Sunday night’s Oscar telecast (ABC, 8:00 p.m. EST) will showcase some of the best filmmakers in the world. One director, however, isn’t even nominated in the best director category, despite the fact that his film amassed eight Academy Award nominations altogether.
Baz Luhrmann, the 39-year-old writer-producer-director from Australia, failed to garner a nomination for his direction of the love-it-or-hate-it “Moulin Rouge,” the Parisian fin-de-siecle musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
Luhrmann, instead, must find solace in the film’s other category nominations: picture, lead actress, art direction, cinematography, costume design, editing, make-up and sound.
The injustice doesn’t stem from the fact that these other filmmaking elements were nominated and Luhrmann, as director, wasn’t. The snubbing of Luhrmann’s achievement would be just as glaring even if the film’s other achievements weren’t recognized.
“There is … a belief in some quarters that Mr. Luhrmann’s gift of rapid-fire gab may have hurt him in the Oscar race, putting off members of the directors’ division, who make the nominations in the best-director category,” according to the New York Times.
Furthermore, “Moulin Rouge” sparks a visceral reaction in anyone. The same goes for Luhrmann’s previous features, “Strictly Ballroom” and “Rome + Juliet.” He doesn’t aim for indifference in audience reaction, and he doesn’t get it.
Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune writes of Luhrmann’s “near-demonic energy and invention.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls him “a gifted impresario.” Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com characterizes Luhrmann as “a tricky director” who paces his movies “like a hamster on a wheel.” The Dove Foundation’s Holly McClure claims that watching “Moulin Rouge” is like “voyeuristically watching a director … film and edit on a drug trip. It’s that weird and that annoying.”
He allegedly wrote a note to the “Moulin Rouge” cast that read, “I dare you to make me say you’ve gone too far,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
That’s Baz Luhrmann, a man who is also gracious in the snubbing. When participants in a real-time chat at USA TODAY’s Web site expressed resentment that Luhrmann wasn’t nominated, he responded:
“It is my heartfelt belief that art is not a horeserace. Awards are a necessary celebration that throws light on several pieces of good work in a given year. Finally, the other directors who were nominated have all done exceptional work, and one cannot really claim one good or interesting film is better than the other. In the end, it’s just an issue of personal taste.”
He later told chatters that “creativity can’t be a footrace,” and handled his certain disappointment with the tact that more Hollywood types should embrace.
It’s not necessary to feel too sorry for Luhrmann. He earned a Directors Guild of America nomination for his work (but lost to Ron Howard for “A Beautiful Mind”). He was awarded the Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award in theatrical motion pictures from the Producers Guild of America (because he also produced “Moulin Rouge,” as well as co-wrote it).
The movie also won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy.
It’s been more than 20 years since a live-action musical was nominated for best picture, the last being “All That Jazz” in 1979. And now there’s no separating Luhrmann’s vision from what is the wildest movie musical around.
The Christian community has variously embraced and shunned “Moulin Rouge,” partly due to its sexual content, which gives the film a PG-13 rating. But Jeffrey Overstreet of Christianity Today writes that he was moved by “Baz Luhrmann’s pop-opera valentine to ‘silly love songs,’ which also acted as a parable about Christian love’s triumph over base and carnal lust.”
Douglas Jones, writing in Christianity Today’s Books & Culture, claims that “the categories of sin, sacrifice, effectual calling, regeneration, redemption, truth, beauty, goodness, and taking captivity captive permeate ‘Moulin Rouge.'”
But the point here is that Baz Luhrmann has created “a rare picture that gets you intoxicated on the possibilities of movies,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
For that, he deserves the recognition he’ll be denied on Sunday. But his understanding that “creativity can’t be a footrace” may be the understanding that so infuses his vision.
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.