Best Director Home Stretch: Scott Hicks for Shine



The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Anthony Minghella for The English Patient

Joel Coen for Fargo

Mike Leigh for Secrets & Lies

Miloš Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt

NOTE: dark blue text denotes individuals who won Oscars for the film being discussed, while light blue indicates those who were nominated.


Shine has more in common with Searching for Sugar Man, the recent Best Documentary winner, than any of the artistic biographies (Hilary and Jackie, Pollack) that followed after its success. Scott Hicks, an  standard biopic fare with one or two brilliant sequences; its captivating force comes not from the directorial style but from the excitement of discovering David Helfgott’s dormant musical genius. Hicks’ real coup was in the casting of the film; nowadays, Geoffrey Rush is the best-known actor in the film, but at the time he was unknown outside of Australian stage. That this great talent was cast as the lead (along with Noah Taylor and Alex Rafalowicz) in an ensemble dotted with the likes of Lynn Redgrave and John Gielgud, reinforced the narrative of discovery. Even if Rush’s breakout led to greater success than Helfgott’s comeback (judging from YouTube, his talent is not as recognizably brilliant as it seems in the film), Hicks’ excavation of a nearly forgotten talent is a powerful narrative force in its own right.

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The Penultimate Mile: Bette Midler in The Rose

(one installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)



The competition (me: 5 for 5!)

Sally Field in Norma Rae

Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over

Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome

Marsha Mason in Chapter Two

Bette in The Rose is definitely channeling her own stage persona, with its distinctive flavor of sass and vivaciousness, more than that of Janis Joplin, the loose inspiration for the film.  At the same time though, this performance is far removed from anything you’d normally associate with the Midler repertoire–it’s kind of odd to imagine that this is part of what led to her rise to fame.  Similarly, the character seems caught in this no-woman’s land that’s not quite playing herself and not quite inhabiting the spirit of Joplin.  The film is from the same sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll vein that Marion Cotillard and Angela Bassett tapped into for two of my all-time favorite performances in this category.  Midler doesn’t elevates the material in the same way, partly because of the iconic spark lacking in this somewhat indistinct character.  Bette tries to keep up, though: her body language on the stage feels like a harried bid to match Joplin’s energy, trying to compensate in voltage what she can’t in wattage.  She genuinely delivers in the drag show, in which Bette feels truly in her element, and in the final on-stage performance, though, displaying her character’s irreconcilable vivaciousness and frailty that combined to form the epic rise and fall that’s taken for granted throughout most of the film.  It’s an interesting project, though when the dust settles I’ll still side with the Academy’s pick for 1979, Sally Field in Norma Rae.

The Penultimate Mile: Interrupted Melody

(one installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)



The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo (1955)

Susan Hayward in I’ll Cry Tomorrow

Katharine Hepburn in Summertime

Jennifer Jones in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Even with three nominations, Eleanor Parker is one of the most tragically underrepresented actresses in this category.  At least this biopic about a polio-stricken Australian opera star allows her a chance to show her staggeringly impressive range of abilities, including her freaking classical opera training (though she was dubbed by a professional singer, she sang the arias full voice on set).  Her performance went up against one of the all-time greats in my book, Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo, but this is one of the gems that made me glad I embarked on this quest.