Departure from the norm

Aside from the prospect of Al Gore annoucing his presidential candidacy after winning the Best Documentary Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth," the only thing I’m looking forward to in next week’s Academy Awards is finding out whether Martin Scorsese will be the only director to go 0 in 6 in nominations. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if he lost out — if only to grant him that distinction. At 1 in 6 who’s he in a league with? Woody Allen? That hardly compares with the company he keeps with the other 0 in 5 guys: Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman (okay, and Clarence Brown, too), both of whom died before the Academy could undo their disgrace by honoring them.


So who in their exalted wisdom did this jury of his peers deem superior to one of the half dozen greatest American directors of the last three decades? We won’t even count 1976, when "Taxi Driver," nominated for Best Picture, lost out to that quintessential hokum "Rocky." Scorsese wasn’t even nominated. “Rocky”’s John G. Avildsen was, and won. John G. who? So as you can see, a Best Directing Oscar is about as significant, as, well, a Best Picture Oscar. One has to wonder, however, had Scorsese’s film won, whether we would have been subjected eventually to a “Taxi Driver V: Travis Bickle” starring an over-the-hill armed-to-the teeth Robert De Niro, still working the streets,  gruesomely defending the honor of his and Iris’s frisky love-child, played by Dakota Fanning.

Dream on. Meanwhile, Scorsese, perhaps taking a cue from Stallone, decided to make his own boxing movie, the brutal and breathtaking “Raging Bull,” in 1980. It did earn him his first nomination. But it was also the year Robert Redford got his first nomination also, for the tear-jerker “Ordinary People,” and established a pattern that must be considered Scorsese’s Oscar curse. With the exception of 1988, when his  direction of “Last Temptation of Christ” lost to Barry Levinson and  overrated mawkish hoo-ha “Rain Man” (had he won, the Catholic League would have burned down the building), and  2002, when his “Gangs of New York” deservedly lost to Roman Polanski and “The Pianist,” he has always lost the award to an actor-turned-director.

In 1990 when he directed “GoodFellas,” maybe his best movie, he lost to Kevin Costner and “Dances With Wolves.” In 2004 with “The Aviator,” which some consider one of his worst movies but which I kind of liked, he lost out to one of Clint Eastwood’s worst, “Million Dollar Baby.”


So given that history, Scorsese’s prospects don’t look good. He’s up against Eastwood again and Clint’s movie, “Letters From Iwo Jima,”  is one of his best, better than the bloodsoaked, operatic, technically brilliant, splendidly acted but ultimately frivolous “The Departed.” On the other hand, Eastwood himself might have given Scorsese a leg up, magnanimously and perhaps a bit  condescendingly telling the Academy voters, give the guy a break. “He probably has a good chance,” Clint said recently. “There is a lot of sympathy for him, but I have no control over any of that. I always feel sorry... for the others, because there are other nominees and they've worked very hard on their projects, too. I don't think any two people should be singled out.”

As for the others: Stephen Frears for “The Queen” and Paul Greengrass for “United 93” probably don’t have a chance, but don’t be surprised if in the shoot-out between “The Departed” and “Iwo Jima,” “Babel’”s Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaríttu is the last man standing.


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