The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 2005-2006)
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.
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis, Crash
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich
Good Night, and Good Luck. LOVE this movie.
It’s about Edward R. Murrow, who decided to take on Joseph McCarthy at the height of his powers hunting communists. Everyone else is afraid to say something, but Murrow does not. And we watch him decide to do it and then the ramifications of doing it.
It’s a fucking great movie. I love this movie so much. The performances are great, and the message is great. This was a movie that I thought was so underrated from this year. It was all Brokeback vs. Crash, and I kept asking how come no one was talking about this movie.
I think Clooney is firmly in conversation for the win. Not sure if he’s overall the best effort, but I’m willing to make the argument that he could be.
Crash. The greatest movie ever made. Right? Don’t we all love this movie?
This is a treatise on race. Or a movie where race is the subject and a lot of vaguely one dimensional characters deal with it in different ways. Matt Dillon is a racist cop who is caring for his dying father but also has some complicated feelings about black people. He molests a woman at a traffic stop, but ends up having to save her life later. It means something. Then there’s the black TV producer who is basically kept in line by the white producers even though the show is racist and is marginalizing the black actors. There’s the black cop who has an estranged brother and is caring for his mother who has dementia. The Arab pawn shop owner whose shop is robbed and blames the Mexican locksmith who put his locks on. The DA’s wife who had her car stolen at gunpoint by two black guys and is now overly concerned with her safety. All that stuff.
The movie is fine. It’s perfectly fine. We wouldn’t hate this if it didn’t win Best Picture. But we’re here to talk about the effort and not the film. And honestly — the effort is fifth in the category. There’s no way you can really say this goes higher than any of the other four. You just can’t. He’s fifth, and that’s it.
Brokeback Mountain. What a difference a decade makes, huh? This doesn’t look so bad now, does it, guys? Remember when everyone hated this because it was about gay people?
It’s about two cowboys who take a job herding sheep. And along the trip, they discover they have feelings for one another. That’s the film. They fall in love and have to keep their relationship secret while they go back to their regular families. It’s terrific.
There’s no denying that Ang Lee directs the hell out of this and that the effort is well worth voting for. The only question is if this is my choice or not. That’s it.
Capote. A biopic of sorts about… you guessed it… Noam Chomsky.
A horrible murder is committed in Kansas (I mean, what else are you gonna do?) and Truman Capote goes down there to write a book about it. It becomes in Cold Blood and is a huge success. However, he never writes another book and seems deeply changed by the experience. This film delves into that experience.
It’s really good. Philip Seymour Hoffman is crazy good as Capote, and the film looks gorgeous. This movie looks so good, and the direction actually holds up better over time. That might end up being the case with Foxcatcher, too, which got a nomination in this category that people might not have understood at the time. You could potentially make a case for Miller, despite this being a strong category overall.
Munich. It’s funny. Every time I see this film in relation to the Oscars, all I can think about is the insanity surrounding its release. I’m sure it was completely overblown, but all I remember is that they were still shooting this over the summer and rushing to get everything done in time for an Oscar season release. And then it finally comes out and out of nowhere gets all these nominations, and I remember thinking, “They only voted for this because it’s Spielberg.” This was of course before I saw it. It’s funny how these things stick with you from those ages.
Anyway, this is about the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics where a bunch of Israeli athletes were killed by a Palestinian group, and the Israeli response to it, which was basically to send Mossad agents out to murder all the people responsible.
It’s a really terrific film. It’s well made, but to me, it feels like a lot of Spielberg’s recent films. It has that look to it. Which is almost sterile. Not that takes away from the overall direction. Bridge of Spies was well-directed too. There’s just something… I don’t know… off-putting about it.
Otherwise, great job and I’ll consider him for a vote, but I can’t help but feel like he’s at best one of those dreaded “third choices” that you respect but don’t really ever want to vote for.
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The Reconsideration: Haggis is out right off the top. I don’t like to be harsh, but if in this category, you think Paul Haggis is the choice, I’ll call you stupid. There are such great efforts here all around. Paul Haggis is a stupid choice in this category. It’s funny. I remember thinking this category used to be weak, too. And yet, they’re all great outside of Haggis. Funnily enough, these five matched the DGA five too. Imagine if the fifth nominee was Terrence Malick for The New World. Or someone like that. Shit, that would be a category. Anyway….
I’m gonna surprise you and put Spielberg fourth. I just… there’s something about his films in a post-2002 world that don’t speak to me.
Left with the other three… they’re all great in different ways. I put Capote third just because… I don’t know. I put it third. I’m not feeling that for me as much as the others. It’s gorgeously shot though and I definitely think it can be worth a vote.
And then, between Lee and Clooney… gonna be perfectly honest, I’m taking Clooney. There’s something about the way he shoots those scenes, up tight on Murrow’s face… I like this movie a lot. Lee does a great job bringing the subject matter to the screen and doing a nice job with the film, and I completely understand voting for him and think he’s a perfect winner. I just… really love Good Night and Good Luck and want to take Clooney here. He’s just my preference.
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Rankings (category and films):
- George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck.
- Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
- Bennett Miller, Capote
- Steven Spielberg, Munich
- Paul Haggis, Crash
My Vote: George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck.
Brokeback Mountain is an essential movie. I don’t think we still live in an era where people are against this movie for the subject matter, but if we do, you need to see it anyway. It’s great, it’s iconic, and because it’s the Oscars, this movie needs to be seen because it’s at the forefront of one of the biggest Oscar controversies of all time. Must be seen all around.
Munich is one of Steven Spielberg’s… I can’t say “last” great films, but it’s definitely one of his best ones of the past decade. His track record is kinda spotty after 2002. (The Terminal? Ehh. War of the Worlds? Not exactly the first movie you put on of his. If you put it on at all. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Yeah… Tintin? Good, but animated. War Horse? I love it, but people fucking hate that movie for some reason. Or have just never seen it. Lincoln and Bridge of Spies were great though, so I guess he’s rebounded.) This is one of his big films of the past decade. Pretty much all of Spielberg is essential, but this is one of the more essential ones, if that makes sense. Like, Scorsese. You have to see Goodfellas and Raging Bull just to be considered a film buff. And then as a film buff, you then have to see Casino and Bringing Out the Dead and Last Temptation of Christ. You don’t necessarily have to see Kundun and After Hours, but you do because you’re a film buff and it’s Scorsese. This is in Spielberg’s Last Temptation tier. (The Terminal is in his Kundun tier.)
Good Night and Good Luck is a fucking masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s an essential movie. Somehow this movie keeps getting forgotten. Every time I bring it up, it’s either, “Oh yeah,” or, “Oh… was that movie great? I don’t remember it.” And it’s like, “How do you not remember how great this movie is?” So I think you have to see this, but objectively I can probably only call it a very, very high recommend.
Capote is so wonderful, and I think has sneakily held up as a great nominee over the years. Ray hasn’t held up so much, but this one does. This is a really wonderful film and is not essential all around, but it might be over time. Bennett Miller is fastening himself as an essential filmmaker (3 for 3 on great films) and this contains Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance. Lot of reasons to see this. So as a film buff, you probably should. Not yet essential, but as highly recommended as you can get.
Crash is an essential film. Because if you want to complain about it having won, you have to see it. Because it’s also a good movie. Well… an entertaining and engaging movie. Good takes on a different term when “Academy Awards” enter the conversation. But you have to see it if you want to talk Oscars. And because… know thy enemy.
The Last Word: Ang Lee was and is a completely deserving winner. Nothing against the effort. My preference is Good Night and Good Luck, and Clooney is my choice. Maybe I’m deluding myself because of the black and white, I guess is the argument against him, but I have always loved that movie most and I still think what he did in the film was the effort I liked best, so I’m taking him. I can see taking Spielberg and I think Bennett Miller has an interesting argument to be made for him as the choice as well. Though I feel like most people would take Ang Lee with good reason, and I can’t say you’re wrong. I just prefer Clooney. And again, if you take Paul Haggis here, I think you are stupid.
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Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood directed this and Flags of Our Fathers this year. A pair of war films both centered around the same battle.
This one tells the story from the Japanese perspective. They’re dug in on this island, have no hope of survival, so they fight to the death out of honor. It’s a great war movie.
This film wins this category if not for Scorsese. The effort is great. He’s clearly in the conversation. But… it’s The Departed. And Scorsese is horribly overdue. Not that it should matter, but the fact that Eastwood just two years ago beat Scorsese is something that voters may take into account.
The Queen. I used to hate this movie. But honestly… it’s not so bad. Best Picture and Best Director? Ehh… I don’t love it that much. But it is a good film.
It’s about Queen Elizabeth and the family dealing with the death of Princess Diana. They don’t put out a statement since she’s not really part of the family anymore after the divorce, but all this crazy outpouring of love for her puts a lot of pressure on them to do so. All the while there’s this new PM Tony Blair who’s also getting up in their shit.
It’s good. Mostly it’s about Elizabeth dealing with grief in an interesting way. There’s a scene at the center of the film when she’s on their hunting ranch with a deer that’s just astoundingly acted by Helen Mirren.
The film is solid. Not sure I’d call it a Best Picture nominee, but sure. Not sure I’d call it a Best Director nominee, but sure. No way this isn’t fifth in the category by all accounts. At best, maybe fourth, but I’d be really curious to see what you put fifth if not this. (I can wager a guess, but I’ll let people make that argument.) This is not the choice, and I’m pretty sure everyone can agree on that.
United 93. This one came out of nowhere, didn’t it? I’d like to point out that neither Greengrass nor Clint Eastwood got a DGA nomination. (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Ferris were nominated for Little Miss Sunshine, and Bill Condon was nominated for Dreamgirls instead.)
The film is about the plane that was hijacked on 9/11 and was taken down by the passengers, preventing the hijackers from crashing it into whatever their target was. The great thing about the film is how it tries to recreate everything as well as it can, with almost no one you’d recognize as an actor. And it’s Paul Greengrass, so you have that shaky cam, docudrama style, so it really gets you into the drama. Like Captain Phillips.
I don’t love the film. I think it’s okay, but I will never argue with the direction. Greengrass did a great job with this, and I’d actually consider him a third choice in this category, possibly even a second. It’s always Scorsese for me, and I loved Eastwood’s direction. I’d probably put Greengrass after that, since for me, it’s all effort and no timelessness. The other two are gonna hold up better over time than this will, and that factors somewhat into my decision. But even then, I might even take Greengrass as 2.
Babel. I always forget about this movie. Inarritu had a nice run. Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and then this. He almost swept the Oscars with this. Which is funny, considering he’s basically just swept the last two.
This is a globe-spanning ensemble film about… I guess it’s the interconnectivity of all people despite language and cultural barriers. One narrative is Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Morocco on vacation. And while there, she gets shot randomly by a stray bullet and almost dies. And then there’s a whole side story about the guys who had the gun, and where that came from, and all the international political shit storm it causes, etc. The other story is the story of Pitt and Blanchett’s kids, who are with the family’s Mexican nanny, who is stuck watching the kids while her son gets married in Mexico. So she decides to take the kids with her. And… things happen. Border things. Then the third story is Rinko Kikuchi, a deaf girl dealing with the death of her mother and general high school teenage shit.
It’s a really engaging movie. I really liked this film when I saw it in theaters, but over time, I don’t think it’s a masterpiece. I just think it’s a really great film. I don’t think it would have held up as a Best Picture winner, but I really respect it as a film. The direction is solid, but I can’t vote for this over the other three choices. I think he’s definitely above Frears, but I don’t think I could argue him over anyone else. So, fourth choice. No vote.
The Departed. This was all our favorite film that year. We know it’s not Goodfellas, but it’s fucking incredible and we can all (and do) quote it nonstop.
You have to know this story. If you don’t, see it immediately. The basic story — Boston. Cop undercover as a criminal, criminal infiltrating the cops. Cool shit, awesome stuff. Great movie.
I will always vote for this here. That’s all I got. This film is amazing. How do you not remember this movie over all the other ones in this category? Okay, sure, Greengrass or Eastwood might have been better. But Scorsese is a master, this film is great, Eastwood already beat him for a lesser effort and he’d never won before. It’s the perfect storm.
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The Reconsideration: It’s Scorsese. Ignoring the fact that he was horribly overdue, his effort is still my favorite in the category, and I’d vote for it no matter what regardless. So, I don’t see what there is to reconsider, if I was going to vote for it regardless before the fact that he should have won at least twice before this. (Eastwood is a very solid second choice, though. This is the effort he should have won for over Million Dollar Baby based on effort alone. It’s way better.) The only effort I’d have really wanted to vote for over him is Children of Men, which wasn’t even nominated.
I can get a Greengrass vote completely, and even Eastwood. Totally understood. But for me, it’s Scorsese.
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- Martin Scorsese, The Departed
- Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
- Paul Greengrass, United 93
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
- Stephen Frears, The Queen
- The Departed
- Letters from Iwo Jima
- United 93
- The Queen
My Vote: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
There is no way you made it to this site without seeing The Departed. I refuse to believe it.
Letters from Iwo Jima is… not essential, but comes highly recommended. It’s Eastwood’s best movie of this recent iteration. (No, it’s not Gran Torino. Go back and watch that movie. It doesn’t hold up at all.) You should see it. It’s a terrific war film.
Babel is a great film. And Inarritu is proving himself as an essential filmmaker all around, and this is a great film. Essential? Not sure yet. We’re getting pretty recent. It’s hard to gauge real essential films from the past decade. There’s always a handful that are, and a lot are questionable because you need at least 15 years to really decide. So for now, let’s call this highly recommended.
United 93 is not essential, but also kinda essential. I feel like this film has been forgotten and largely unseen. I don’t think a lot of movie buffs even know about this. So you should see it. Plus it’s Paul Greengrass. I think we all know what he’s gonna give us at this point. You should see this because it deserves to be seen and it’s great.
The Queen is… not essential. It just isn’t. It’s well made, and has a great Helen Mirren performance, but you don’t need to see it unless you’re an Oscar buff. Then it’s essential. As a film buff… see it, don’t see it. You don’t have to feel bad for not seeing it. It’s good though.
The Last Word: You gotta take Marty. Come on. How overdue was he at this point? I mean, sure, objectively, you shouldn’t vote for that. But The Departed is by far my favorite movie on this list, and the effort is solid. So what’s the problem? Greengrass did a great job and I get that vote entirely. You’re not wrong to take him. And you’re not wrong to take Eastwood. This was Eastwood’s best effort since Unforgiven. So he’s totally worth a vote too. I just… it’s Scorsese for me, all the way.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)