1994 / Best Director

Film #540: Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Sticking in 1994 we begin a look at four films by Woody Allen, who in total was nominated for Best Director seven times. While three of those films were Best Picture nominees, the other four weren’t which does beg the question what did the directing wing of the Academy see that the group as a whole didn’t? I start by trying to find the answer to this question by watching Bullets Over Broadway, a film which garnered seven Oscar nods in total but didn’t turn up in the Best Picture shortlist.

Of all of the Allen films I’m watching in this quadruple bill, Bullets over Broadway is the only one I’ve seen before primarily as I’m a massive fan of leading man John Cusack. In the film Cusack stars as David Shayne a young playwright who has aspirations of grandeur and has his first major production finance by a gangster. The gangster in question is Nick Valenti who has given the money for Gods of Our Fathers so his talentless mistress Olive can have a role in the show. To make sure Olive isn’t harassed by anyone involved with the play, Valenti sends along one of his henchmen Cheech to watch out for her but in the process he becomes obsessed by making the production better. As the film continues Cheech’s ideas for the play are applauded by the cast, who believe they are David’s, although his one bone of contention is Olive who is an awful actress. Meanwhile David is taken in by the play’s leading lady Helen Sinclair, a leading light of the theatre who is played with joyful abandon by Dianne Wiest. All the various plot lines collide into the final sequence on opening night where David realises what is really important and Cheech sees his vision come to life.

Of all of the films I’ve watched in this Best Director section of the site, I’m not quite sure why Allen received a nod for Bullets Over Broadway. While I understand that Allen is a director that Oscar loves, this isn’t a particularly showy film in terms of its direction so I’m surprised to see him show up in that category. What I am surprised about is how Bullets Over Broadway didn’t receive a Best Picture Nomination as it received seven nods with only that year’s winner Forrest Gump appearing in more categories. As the film’s design is great I’m not surprised to see both the costume and art direction teams nominated for recreating New York of the late 1920s perfectly. Meanwhile Allen’s script was rightfully given a nomination which deserved as I think the film’s story was excellent and as you would expect from the director it was also very funny. Chaz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly both received supporting nominations for their roles as Cheech and Olive respectively. I felt Palminteri was especially great as the film’s straight man who was gradually revealed as the most intelligent man in the room despite being the most brutal. Tilly meanwhile chewed the scenery as the horrid Olive and I did like the odd couple romance she started up with Jim Broadbent’s overweight actor Warner Purcell. However it was Dianne Wiest who received the film’s only Oscar and rightfully so as her performance as Helen Sinclair stole the show in my opinion. Any time Wiest was on screen the audience’s attention was firmly on her and it’s a testament to the actress that she gave a completely different turn here than she did in her other Oscar-winning role in Hannah and Her Sisters.

Whether Bullets Over Broadway deserved a place in the Best Picture category is a tricky one primarily as it seems like the sixth film in contention that very almost made it. I do feel the problem with Bullets Over Broadway is that it’s very flippant and doesn’t have either the style or substance of other nominees that year such as Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption. That being said I think it could’ve probably have replaced either Quiz Show or Four Weddings and a Funeral with no-one really noticing. At the end of the day Bullets Over Broadway is an entertaining film that is brilliantly styled, snappily-written and has a fantastic ensemble cast but nothing about it really screams Best Picture nominee to me.

Next time we continue our Woody Allen marathon by going back five years for a film that features Allen himself in a prominent role.

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