1998 / Best Director

Film #519: The Truman Show (1998)

As I theorised in my last post, some of these Best Director nominated-films are just too quirky to ever be considered a Best Picture candidate. But in some cases there doesn’t seem to be any reason to justify why the film I’m watching didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination. A perfect example is The Truman Show, which earned Peter Weir his third of four Best Director nominations and was the only one of these films not to be nominated for Best Picture.

If you consider the fact that the 1998 ceremony was full of films that were either set during Elizabethan times or around World War 2, The Truman Show would’ve at least given the Best Picture field a contemporary entry. The fact that The Truman Show exploited reality television before it was a mainstream phenomenon even signals to me that this was a movie that was a head of its time. The film stars Jim Carrey as a man completely unaware that his every move is being transmitted to TV screens across the world. The Truman Show is a very clever movie as Weir clearly lets the audience do most the work for themselves after a brief introduction to the show within the movie is done. Even though I’d seen the film countless times there were plenty of smaller moments I missed including some of the smaller instances of product placement in the fictional TV show as well as the way several of the extras react when the star of the show interacts with them. As the film progresses, Truman starts to realise that his world is very insular and gradually starts to twig about the very weird goings-on. The Truman Show builds to a brilliant final third in which the show’s creator Kristoff tries his best to keep his creation on the air. But Truman has the final laugh in a scene which makes me tear up a little bit every time I see it.

In addition to being ahead of its time, The Truman Show is a film that demonstrated a different side to Jim Carrey. Previously known as the madcap star of several high-grossing comedy blockbusters, including The Mask and Ace Ventura, The Truman Show proved that Carrey could also do drama. The film anchored Carrey’s zany charm and the character of Truman does have quite a comedy air about him which is perfectly controlled by Weir. However I feel that Carrey makes us sympathise with Truman’s plight and as a result we’re willing him to leave his make-believe world in the film’s final few minutes. I do think it’s a minor travesty that Carrey didn’t receive an Oscar nod here as I think that his is a brilliantly judged and well-balanced performance. In fact the only actor to receive a nomination for their role in the film was Ed Harris who gave a magnificent accounting of himself as the conceited Kristoff. What I loved about Harris’ performance was the fact in which he made you believe that he had a parental love for Truman despite the fact that he was ultimately making money from him. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Harris wasn’t even the first actor to take on the role of Kristoff, with Harvey Keitel initially being cast in the role. However, I believe that Kristoff is one of Harris’ better remembered roles and therefore I think he was deserving of an Oscar nomination.

The same can be said for the film itself which in theory would have occupied the spot taken up by Elizabeth as Weir was nominated over that movie’s director Shekhar Kapur. However I thought that Elizabeth was one of the stronger films of that year and if I was going to remove a film from that year’s nominees it would probably be The Thin Red Line. The Truman Show is a perfect film and I do feel it’s a shame that it wasn’t considered good enough for that year’s Best Picture line-up. However I do think it’s a film that will age better than a lot of its contemporaries as its themes are universals and Weir’s direction throughout The Truman Show is simply flawless.

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