Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yearly Perspective – 2002 – Best Director Edition

I've been doing an intensive Yearly Perspective of 2002 lately.  And by “intensive,” I mean intensive.  Usually when I try and do these, it takes a few months, since getting together unseen movies is more challenging than not.  But when you run across an easy year like 2002, you don’t have to do much work. 

Scorsese on set of Gangs of New York

In a rare occurrence, only 12 films are represented in the 20 acting categories (Chicago, About Schmidt, The Hours, Adaptation., Road to Perdition, Catch Me If You Can, Unfaithful, Frida, Far From Heaven, The Quiet American, Gangs of New York, and The Pianist).  Two other films with no acting nominations were up for Best Picture (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) and Best Director (Talk to Her).  Add to that three other films nominated for their scripts alone in the Original and Adapted Screenplay categories (About a Boy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Y Tu Mama Tambien).  As far as the major categories go, that’s a mere 17 films filling up a total of 40 nomination slots.  Without throwing more statistics in your face, that amount of overlap is very rare.  This even carries over into the tech categories, which repeat the aforementioned titles often, with peppering of Spider-Man, 8 Mile, and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones thrown in there for good measure.  With such a small pool of films to get a hold of, doing a Yearly Perspective is not out of the question.

Almodóvar winning Original
Screenplay for Talk to Her
Much has been written of 2002’s Best Actor race, which featured an un-nominated nobody besting four previous winners in a shocker which resulted in one of the most memorable Oscar moments this decade.  One would assume that such a category would be the strongest or most stacked race of the year, but in this humble film watcher’s opinion, the Best Director race reigned supreme.  It had a legend, a fugitive, and three openly gay men.  Look at the nominees: winner Roman Polanski for The Pianist, Rob Marshall for Chicago, Martin Scorsese for Gangs of New York, Pedro Almodóvar for Talk to Her, and Stephen Daldry for The Hours.  Add to that highly impressive slate of nominees the un-nominated-yet-still-brilliant work of Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Spike Jonze for Adaptation, Adrian Lyne for Unfaithful, Julie Taymor for Frida, and Sam Raimi for Spider-Man and you’ll be hard-pressed to compile a list of just five yourself.  At least I know I am.  Add into the mix directorial achievements I myself am not so fond of, but others enjoy: Todd Haynes on Far From Heaven, Alexander Payne for About Schmidt, Christopher Nolan for Insomnia, Paul Thomas Anderson for Punch-Drunk-Love, Sam Mendes for Road to Perdition, and Steven Spielberg for Catch Me If You Can.  Coming up with five yet that you love most?  I didn’t think so.

Lord of the Rings doesn't "count as one!"
For what it’s worth, it is very, very hard to argue with the Academy’s choices.  What Polanski did with a dried and overwrought genre was miraculous, and with his personal, emotional injection of verisimilitude you felt like a refugee alongside Brody; it was epic in scope, yet small in its careful and calculated vision.  Marshall, quite simply, reinvented the movie musical, setting a standard in the enlivened genre that he himself couldn’t even live up to; his strong, creative point-of-view took the movie musical out of the land of suspended disbelief and made it realistic.  Scorsese, with his legendary attention to detail, aptly adapts his typical gangster style to the brute thuggary of Civil War era New York City.  Daldry masters a trio of women and one standout Ed Harris to tell a story that’s spans decades and beautifully mixes poetry and self-discovery.  Finally, the Lone Director Almodóvar (lone director: a nominated helmer whose film isn’t up for Best Picture, a term now likely dead due to the Best Picture 10).  In no small part thanks to his brilliant screenplay, Almodóvar guides the viewers through a tale of love, obsession, and friendship, with stylized excellence; continuously boarders on creepy, beautiful, haunting, and charming.  Hard to argue with them, huh?

Polanksi even make Chipotle looks exciting
However, I’d only nominate two of them.  It’s that dandy of a year.  Okay, let’s keep Polanski and Marshall, sorry Marty, Steve, and Pedro.  For starters, how Peter Jackson wasn’t recognized for his masterful work on The Two Towers is beyond me.  His direction in the trilogy is never stronger than it is here, where he manages to make trees throwing rocks seems as exciting as Orc decapitation; it’s his balance of backstory, battle, and psychological discovery that makes a three hour epic seem like a breeze.  Spike Jonze made a Charlie Kaufman story work, which by and large is nomination-worthy in general, but with his assemblage of three performances giving some of their career-best work and balancing the irony with the action in Kaufman’s script, it’s hard not to applaud Jonze.  Finally—and in an unconventional choice, truth be told—I have Adrian Lyne for his subtle, yet oftentimes heavy-handed, work on Unfaithful.  Whatever happened in Lyne’s life that made him so apt at tales of infidelity (director of Fatal Attraction) must hold a strong place in his consciousness.  What he does with Unfaithful is nothing short of marvelous; going from steamy stairwell sex to murder to tight family drama with precision and focus is what makes the film work.  Hard to cut it off there.

Stephen Daldry on set
So who’s the best?  Well Roman Polanski won the Oscar.  Deservingly so.  However, not my personal choice.  For a while, it was Jackson if only because The Two Tower is my favorite of the trilogy.  But really, I think Marshall handedly has the finest direction of 2002.  Yes, some of the perspective of the film (it’s all in her mind!) should be credited to screenwriter Bill Condon, Marshall is the man who made it come alive and function as a film.  Each frame is so carefully orchestrated; each performance is just over-the-top enough to fit into a musical and without being campy.  His touch is ever-present all over the film: the sexiness, the style of musicality, and most importantly the overall architecture and look of Chicago.  Not to mention, he choreographed the whole kitten caboodle too, a feat which deserves an Oscar if only for the 10 minutes of “Cell Block Tango.”

So there you have it.  My Yearly Perspective on the 2002 Best Director race with comments on the real nominees and my personal selections.  If all goes according to plan, one of the acting categories should be next.

***Rob Marshell, Chicago***
Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Roman Polanski, The Painist
Spike Jonze, Adaptation.
Adrian Lyne, Unfaithful



  1. I think it's a good article. Not particularly idiotic.