2001 / Best Director

Film #521: Black Hawk Down (2001)

Ridley Scott has the odd distinction of helming a Best Picture winning film without picking up a Best Director Oscar for the same movie. The Best Picture winner in question is Gladiator, a film which took home a few Oscars in 2000 however Scott’s superb direction was overlooked in favour of Steven Soderbergh’s work on Traffic. Scott has in fact never won the Best Director Oscar despite being up for the award three times, two of which were for his work on non-Best Picture nominees. The next two posts will look at these films in more detail and analyse whether they should have been included in the Best Picture category and if Scott should have received a Best Director win for his work on either movie.

We start with Scott’s next film following his success on Gladiator that being the war movie Black Hawk Down which is set around the 1993 raid of Mogadishu by the U.S. army. The first thing I noticed was how Black Hawk Down is evidence of Scott’s diversity as a director as there’s very little visual similarity between this film and Gladiator. Whilst Gladiator was full of epic sweeping shots, Black Hawk Down is almost shot like a documentary with the story taking place over one day. Part of the reason it felt like I was watching a documentary was that the film didn’t focus on any one character and instead let us know what the mission was like for the group of officers who were patrolling the streets of Mogadishu. Whilst I did like the fact that Black Hawk Down didn’t act as a star vehicle at the same time it was hard to care about the characters after one of the army helicopters goes down in the middle of a dangerous militia stronghold. That being said a few members of the cast did stand out namely Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett and Orlando Bloom whose characters were at least given a small amount of backstory.

Black Hawk Down is a film that relies on its visuals rather than its characterisation and thankfully those visuals are absolutely stunning. Cinematographer Sławomir Idziak puts us in the boots of the officers as they try to navigate themselves through alien streets and cope with the loss of a growing amount of comrades. He’s aided by editor Pietero Scalia whose frantic jump cuts give the audience a sense of the feelings that the men have throughout the course of the film. One of my favourite scenes comes towards the end of the film as the troops leave the danger zone behind them as this sequence is shot with a slightly bluer light than the rest of the movie. Also worthy of a mention is Hans Zimmer’s score which brilliantly enhances the mood of the piece and perfectly captures the danger of the situation.

Black Hawk Down won two awards at the 2001 Oscars for both Scalia’s editing and the excellent sound mixing however the film itself didn’t receive a nomination. I do feel part of the reason for this is the lack of connection with the characters and I also think that had there been more than five nominees back then Black Hawk Down would definitely have received a Best Picture nod. Oddly 2001 was the year in which two directors of Best Picture nominees didn’t find themselves nominated for their own work. The men in question were In the Bedroom’s Todd Field and Moulin Rouge’s Baz Lurhmann, both of whom in my opinion deserved to be recognised for their respective films. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted Black Hawk Down to replace either of those films and if there was a weak link that year then it was Gosford Park. I’ll talk more about the Best Picture and Best Director categories at the 2001 ceremony after I’ve looked at another film that received a nomination that year.

As it was I feel that Black Hawk Down wasn’t a worthy Best Picture nominee although at the same time I do agree with the Academy that its direction is more noticeable than in something like In the Bedroom. However, I do think that Scott was deserving of a Best Director Oscar at some point in his career and next time we’ll look at the film that he possibly deserved to win it for.

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