By John H. Foote
He has been nominated for the Academy Award as Best Director seven times, winning twice. Over at the Directors Guild Awards, he is their top award winner with three, and has more nominations with eleven than any filmmaker in their history. Let’s be clear, Spielberg should have at least twelve nominations for Best Director and six wins.
However, he has also been a victim of some extraordinary snubs from the Academy, ones that made headline news with their injustice. Was it jealousy among his peers for his success? Yes, some of it, but I think through the years it became more about taking him for granted.
He has received Academy Award nominations for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E. T. (1982), Schindler’s List (1993) for which he won his first, Saving Private Ryan (1998) which brought him Oscar number two, Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012). The DGA nominated him for all of those and in addition Jaws (1975), The Color Purple (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987) and Amistad (1997).
One more thing…he was snubbed for The Color Purple (1985) but I agree with that one. He took an angry, spiky book and ruined it. One of his worst directed films, right up there with Hook (1991).
Very young, the director welcomed a camera crew into his home to capture his reaction when he was nominated for Best Director for his thriller. But…he was not nominated. After predicting eleven nominations for his film, he was humbled when Jaws received just four nominations. Yes, Best Picture was among the four, but it was a terrible slap in the face for the filmmaker who so wanted recognition from his peers. It would be the beginning of a long road for him, and a delicate dance he did with the Academy. When the mechanical sharks built for the film malfunctioned, he shot around them, using the point of view of the shark, those barrels, the impact of a shark attack and his actors. It was as though this young director saw the finished film in his head, which we now know he does. A Best Picture nominee.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
A masterpiece. The DGA nominated Spielberg, recognizing his remarkable achievement, but the Academy snubbed both he and his film. Six nominations came, all below the line, all deserving, but nothing for the artist who created this brilliant haunting film. Based on the powerful book by J. G. Ballard and his life as a child POW, the film is a mesmerizing epic, unlike anything he has ever done. Other than E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) this was his greatest film before Schindler’s List (1993).
Minority Report (2002)
Roger Elbert named this thrilling science fiction epic the best film of 2002 and he was not far off the mark, it is easily among the best five. Stylish, wildly entertaining, with the look of a forties noir, it is among his best films and shows a startling confidence behind the camera and in handling the high wattage star power of Tom Cruise. A startling, dark look at the future. One of two nominations for Best Director he should have had that year.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
One of his most demanding films yet also among his most cerebral and beautiful. Taking over the film, fast-tracking it when his friend Stanley Kubrick died he made a startling vision of the future with a picture about a robot boy programmed to love unconditionally, who seeks, like Pinocchio to be a real boy. Haley Joel Osment, on the heels of The Sixth Sense (1999) is astonishing as David, while Jude Law is jaunty good fun as a sex toy robot, Gigolo Joe. Easily his most under-appreciated work.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
From the bouncy, cartoon opening credits through to the Capraesque ending the director creates a frothy fun film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who traveled the country bouncing more than three million in bad cheques and pretending to be an airline pilot, teacher, FBI agent, lawyer, and Doctor. An incredibly confident con artist he started this when just a teenager. He is portrayed in the film with dazzling charisma by Leonardo DiCaprio. Knowing the film was snubbed for major nominations now seems downright stupid. Everything works, everything and it remains one of his best films.
War Horse (2011)
Paying homage to two of his heroes, the directing greats John Ford and Victor Fleming, he takes the book and stage play to places they dared not go in this old-fashioned film about the love between a boy and his horse. The scenes in the trenches and on the fields of World War One are harrowing, shot with dark beauty, and the story between the young man and his loyal, grave animal was a tip of the hat to such films from the forties. A Best Picture nominee.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Tight, taut direction make this Cold War thriller so much more than audiences thought it was. Based loosely on a true story, Mark Rylance won an Oscar for his performance as a captured Russian spy defended by Tom Hanks. The film gives a look behind enemy lines into Berlin, Germany, and Russia, with the actors in top form. A Best Picture nominee.
The Post (2017)
A masterful study of the release of the infamous Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post and the attempt by the Nixon administration to block publishing. Meryl Streep is superb as Katherine Graham, owner of the Post, left with a potentially ruinous decision. Tom Hanks is equally fine as Ben Bradley, editor of the Post who wants the Papers released, believing it is the moral obligation of the paper to do so. Spielberg’s direction is perfect, bringing a taut, tight sense of suspense throughout. A Best Picture nominee.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.