Fernando Meirelles: City of God
Peter Jackson: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (winner)
Sofia Coppola: Lost in Translation
Peter Weir: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Clint Eastwood: Mystic River
Who knew that 2003 was such a good year for directors? Normally I have some complaints when it comes to a particular Oscar category, but I like all five of these movies and I like what all five of these directors did. While you wouldn’t know it from the 1001 Movies list, 2003 was a really good year. Park Chan-wook’s work on Oldboy is probably too extreme for the Academy, but I’d throw it into the mix. I like Goodbye, Lenin! as well, but I’m not sure of Wolfgang Becker’s being deserving of a nomination. The same is true for Denys Arcand’s work on The Barbarian Invasions, which I think works because of screenplay and performance more than director. Marco Tullio Giordana deserves some recognition for keeping the six-hour The Best of Youth interesting and coherent. We’ll probably never see an animated film director get nominated, but how about a little love for Andrew Stanton’s work on Finding Nemo?
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I liked Mystic River, but the reason I like it doesn’t really come from Clint Eastwood. Instead, what I like here are the performances of Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Keven Bacon as well as a masterful script. Eastwood certainly did his work here by getting out of the way of the story and letting it play out. It’s admirable not to meddle when meddling is going to ruin the movie, but I’m also not convinced that that’s worthy of an Oscar. If I had to bump one nominee, it would be this one to bring in Oldboy.
4: Essentially, everything that I said about Mystic River could be said about Lost in Translation and Sofia Coppola’s work. I really like this movie for a lot of reasons, but most of what I love here is Scarlett Johansson and especially Bill Murray. There’s more to like here with the direction. Coppola manages to demonstrate the disconnect of these two people beautifully. But again, most of what she did was just get out of the way of the story. I imagine I’m going to take some heat for putting this fourth. I can live with that.
3: Fernando Meirelles’s City of God is a truly masterful film. Here’s a case where it’s all about the brutality of the story more than being about anything else. There’s a beauty here, and I could see people putting this in the top. As with the previous slot, I’m guessing I might take some heat for slotting this third, particularly with the film coming next. There’s a lot to like here and I love this nomination. Meirelles should have been recognized for the great work done here. Ultimately, I think there were two who did it better.
2: This will no doubt be the most controversial placement on this list. I really like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Specifically, a lot of what I like about this film is what Peter Weir did with it. It’s not easy to film gigantic action sequences and make them look realistic, but the ship-to-ship battles in this are absolutely stunning. Everything looks fantastic here, and the action is never dull and never confusing. That takes talent and work—to give us a confused battle scene that can actually be followed and understood. Action directors need to watch this on a loop, because this is the way you film a damn fight.
1: Let’s be honest here; no one was going to take this from Peter Jackson. It’s almost certain that Jackson actually won for the entire trilogy and not just The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and I don’t have a problem with that. He should have been recognized for this and this Oscar was absolutely deserved. While there are a few Oscars this shouldn’t have won (Best Original Song? Really? Over the one from The Triplets of Belleville?), but Peter Jackson needed to be recognized for a truly magnificent achievement. The Academy sometimes gives achievement awards in competition, and this time, they were right to do so.