The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1993-1994)
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.
Robert Altman, Short Cuts
Jane Campion, The Piano
James Ivory, The Remains of the Day
Jim Sheridan, In the Name of the Father
Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
Short Cuts. Altman again. Another one of his pure ensemble films.
This is about a bunch of different people in and around Los Angeles. It’s not really worth it to get into specifics of the plot, but this is the Los Angeles yuppie version of Nashville. Loaded cast. Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr, Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Buck Henry, Huey Lewis, and Alex Trebek, as himself.
It’s good. Some parts work more than others for me, but that’s the nature of every ensemble film. Jack Lemmon is great in this.
The direction is good, and you always have to respect a movie that juggles a bunch of different storylines. It’s a testament to both the writing and the editing. Tough to vote for him in this category, with a clear winner, but he might be a solid second choice. I could see that.
The Piano. One of those quintessential Miramax films that Harvey managed to get a bunch of nominations for.
Holly Hunter is a mute who is sold into marriage. She goes to New Zealand with her daughter and her piano. She uses sign language and plays the piano, and that’s how she communicates. Then there’s Harvey Keitel, a man who became a Maori (you know, one of those tattooed Polynesian indigenous peoples), who may understand her better than her husband. It’s a drama.
It’s a fine movie. Good performances, good production value. Not sure I love this film. Some might, but I don’t. Campion does a good job with it, though. Maybe I have her third in the category. Maybe fourth. She’s middle of the pack.
The Remains of the Day. Merchant Ivory. But I actually like this one. I read the novel before I saw the movie and really loved the novel. It’s Ishiguro and not E.M. Forster for a change.
Anthony Hopkins is a proper butler who was born into the position. It’s all he knows, and it’s his entire life. And we follow him as he dedicates himself to his job so much that he misses out on the opportunity for a happy life with a woman, which is staring him right in the face. And the whole thing is also about the dying days of the British Empire and the dissolution of the class system that was in place for centuries — all that stuff.
The movie is really solid. The direction, though, is the standard Merchant Ivory thing. Good, but no one would vote for it. Easily fifth in the category, as they all are.
In the Name of the Father. Jim Sheridan again. The man makes great Irish movies.
Daniel Day-Lewis is an Irish guy who gets arrested for a pub bombing with his father. They are thrown in prison and forced to sign confessions. And the rest of the film is basically they adapting to prison life. And then there’s Emma Thompson, who shows up and tries to find the evidence to get him released.
It’s a great film. Really well made, well directed, well acted. Sheridan unfortunately ends up middle of the pack, maybe as high as second if you want. Unfortunately, this category has an easy winner and there’s not a whole lot to be said otherwise.
Schindler’s List. How you gonna argue with this? This is one of the most powerful films ever made. This is one of the most consensus choices there has ever been in the history of the Best Director race.
You should know what this film is about, and you should probably get around to seeing it if you care at all about movies.
Oh, and if for some crazy reason you don’t think he’s by far the number one choice in the category, remember that he also directed Jurassic Park this same year.
Not that you’re really supposed to be taking that into account, but… come on.
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The Reconsideration: It’s Spielberg by a mile. Shit, I might even consider voting him for just Jurassic Park. And here we have Schindler’s List? Slam dunk #1, there’s not even a question that he’s the choice. No one else comes close. Altman, Campion, Sheridan, they’re all 2s at best. This is all Spielberg, all day. Finally, the man made a case that the Academy couldn’t ignore. Bout fucking time.
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- Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
- Robert Altman, Short Cuts
- Jane Campion, The Piano
- Jim Sheridan, In the Name of the Father
- James Ivory, The Remains of the Day
- Schindler’s list
- In the Name of the Father
- The Remains of the Day
- Short Cuts
- The Piano
My Vote: Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
Schindler’s List is essential for film buffs on a crazy level, and may be life essential. One of the most essential films ever made.
In the Name of the Father is a great film and one I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s so good. Daniel Day-Lewis alone renders most movies worth watching, and this one is Jim Sheridan in his prime, and one of the great films of the 90s.
The Remains of the Day is one of the Merchant Ivory films that I will go to bat for. It’s really solid. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are great. The book is better, but it’s definitely a solid film. A lot of Oscar nominations too.
Short Cuts is a really good movie. Altman doing his ensemble thing, and it’s worth seeing for two reasons: Altman and the cast.
The Piano is one of the classic Miramax films of the 90s. Won Actress and Supporting Actress. Good film. Don’t love it, but do recommend it. Can’t call it essential, but Oscar buffs need to see it and movie buffs probably should too at some point.
The Last Word: It’s Spielberg. No argument there. No one else is even a close second. Schindler’s alone wins this, but he also had Jurassic Park this year. This should be one of the five most unanimous categories in Best Director history.
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Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway
Krzysztof Kieslowski, Three Colors: Red
Robert Redford, Quiz Show
Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction
Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
Bullets Over Broadway is one of the Woody Allen movies I really like.
John Cusack is a playwright who is trying to get his play financed. He gets it from a mobster by agreeing to put the mobster’s girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) in it. She’s awful. Also in the play are Dianne Wiest as the alcoholic diva and Jim Broadbent as the leading man who can’t stay away from craft services. Then there’s Chazz Palminteri as the guy assigned by the mobster to watch and make sure Tilly isn’t mistreated. And Cusack discovers he’s actually a great writer, who secretly helps Cusack rewrite the play. And then Wiest seduces Cusack to get more lines, Broadbent keeps eating, Tilly is just awful, and the whole thing is hilarious. It’s one of Allen’s best movies.
That said — the direction is still fifth for me, because the direction is almost always fifth with him. It’s fine, but it’s not something you vote for.
Three Colors: Red is part of the Kieslowski Colors trilogy that people think are masterpieces. A lot of highbrow film people really love this stuff an I heard such great things about all three of these movies going in. And honestly — meh. They’re fine. Maybe they didn’t hit me at the right age. I’m sure I’ll go back one of these days and rewatch all the foreign stuff that didn’t do anything for me at 22. Not that I’d vote for him here no matter how much more respect I’d have for the effort.
It’s about a judge that spies on his neighbors and a model who sort of befriends him. There’s really no way to explain this. You’re either gonna get into or or not.
The direction is fine. But honestly, of this category, this is the least well known of the bunch. And at best, this is a third choice.
Quiz Show is a terrific film. And in a year like this, it’s an afterthought. Yet if you’ve seen it, it’s one of those movies where, in a different year, you want to vote for it. Also, it’s one of those movies that, when you see it, you go, “Holy shit, this is amazing. How come I didn’t know about this?” The assumption is almost that people were keeping it down, but the truth is that because of the other two films in the category, no one thinks about this. And it’s wonderful.
It’s about the (insert title here) scandal of the 50s, where Twenty One was rigged by the producers. John Turturro is a champion who cannot get an answer wrong. Although finally the ratings aren’t going higher after weeks of him winning, so the producers decide he needs to go. They find a replacement in Ralph Fiennes, who refuses to let the game be rigged. They then tell Turturro they need him to go, and he deliberately gets an answer wrong on the condition that no one tell the public that he had been given the answers in advance. And then Fiennes takes over, and slowly starts falling into the same cycle of corruption.
It’s a wonderful film. Definitely my favorite film that Redford directed, and I’d wager most people’s as well. It’s well-directed, but it’s not getting tops in the category. No way. No matter how much you like it, it’s impossible to think it’s actually better than these next two films.
Pulp Fiction. Yeah, you’ve seen this. You can practically quote this movie up and down. We all can.
What is there to say about this movie in this part? It revolutionized cinema. A lot of people are gonna vote for this. It makes perfect sense. So we’ll leave it for the actual decision time, since we know it’s gonna be right there.
You thought I was gonna pick something else.
I refuse to believe that someone hasn’t grown up with this movie. Or seen this movie. It’s everywhere. And yes, this is also right there for a vote. So we’ll just get right to it.
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The Reconsideration: Oh man, I knew this one was coming. I’ve known how I felt about this for a while now, and only finally have I come to terms with it.
I’m taking Zemeckis, guys.
I know, I know. It’s probably horrible to most of you teens who just saw Pulp Fiction and think it’s the greatest movie ever made. I remember those days. I watched that movie about 50 times between the ages of 17 and 22 as well.
But you know what? Since the ages of 7 and now, I’ve seen Forrest Gump about a hundred times. I watch that movie more than I watch Pulp Fiction, I quote that movie more than I quote Pulp Fiction, and I’ve ultimately decided that I like that movie more than I like Pulp Fiction.
Sure, Pulp Fiction changed cinema in the 90s, and helped usher in a giant wave of independent cinema and a particular kind of storytelling. But Forrest Gump is a movie that everyone sees. It’s embedded in the cultural lexicon, and just about everything in it is iconic.
They’re both wonderful films and great choices, but I’m gonna be honest — Gump holds up. It’s a very lasting film. And while Pulp Fiction is a perfect film… it’s a little dated. It’s still somewhat timeless, but it doesn’t feel as timeless as Forrest Gump does. And I’m finally old enough to admit that this is my true preference in this category.
Oh, and sincere apologies to the other three nominees in the category, who I never even consider for a second. But with these two heavyweights, it’s kinda hard to take the others seriously for a vote.
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- Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
- Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction
- Robert Redford, Quiz Show
- Krzysztof Kieslowski, Three Colors: Red
- Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway
- Forrest Gump
- Pulp Fiction
- Quiz Show
- Bullets Over Broadway
- Three Colors: Red
My Vote: Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump has crossed over into a life essential movie. How does one get by without having seen it?
Pulp Fiction has also basically crossed over into a life essential movie. The onl way you haven’t seen this as an aspiring movie buff is if you’re 13 and haven’t really gotten into movies yet. Trust me, this will be the first ones you see. I don’t think someone finds this site without having seen this movie.
Quiz Show is one of the best films of the Oscar Quest that seemingly no one knows about. There’s a fairly good chance that having seen this movie will arm you with a great gem to show to people who haven’t seen it. And I guarantee most people will love this movie upon seeing it, because it’s fantastic. I say it’s essential for film buffs. Objectively, it’s not. But you really should see it.
Bullets Over Broadway is one of the best Woody Allen movies by all accounts. That practically makes it essential. You should see it because it’s hilarious and all the performances are great. Three acting nominations here.
Three Colors: Red is good. Some people think the trilogy is a masterpiece. I think it’s good. Film buffs should probably see it, I guess? I don’t know. I don’t love it and wouldn’t force it on anyone. This one’s on you to do your homework and decide whether or not you need to see it.
The Last Word: Yeah… it’s Zemeckis or Tarantino. I understand a Tarantino vote. That was me for the longest time. But honestly, it’s Zemeckis for me.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)