The front-runners heading into the final straight of the race seemed to be Sense and Sensibility and Apollo 13. That was until the Oscar nominations were announced, Ang Lee and DGA winner Ron Howard were remarkably absent from the Best Director list (a la Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow). Tim Robbins (Dead Man Walking) and Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) were there instead, but without Picture nods. And Chris Noonan (Babe) and Michael Radford (Il Postino) were named in both categories. But as we all know, Picture and Director both went to Braveheart.
This felt like something of a transitional Oscar year, there were snubs and surprises and diverse choices all over the place, depending on your point of view. To add, Exotica, Strange Days, and To Die For were nowhere to be seen, but 12 Monkeys, Casino, and The Crimson Tide were nominated moderately. I feel the following 5 movies mentioned ‘should have beens’, however, would have made a great Best Picture list in their own right in any year.
Best Original Screenplay – Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan (Before Sunrise)
Sometimes with movies we don’t need wizards to see the magic of cinema. We don’t need explosions to be captivated. We don’t need to go to outer space for an adventure. Or need a lifetime to fall in love. Just two regular people, who meet on a train, and spend the day together. Richard Linklater is one of the only film-makers I know who can take the ordinary, the simple, the human story in its freshest and most raw form, and make something exceptional as a viewing experience. Here with co-writer Kim Krizan (and later Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke with Before Sunset and Before Midnight), Linklater is writing real stuff here, like pretend phone calls, or a milkshake poem. I know a bit about limited time romance in Europe, but when I first saw Before Sunrise I didn’t. Linklater has inspired me to go on and write characters that I hoped felt so very real, and were allowed to just talk about the regular stuff.
Best Director – David Fincher (Se7en)
With David Fincher you have to go right back to Alien 3, his first feature. No, it was not the experience he perhaps wanted when he took to directing motion pictures. What the third Alien movie did do, though, with his framing and movement of the camera, was force you to pay attention to this new director on the scene. I was a fan of Fincher from that moment. When I saw Se7en, I simply could not believe how good Fincher was. The impact this movie has had, and still has, is hardly rivaled by anything else. It haunts you. And I am not just talking about that ending. Se7en is gripping, and fascinating throughout, but more than anything, it is dark, and uncomfortable. I am not sure there is a director who can a make those elements so captivating and magnetic to the cinematic audience. The Academy at that time, however, only felt an Editing nomination was appropriate (well deserved if just for the title sequence).
Best Director – Michael Mann (Heat)
Michael Mann is an architect and a film director. Heat was pretty much an action crime movie with little agenda. But it did not need agenda, it had in excess some superb film-making, narrating the dilemmas and set-pieces of the story. It hints on broken human relationships, sure, but it is more focused on an obsessive cop and a meticulous crook, playing cat and mouse over a three hour running time (let’s not forget the cinematic significance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro actually sharing a scene – and what a scene). That substance and style of Heat is perhaps were the Academy completely ignored it, in the midst of a talking pig or defeating the English to earn your freedom. That is also a mistake the Academy keep on making, and movies likes these will continue to be loved while other Best Picture winners are forgotten. Directors seemed to be more significant, they mattered more, when there were five nominees for Picture. And at that time Mann was significant to say the least, but not until The Insider a few years later did he receive an Oscar nomination.
Best Picture – The Usual Suspects
When Oscars went the way of both Kevin Spacey and Christopher McQuarrie, the movie’s only two nominations, it was clear they really liked The Usual Suspects. But not enough to get a Best Picture nomination. What stands out with this is that recent history has shown that a movie that scores that double (Screenplay / Supporting Actor or Actress) is usually a big contender. See Hannah and Her Sisters, Moonstruck, or The Piano. Then in the following years Good Will Hunting (L.A. Confidential did the Adapted / Supporting Actress double), Shakespeare in Love (Picture winner), and Little Miss Sunshine (no Director nomination). So do we look back and wonder why The Usual Suspects did not make Best Picture, or Director, with or without the movie’s mini clean sweep?
Best Picture – Toy Story
Animated movies have not really got a great history for Best Picture opportunities. Only Beauty and the Beast managed to squeeze into the big list, before the category Animated Feature was created. Things changed again when five became ten for Best Picture in 2009. Further voting rule changes in 2011 now means animated films will struggle once again. Back in 1995, Toy Story sent animated movies soaring, a new generation of this genre. And it is a real emotional adventure of a movie experience. The modern audience, in hindsight, and with it’s equally fantastic sequels, might not fully appreciate what all the fuss was about with the original Toy Story. I would suggest to them, watch it again, because this was simply one of the best movies of that year.
Originally published 16th October 2014.