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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar Robbery: 5 Directors Who Should Have Gotten An Academy Award Nomination

It is no secret that the Academy Award nominations for the 2013 Best Director nominees are atrocious. Every year there are snubs, but this year for Best Director it is out of control. The biggest and most obvious snub is Ben Affleck for Argo, but Katheryn Bigelow not getting a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty is just as ridiculous. You could also make the very strong case that Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained should have been there as well. If the Academy Awards nominations were Affleck, Bigelow, Tarantino along with Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), there would be very little outrage. You would hear a few pretentious rumblings about Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) not getting a nomination- they did get nominations- but overall the outrage would be minimal. Also, no one would be complaining that David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) did not get a Best Director nod.

Anyways, in honor of Ben Affleck and his fellow directorial brethren this year, here is the list of the biggest directing snubs within the past 25 years.

(2008) The Dark Knight & (2010) Inception

It is extremely difficult to make the best movie of the year. It is even harder to make TWO movies that are each the best movie of their respected years. It is almost impossible to make a movie that defines a generation. Christopher Nolan has done that and more and yet he does not have a single Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

The Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies of all time and is THE movie of this generation. I could literally write a book about the nuances and greatness that is The Dark Knight (NOTE: This is NOT a misuse of the word "literally". I really do want to write one some day). Yet when the Oscar nominations came around, TDK got snubbed for both Best Picture and Best Director. The Academy actually changed their format for how to nominate Best Picture because of The Dark Knight snub and that is why we have our current incarnation of Best Picture nominees where you see 8-10 films get a nomination as opposed to the traditional five.

Two years later Nolan comes out with a masterpiece entitled Inception. Even if you think The Social Network was better (I wouldn't fault you for thinking that), Inception was a close second as the best film of 2010. The Social Network and its director David Fincher went on to garner Oscar nominations (and a (rightful) debate for eternity that it should have won both awards) yet Nolan was left out to the dust. Because there were ten nominations in 2010 for Best Picture, Inception got a nomination that was never afforded to The Dark Knight. However, Christopher Nolan still did not get his well deserved Oscar nod.

(1994) The Shawshank Redemption

1994 was probably the greatest year ever for films. At the top of the list was Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption. Zemeckis and Gump went on to dominate the Academy Awards in 1995 leaving both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption in its dust. Again, this has fueled debate that Tarantino and Pulp Fiction should have dominated the Oscars that year*, but the biggest snub that year was that Frank Darabont did not receive a nomination for Best Director.

I understand why the Academy did what they did. Darabont was a nobody in 1994. Shawshank was his first motion picture and it was a film nobody saw when the nominations were released. At the time, people thought this was just another example of the Academy being pretentious. This is versus the other nominees. Zemeckis was well established as an amazing director with Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit under his belt. Tarantino was a well known screen writer and had Reservoir Dogs under his belt. The other nominees in 1994 were previous Best Director winners Woody Allen and Robert Redford and the last nominee was Krzysztof Kieslowski for his masterpiece Three Colors: Red. Darabont was not even close to these men's levels at the time.

However, it does not matter how much experience you have under your belt- when you direct the greatest film ever to be made, you need to get nominated for it. Obviously many people do not agree with me that The Shawshank Redemption is the greatest film in the history of time, but everybody does agree with me that it is really, really, really, really good. And because of that, Darabont should have at least been nominated. The Academy failed to correct their mistake in 1999 when they again snubbed Darabont- this time for The Green Mile- but given how deep 1999 was for films (see below) and given how not-elite The Green Mile is, that snub is somewhat acceptable. However, his 1994 snub was not.

* I know the consensus is that Pulp Fiction deserved every Academy Award in 1994 but I disagree. I think The Shawshank Redemption deserved everything and then some. I also don't think Forrest Gump winning everything is that big of a deal. Even though I would rank the films 1) Shawshank 2) Pulp Fiction and 3) Forrest Gump, Gump is still an incredible film that still holds up. In almost every other year Forrest Gump would be the hands down best film of that year. It just had the bad fortune of being released in the greatest year ever for film.

(2006) Little Miss Sunshine

2006 was the redemption year for Martin Scorsese. Scorsese finally won his first Academy Award for Best Director for The Departed and his film took home the top prize for Best Motion Picture. While both were well deserved considering Scorsese's work, the quality of The Departed, and how weak 2006 was, I actually believe the best film of that year was Little Miss Sunshine.

I love The Departed and it is not a hard argument to make that Scorsese' work is better than the little bus and family Indie film that could. However, I do think if the Academy had properly gave Scorsese his due (in particular in 1990 when Scorsese and his film Goodfellas lost to Kevin Costner and Dances With Wolves, respectively), then 2006 would be remembered much differently. I believe that the Academy would not have had to rectify like five glaring Scorsese mistakes before then and that Little Miss Sunshine would have gotten its due.

LMS was not a guarantee to win Best Picture in 2006 if The Departed didn't win because it's a comedy and a comedy winning Best Picture is almost as rare as a film whose director didn't get a Best Director Academy Award nomination winning the big prize. However, the film is so good that my naivety believes that its quality would win out.

As I mentioned earlier and will mention again, when you make the best film of a particular year, I believe that you deserve to be nominated. Even if for some reason you don't like LMS because you don't have a heart or soul, Dayton and Faris' greatness is undeniable. The framing of every single shot is perfect. How the characters jump into the VW Bus and how they are framed once they're in the bus is brilliant. The climax scene where Paul Dano's character freaks out and runs down the hill while his family stares down at him from above is a shot of beauty. The mise-en-scene in Little Miss Sunshine is incredible and that alone should have gotten Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris an Oscar nomination.

(2004) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

There are so few films that look as beautiful and touch your heart more than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film basically comes down to this overused saying " 'Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all " but it is done in such a way that is so moving, so touching and so innovative that there is not enough praise that can go to Eternal Sunshine.

Not many people can direct a movie as brilliant as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The look of it was so ingenious and done in such an artful and moving way that only someone like Michel Gondry could have tackled it. There is no CGI whatsoever in the film so all the wonderful artistry on screen is through the genius mind of Gondry. About half of the movie is a dream sequence, rather, it takes place in the mind of Jim Carrey's character. These sequences are so well done that Gondry's absence among Best Director nominees that year like Taylor Hackford and Mike Leigh (and even Martin Scorsese that year because the Aviator was long and boring as shit) is just insulting.

(1995) Se7en

If Christopher Nolan didn't exist, I believe that David Fincher would be the best director of my generation. I've seen about 90% of his work and even his "weaker" projects like Panic Room and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are pretty good. However, he has a trio of films that make him one of the best: The aforementioned The Social Network, the soon-to-be-mentioned Fight Club, and Se7en.

I'm not going to actually waste any more words on why Se7en is great. It is a fantastic movie and everyone who has seen it (especially those under the age of 30), absolutely loves it. An incredible film that is damn near perfect needs to have its director earn an Oscar nomination.

- Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix)
- David Fincher (Fight Club)
- Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)
- Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut)

I actually don't inherently hate the fact that Sam Mendes won the big award in 1999. American Beauty was a great movie and Mendes was at his peak when he directed it. The bigger issue is that 1999 was just an incredibly deep year for film. Besides American Beauty and the 4 films whose directors got "snubbed", we had The Sixth Sense, The Cider House Rules, and Being John Malkovich. Besides Mendes, the other nominees in 1999 were M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), Spike Jonze (Being Josh Malkovich), Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules), and Michael Mann (The Insider). All five films were very well directed.

However, the problem comes down to the fact that being above average in 1999 was not good enough. You needed to be great. While I agree with the Shyamalan nomination (We have this sour taste of M. Night in our mouths now but The Sixth Sense is great and brilliantly directed), the other four are not guaranteed locks to have earned a nomination. Mann and Hallstrom can be easily thrown out. However, you can make a great argument for Mendes and Jonze still being there.

If there was one movie to define the youth of my generation, I would say that movie is Fight Club. You can make a case for Fincher's other classic, Se7en, but I would say that Fight Club is THE movie for Generation Y. (Our generation does love The Dark Knight as well but Generation Y was well into college by this point). While I personally would not include Fight Club on any list of mine, objectively, there would be (and is) a huge outcry with no Fincher.

To be kind to history, the Best Director nominations of 1999 probably should have been this:

- David Fincher (Fight Club)
- Sam Mendes (American Beauty)
- M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)
- Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix)

with either Spike Jonze or Frank Darabont getting the 5th spot. (I'd personally choose Darabont because of the Shawshank snub)

If we were all honest with ourselves we would put Stone and Parker on this list because the South Park movie is fucking brilliant and we all love it just like we all love The Book of Mormon right now. However, no director has ever gotten a nomination for directing an animated film and the Academy was not going to start with something so vulgar as South Park. (Hell, Andrew Stanton who directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E doesn't have a Best Director nomination)

Even in a year where the Academy goes bold (by nominating Shyamalan and Jonze), they still are vanilla. The Matrix is a science fiction action flick with has no place among the PRESTIGE of the Academy, Fight Club is way too dark and hip to reward David Fincher (we have to wait until he makes STRAIGHT FORWARD DRAMAS before we honor him!), and South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut is... well... it's South Park.

Honorable Mentions
- 1997: Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights)
- 2000: Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream)
- 2002: Steven Spielberg (Minority Report)
- 2005: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (Sin City)


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