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Oscars: The Movies That Count and the Movies That Don’t


 

Update: For some actual analysis of the nominations, go directly to Brian D. Johnson at this same website.

I have long thought that the Best Director category at the Oscars is somewhat pointless, leading to a misunderstanding of what a director’s job usually is, and always raising the question (on the rare occasions when the awards diverge), “how can he be the best director if he didn’t make the best movie?” Every other category, even writing, is separable from the quality of the movie to a certain extent. The director’s job is to supervise all those other categories. If they don’t blend into the best movie, then it may not be the director’s fault, but he and the producer were the ones in charge.

But, that said, the Oscars’ return to 10 Best Picture nominees instead of five has made the Best Director nominees a little more fun to look at, because it allows us to get a hint — just a slight hint — of which movies really have the support of the Academy as a whole and which ones were probably nominated for commercial reasons. Or at the very least which ones wouldn’t have made the cut if there had been only five nominees. So Chris Nolan’s non-nomination for Inception, more than anything else, is an indication that Inception probably wouldn’t have been nominated if it hadn’t been for the larger number of nominees. Like Toy Story 3, it’s there to represent the huge blockbuster hits, but is probably not a serious contender for the award.

Even in the five-picture era you got some of these, like Jaws getting nominated for Best Picture in 1975 but Steven Spielberg getting snubbed for Best Director. (Instead, Frederico Fellini got a Best Director nomination, and Spielberg was shown on TV wailing something like “I didn’t get it! I got beaten out by Fellini!” Though I should add that Spielberg doesn’t come off badly when he says that; just disappointed. I’m sure if you put a camera on Chris Nolan he’d have a similar reaction.) It was a hint that the movie was there out of respect to its enormous success, but wasn’t going to win. Driving Miss Daisy won even though its director was not nominated, but that’s very rare. What the expanded Best Picture field has done is open the category up to more “token” nominees that aren’t really taken seriously as potential winners.

But I still think that the concept of Best Director just doesn’t make sense. As Joe Spinell put it after Spielberg got snubbed, “Who made the picture? Somebody’s mother? Who made it, the shark?”


 
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Oscars: The Movies That Count and the Movies That Don’t

  1. I'm sure I've heard a film critic or film student or some such discuss a bad film that was nonetheless "well directed". Any thoughts as to what it means when film people say this?

  2. I'm sure I've heard a film critic or film student or some such discuss a bad film that was nonetheless "well directed". Any thoughts as to what it means when film people say this?

    • I think it refers to the directorial technique — camera angles, movements, edits, stuff like that. (A lot of that might come from the cinematographer, editor, and so on, but it's understandable that the director is the person you think of first in connection with the visuals.) The idea being that if a movie looks good or makes a great display of visual technique, or handles something technically difficult like battle scenes or special effects, then the director has done well.

      I disagree, obviously; if those things are credited to the director then he or she should also be blamed for the bad stuff, particularly bad performances. If a movie is good but has very simple technique, it's still a better-directed movie than a flashy-looking bad movie.

      • James Cameron: Good Director, bad storyteller?

  3. I think it refers to the directorial technique — camera angles, movements, edits, stuff like that. (A lot of that might come from the cinematographer, editor, and so on, but it's understandable that the director is the person you think of first in connection with the visuals.) The idea being that if a movie looks good or makes a great display of visual technique, or handles something technically difficult like battle scenes or special effects, then the director has done well.

    I disagree, obviously; if those things are credited to the director then he or she should also be blamed for the bad stuff, particularly bad performances. If a movie is good but has very simple technique, it's still a better-directed movie than a flashy-looking bad movie.

  4. Who made the picture?

    Well, how about . . . the producers?

    "Best Director" may very well be an overrated category due to the French "auteur" theory of film-making. Unless the director is also the producer, it's almost impossible to say that a partcular film bears a 'signature' or style.

  5. Who made the picture?

    Well, how about . . . the producers?

    "Best Director" may very well be an overrated category due to the French "auteur" theory of film-making. Unless the director is also the producer, it's almost impossible to say that a partcular film bears a 'signature' or style.

    • I agree that the French overstated the extent to which the director is in control of a movie — though they also correctly identified movies that would never have been the same with anybody else as director. (Ross Hunter-produced melodramas with Douglas Sirk directing are different from those with any other director, because Sirk brought his own jaundiced eye to them.)

      But remember, the practice of giving the Best Picture award only to the producer is also a holdover from an auteur theory of sorts. In the days of the studio system it was common to believe that producers made the movies and the directors were subservient to the producer's wishes — and on some movies, like Gone with the Wind, that's largely true. After the studio system collapsed, though, the producer's job became more about "packaging" movies, getting together the talent and raising the money and getting the project done. There are still creative producers, of course, but it's still more likely for the director to be in control of the movie creatively to a larger extent than the producers. Not that the producer has no role, but the director had a role in the producer-centred era too. It's hard to separate the two jobs sometimes.

  6. I agree that the French overstated the extent to which the director is in control of a movie — though they also correctly identified movies that would never have been the same with anybody else as director. (Ross Hunter-produced melodramas with Douglas Sirk directing are different from those with any other director, because Sirk brought his own jaundiced eye to them.)

    But remember, the practice of giving the Best Picture award only to the producer is also a holdover from an auteur theory of sorts. In the days of the studio system it was common to believe that producers made the movies and the directors were subservient to the producer's wishes — and on some movies, like Gone with the Wind, that's largely true. After the studio system collapsed, though, the producer's job became more about "packaging" movies, getting together the talent and raising the money and getting the project done. There are still creative producers, of course, but it's still more likely for the director to be in control of the movie creatively to a larger extent than the producers. Not that the producer has no role, but the director had a role in the producer-centred era too. It's hard to separate the two jobs sometimes.

  7. Ah, but who made the money?

  8. Ah, but who made the money?

  9. The Best Picture statue is given to the producer(s) of the film. I'm just sayin'…

  10. Couldn't you argue that the hiring of a director is part of what makes a movie great? Knowing what director would well-direct what material seems like a good reason to give a producer Best Picture. And anyway, few directors are not also credited producers on their films. If Inception wins Best Picture, Nolan will still get an Oscar for it.

  11. Couldn't you argue that the hiring of a director is part of what makes a movie great? Knowing what director would well-direct what material seems like a good reason to give a producer Best Picture. And anyway, few directors are not also credited producers on their films. If Inception wins Best Picture, Nolan will still get an Oscar for it.

    • I've always thought the award should go to the producer and director jointly.

  12. I've always thought the award should go to the producer and director jointly.

  13. James Cameron: Good Director, bad storyteller?

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