Recall the Gold: The 1988 Best Director Oscar race

Rainman_lWho should have won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Director? The prize went to Barry Levinson for Rain Man (pictured), but there were four other strong contenders that year. The most unexpected of them was Charles Crichton, the 76-year-old director of A Fish Called Wanda, who scored a box office hit, two nominations (for directing and co-writing) and a career-capping comeback with the hilarious heist movie farce that recalled his heyday nearly 40 years earlier making such Ealing black comedies as The Lavender Hill Mob. All that made him the sentimental favorite, but Oscar’s bias against comedy and the movie’s lack of a Best Picture nod stacked the odds against him. Similarly, the lightness of Mike Nichols’ well-crafted romantic comedy/Wall Street satire Working Girl made it seem slight next to the weightier candidates. Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning dealt with a heavy topic (racist violence during the bitterest moments of the Civil Rights movement), but Parker’s chances may have been hurt by the movie’s glaring historical revisionism. Martin Scorsese was long overdue for an Oscar, but the controversy surrounding The Last Temptation of Christ and the movie’s poor showing at the box office meant he’d have to wait longer still. That left Levinson’s deft work on Rain Man, taking a screenplay long deemed unfilmable and finding in it a tone that balanced humor and heart, and which elicited sympathy for the plight of the autistic without resorting to sentimentality or pity. In retrospect, Rain Man marked the peak of Levinson’s career; nothing he’s done since has been anywhere near as popular or as acclaimed.

Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these directors doyou think did the best job? Vote in our poll, and list your comments below.(For a refresher, watch the clips embedded after the jump, whichmay contain some NSFW language.) Remember, we’ll be running the Recall the Gold surveys every Tuesdayand Thursday until January, so you may go back at any time and vote inthe other polls (click hereto see them all), reexamining the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25years ago. On Thursday, Oct. 30, we’ll look at the 1993 Best Actresscompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout,including on Dave Karger’s new Oscar Watch blog.


addCredit(“Everett Collection”)

Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda

Barry Levinson’s Rain Man

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Mike Nichols’ Working Girl

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Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning

Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ

Comments (12 total) Add your comment
  • Julie

    i’d like a do-over in the 1996 supporting actor race. ed norton was robbed.

  • Martin

    “Rainman”, “A Fish Called Wanda”, and “Working Girl” were all worth contenders. “Mississippi Burning” was great too, just not like those other three. And “Temptation” was, meh. I have a soft spot for Wanda and think it holds up well and is better than Rainman. And Sigourney Weaver was genius in “Working Girl” — her scene in the hospital after having injured her leg was a stitch, among other scenes. She was on a roll in the Eighties and early Nineties.

  • Zach

    Weak year. Rain Man was overrated.

  • Nathan T.

    I would have given it to Charles Chricton because “A Fish Called Wanda” is the best film of the bunch, but as usual I feel compelled to note that the best direction that year (by far) wasn’t even nominated. That was Robert Zemeckis’s brilliant “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

  • Earl

    I think a lot of the big Oscar winning movies of the 80s just don’t seem as strong as, say, the 70s or 90s. Driving Miss Daisy, Amadeus and Rain Man were good, solid pics, but certainly not best of their years.
    My nominations for director, 1988:
    John McTiernan, Die Hard
    Robert Zemeckis, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
    Martin Scorsese, Last Temptation
    Frances Ford Coppola, Tucker: The Man And His Dream
    Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning
    Damn, Tucker was a great movie. Shame it was mostly overlooked at the time.
    I’m going with either Coppola or McTiernan. Yeah, it almost seems wrong for a movie like Die Hard to win such an award, but the more I think about it…well, was there actually a more compelling and well-executed film that??
    Also on “the bubble” was Oliver Stone for Talk Radio (though I haven’t seen it in years), Sidney Lumet for Running On Empty and Phillip Kaufman for Unbearable Lightness Of Being.
    Damn! Now I feel like I gotta redo that list!

  • Kurt

    I agree that Coppola’s directing of “Tucker” was probably one of the best of the year. But “Last Temptation of Christ” was one of the most beautifully directed movies I’ve ever seen. Of the five nominated, it has probably aged the best.
    Levinson should have won for “Avalon” in my opinion.

  • Martin

    The good thing about “Wanda”, “Working Girl”, and “Rainman” were that they were all solid representations of the ’80’s — and that’s not a bad thing. Apparently no love for “Working Girl”? I remember chuckling throughout the film, if not laughing outright. Plus, with a great cast (of Joan Cusack, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, and even Melanie Griffith), great production values and a fantastic script, the movie is never boring.

  • Ken A.

    “Rain Man” was good and Levinson worthy of a nomination; but “The Last Temptation of Christ”, in spite of all the controversy, was overwhelming in its beauty and treatment of the subject. It still IS powerful, so my choice then and now was/is for Scorsese. Also thought Parker deserved recognition for “Mississippi Burning”, a somewhat flawed but engrossing film; however, I agree with Earl on neglected names (two) that should have been on the list: John McTiernan for “Die Hard” and Phillip Kaufman for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. Those were my top 5 in an otherwise lightweight year. A runner-up: the unknown Glenn Gordon Caron for the extraordinary and not widely viewed “Clean and Sober”.

  • Matt

    You have GOT to do the 2000 Best actress race next. I’m still smarting from Julia Roberts’ win over Ellen Burstyn!

  • Earl

    Working Girl was a really good romantic comedy…certainly better than most that have come since. It was smarter than most, and had one of my favorite final scenes of that era: The spectacular camera pull out on Griffith (following Joan Cusack’s best moment in the film), and Carly Simon’s wonderful “Let The Rivers Run” over the end credits.
    Gotta love that cast…Ford, Griffith, Weaver, Baldwin (2 Jack Ryans for the cost of 1!), Cusack, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Phillip Bosco, and even David Duchovny and Ricky Lake.
    But the movie just doesn’t seem to be best picture or director Oscar fare. More suited for the always goofy Golden Globes!

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