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Spielberg and Ang Lee, Losing the Battle, Winning the War

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I dig Richard Rushfield’s rumination on Hollywood’s love/hate with the king of the them all, Steven Spielberg (“Once again, the Best Picture prize slips from his hands. What does Hollywood have against its most successful resident?”)

Two Oscars ain’t half bad for the king of them all so I figure, hey, he can go down in the record books with the greats. Most times, the greats don’t win.  I thought Ang Lee’s prize last night was a glorious moment and a well-deserved win – he is a man who REALLY knows what matters in life and what doesn’t and to Ang Lee the film itself is the reward. He is the zen master and his mere presence seems to always throw the Best Director race in flux. At the same time, the Academy just doesn’t have a strong enough pair to really go all the way with Lee.

Sense and Sensibility was not nominated for Director. The same year Ron Howard won the PGA/DGA/SAG and then lost the Oscar to Mel Gibson for Braveheart.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nominated for DGA, won. The same year, Steven Soderbergh got Best Director for Traffic and Gladiator won Best Picture.
Brokeback Mountain was nominated for and won DGA.  Lee also won the Oscar but Best Picture went to Crash.
Life of Pi, nominated for DGA, lost to Ben Affleck. Won second directing Oscar, lost Best Picture to Argo.

Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg are anything but losers. They are carving and shaping cinema. Both of them made movies that changed the way I see the world. I can’t say that about any other films in the Best Picture race with the possible exception of Zero Dark Thirty and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Winning the Oscar doesn’t define success, nor does it define greatness. Far from it. It is to the benefit of Academy voters that they get to call Ang Lee and Spielberg among their two time Best Director winners. It doesn’t make them better. It doesn’t improve their body of work.  The Academy improves their own history by picking great films.

John Ford won Best Director twice without winning Best Picture, The Informer (Mutiny on the Bounty won) and The Grapes of Wrath (Rebecca won) until he finally won both for How Green was My Valley.  George Stevens won best Director twice and never won Best Picture for Giant (Around the World in 80 Days won) and a Place in the Sun (An American in Paris won).

Ang Lee is only the third director in history to do that.

Steven Spielberg is now the fifth director in Oscar history to enter the race with a film with 12 nominations not to win Director or Picture. Lincoln is the only film with 12+ nominations to win just 2 Oscars.