate choices here. They’re all worth the vote. I don’t think I could ever give a “last” word in this category, but as it stands now, I’m taking Levinson, but any one of those three are solid choices.
– – – – – – – – – –
(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)