Sunday, July 16, 2023

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1948: Best Director

Got to this a couple days late, but here we go: Best Director, 1948.

Actually, before we get to the nominees - did you know this was also the first year that the Directors Guild of America gave out competitive awards? What was going on that everyone suddenly wanted their own trophies? 

There were only four nominees that first year, only half of whom were also nominated at the 21st Academy Awards: Anatole Litvak for The Snake Pit and Fred Zinnemann for The Search. The other two were Howard Hawks for Red River and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives...a 1949 film. Mankiewicz would repeat his win at the 22nd Academy Awards, while the winner of the 1948 Oscar wasn't even nominated at the DGA Awards. Go figure!

Here are Oscar's nominees:

John Huston for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
first of five directing nominations; Golden Globe winner, NYFCC Awards winner

Watching this movie feels like watching the beginning of, "We're making uncompromising films about real people, man!" cinema. That's a compliment, because boy howdy, Huston is not necessarily making a fun adventure flick with movie stars, he's making a sweaty, dusty parable of greed and the rot in men's souls with men who could use a shower or eight - that does happen to be fun. Or, at least, entertaining. The performances Huston gets from his cast are unlike any they've given before - he makes the difference.

Anatole Litvak for The Snake Pit
first of two nominations; DGA Awards nominee

He doesn't initially portray his ensemble of hospitalized women as shrieking loonies, making the moments of actual chaos hit harder. And he really visualizes, perfectly, those moments of almost-reality - how long have I been here? wasn't I just talking to someone else? when did the light change? - with a chilling fluidity. The weaving between reality and hallucination is effective. My only question is: does he purposely make Mark Stevens such a dull fellow?
Jean Negulesco for Johnny Belinda
only nomination

He can only do so much with Lew Ayres, but otherwise, he has a wonderful grasp on the drama and performances: a mute one like Jane Wyman's depends not just on her craft, but on Negulesco's ability to coax out what can be communicated silently. And for a journeyman like him, with so many genuinely great films on his roster, to get an Oscar nod? It's difficult to begrudge this one.

Laurence Olivier for Hamlet
only nomination in this category; NYFCC Awards runner-up

Olivier films this ghost story-revenge drama with a haunting spareness. The sets are not a stage, and yet they are so spare of distinguishing characteristics - a tapestry here, a chair there - each room bleeds into the other; it's like a black box theatre...or the fog of someone going through a breakdown. The pulsing effect when the Ghost appears, the echoing (tinny?) sound design, the constant fog (even indoors?): one can hear all the talk about this palace of madness and sadness, but Olivier the Director makes it vivid.

Fred Zinnemann for The Search
first of seven directing nominations; DGA Awards nominee

He's dealing with some horrible things here, all based around children: alienation, PTSD, suicide, torture. And he handles it so humanely. He's never so heavy that hope seems ridiculous or saccharine, and he's never so light that the seriousness is trivialized. What he gets out of that kid!


Oscar and I agree. The Best Director of this lineup is:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Original Song: "For Every Man There's a Woman" from Casbah, "Buttons and Bows" from The Paleface, "It's Magic" from Romance on the High Seas, "This is the Moment" from That Lady in Ermine, and "The Woody Woodpecker Song" from "Wet Blanket Policy."

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