1996 / Best Director

Film #546: The People Vs Larry Flynt (1996)

Not many directors have had as much success at The Oscars than Milos Forman who has won two awards for helming two Best Picture winners. Indeed, Milos is one of only three directors to work on films that have won the coveted ‘Big Five’ Oscars when he oversaw the production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Having also been rewarded for directing Amadeus, Forman’s third and final nomination came for helming The People Vs Larry Flynt.

His nomination was one of only two the film received, the other being a Best Actor nod for Woody Harrelson who played the controversial figure of the title. Forman’s film follows Flynt’s ascent from his work running a small strip club to becoming the editor and publisher of Hustler Magazine. As the title would suggest the film primarily deals with Flynt’s legal troubles as he’s charged with being a smut peddler and later causing emotional distress to a prominent religious figure. The film also charts Flynt’s relationship with his wife Althea who starts out as one of the dancers in his club but soon becomes his most trusted ally. As it focused on a story I wasn’t aware of I thought that The People Vs Larry Flynt did a good job at telling an interesting story even if it did so in a rather formulaic fashion. I rather enjoyed Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander’s script as I found it to be witty and informative presenting Larry and Althea as sympathetic figures throughout. Conversely it vilified those who opposed them particularly Charles Keating, who is seen as Flynt’s rival from the get-go and who we are later informed was convicted of various fraud-related crimes. At the heart of The People Vs Larry Flynt was Larry and Althea’s love story which I found to be unique but at the same time fairly conventional and one that had a rather tragic end. But even though they weren’t exactly the most savoury of characters I found that Karaszewski, Alexander and Forman made you sympathise with Larry and Althea for the majority of the movie.

That being said there wasn’t a lot that ever wowed me about The People Vs Larry Flynt and I was struggling to understand why exactly Forman was nominated for Best Director. On one hand the movie did have its own distinct style both in terms of the way the sets were dressed and the various costumes that Larry and Althea wore throughout the year. But this was more of a testament to the costume and art direction teams, who in my mind deserved recognition by Oscar, than it was to Forman as in my mind the film was rather basic from a direction point-of-view. Maybe it was just because Forman was an Oscar favourite that he garnered an Oscar nomination however I felt that Jerry Maguire’s Cameron Crowe would’ve been the better choice for that category. The film’s other nomination was more than deserved though as I felt that Harrelson was fantastic at portraying both Larry’s charismatic side as well as the dark parts of his persona. He was utterly compelling throughout the film and I actually feel he was better than that year’s winner Shine’s Geoffrey Rush. Harrelson was ably supported by Courtney Love who was utterly believable as Althea as well as by Edward Norton’s as Flynt’s regular lawyer Alan Isaacman.

This is rather a quick decision as I don’t think The People Vs Larry Flynt deserved a place in that year’s Best Picture field and in fact I’m quite baffled by the decision to nominate Forman for Best Director. I feel that Cameron Crowe was much more deserving of the nomination and maybe The Academy just felt Forman was due for another nod as I can’t see any other reason for this odd decision.

Next time we journey back a year to look at two films from 1995 that both made it into the Best Director category without being nominated for Best Picture.

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