Actual Nominations: James L Brooks. Peter Yates. Ingmar Bergman. Mike Nichols. Bruce Beresford.
Yikes. Of all the movies and Directors we could have picked from this year, how the Academy got it so wrong is embarrassing, and that isn’t just me with my fanboy hat on. There are so many other objectively better options. More on that below. James L Brooks was the winner here. Terms Of Endearment was a hit and won Best Picture – it was a darling and an inevitable nomination here. Brooks got his win. It’s not much a Director’s movie – it’s not a movie you watch and say ‘who made this’. It’s a big cast tear-jerker and it’s all about the characters and the names. In terms of context, I’m okay with Brooks being here but in terms of quality – nah.
You could basically repeat all of the above for Peter Yates and The Dresser. It’s yet another stage adaptation, with little done to make it cinematic. That was likely the point. But why nominate for Best Director? I’d have picked him for Krull over this.
Bergman is the big name here and perhaps you’d think he was in with a shot at the third attempt with Fanny & Alexander. But Bergman is too art house even at his most accessible and The Academy never goes for stuff that the general public would give at least a cursory glance to. Or foreigners. Of the choices in this list though, Bergman is the standout for his work. Unfortunately, it’s a 1982 film and as such is immediately out.
Mike Nichols picked up another nomination for Silkwood, but again it’s one where we’re so focused on the plot and the characters. He’s likely my second choice here though, given his handling of the material and the humanity of Karen.
Finally, Bruce Beresford gets a nomination for Tender Mercies. Another Academy darling… if you’re not a fan of Nichols you could go with Beresford, but there’s nothing here to suggest a Best Director nomination is warranted. All in all, it’s a poor year. I can’t pick Bergman, so it’s between Yates and Nichols. I would want to pick Yates for Krull, which is breaking the rules. So…
My Winner: Mike Nichols
My Nominations: Luc Besson. Nicholas Roeg. Paul Verhoeven. Tony Scott. Martin Scorsese. Francis Ford Coppola. Jackie Chan. Richard Marquand. Philip Kaufman. Brian De Palma. David Cronenberg.
Let’s get the silliness out of the way first. There’s no way The Academy is ever nominating Jackie Chan, or a Martial Arts movie, but if you’re going to nominate a single Jackie Chan movie it may as well be Project A. It broke a lot of ground and was obviously a key learning experience for Chan. Luc Besson was not yet established – if he’d come out with a romance first instead of a silent Black and White post-apocalyptic action movie… every so often The Academy will chuck a pity nomination to a first-time foreign director, so you never know. For the last of the silly ones, it’s a film I only saw recently. Nic Roeg’s Eureka is a little-known film and was much derided at release due to its violence, but similar to other 80s movies it struck a chord with fans and later critics have now re-assessed it with a more positive response. It’s about a gold prospector in the early 20th Century, played by Gene Hackman, who becomes a millionaire and how he deals with the mob and the general paranoia and suspicion which comes with having so much money – distrusting friends and family. You have Rutger Hauer, Theresa Russell, and Mickey Rourke, but also Joe Pesci and Joe Spinell in smaller roles. It’s a little overall and goes to some strange places about magic and voodoo, and it doesn’t have the overt, full-blown Roeg flair, but has plenty of snappy cuts and dreamlike woozy. It’s surprisingly bloody, too.
A step up from those impossibilities would be Tony Scott and Paul Verhoeven. Scott’s The Hunger is maybe his most visually interesting movie, arguably to the detriment of everything else. But it’s a gorgeous, dark, unique vampire movie starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon Scott pulls out all the stops. Verhoeven is very visual and sultry with The Fourth Kind, a film which did receive very positive reviews around the world and likely gave him the final stepping-stone to hit the Hollywood big time. But the violence would have been too much for The Academy. Finally on the Sci-Fi front, Richard Marquand closes out the original Star Wars trilogy with Return Of The Jedi. It’s a mixture and an expansion of the prior movies, blending the scope and action of the first with the darker look and feel of the second, while obviously playing with a wider set of tools and aiming at a more family friendly tone for the conclusion of the saga.
If you’re going to nominate any of the directors of Best Picture nominees, surely it has to be Philip Kaufman. Out of all of the films, this is the one with Directing you pay attention to. It’s bizarre the others were nominated over him, and The Right Stuff is a genuinely great movie. Elsewhere, a couple of big Academy hitters were overlooked – Francis Ford Coppola doubly for The Outsiders and Rumble Fish which both shows two sides of his more experimental approach, and Martin Scorcese for The King Of Comedy which sees him tackling satire more directly than he had till this point. You’d think looking back that Brian De Palma would be a certainty for Scarface, given how iconic the film has become but also because of how well he handles the crime saga, the tension, the performances, the violence, and the social commentary while also using the sweaty, hyper 80s Miami backdrop. Finally, it’s David Cronenberg for Videodrome, as visionary a piece of film-making as you’re ever likely to see.
I honestly don’t know who to go for here, and if you were to ask me in a few days I’d change my answer. It’s between De Palma, Scorsese, and Cronenberg. I think I can take Martin out because he’s done better and will have more opportunities to win in the future, while De Palma and Cronenberg’s chances will be less. I think it’s De Palma’s best film.
My Winner: Brian De Palma.
Let us know your winner in the comments!
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