Sunday, March 26, 2023

Spielberg needs (at least) 6 — A time-traveling Oscar journey

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| March 15, 2023 1:00 AM

Three is good. Six would be better.

Perhaps the greatest living director (alongside Martin Scorsese), Steven Spielberg has gifted audiences with 50 years of top-shelf entertainment. He’s collected 22 Oscar nominations over the years but only three wins — as a producer for the Best Picture-winning “Schindler’s List,” and for directing “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, but Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the creative team behind the Best Picture-winning “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” also now have three Oscars each (for Picture, Director and Original Screenplay this year). Love the movie guys, but you aren’t in Spielberg territory just yet.

Say we could travel back in time to past Oscar ceremonies and fix a few things (without breaking the universe of course). Aside from some easy changes (dumping the egregious Best Picture win for “Crash,” giving Samuel L. Jackson the Oscar he so deserved for “Pulp Fiction,” etc.), a high priority would be to (at least) double Spielberg’s Oscar count. The trick is doing it responsibly, because whatever you give Spielberg must be taken away from an existing Oscar winner. Nevertheless, with time-travel involved, one must be prepared to make difficult choices.

Bonus Spielberg Oscar No. 1: Best Original Screenplay for “The Fabelmans” (2022)

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” obviously charmed Academy voters this year, but the Oscars are more fun when the love gets spread around a bit more. An easy fix would be to keep “Everything Everywhere” in at Best Picture and Director and reward Spielberg and collaborator Tony Kushner to win the Original Screenplay prize over the Daniels. This way, the Daniels still take home trophies for each hand, while Spielberg gets rewarded for his deeply personal “Fabelmans” script. Bonus: Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Tony Kushner has never won an Oscar, period, despite multiple chances while collaborating with Spielberg. He’s way overdue.

Bonus Spielberg Oscar No. 2: As a producer, winning Best Picture for “West Side Story” (2021)

Last year, the small-scale, feel-good family drama “CODA” won Best Picture after a late-season surge, besting the nominations leader “The Power of the Dog.” It’s a perfectly solid movie, so, sure, let it keep its Screenplay and Supporting Actor Prizes. Almost everybody, besides maybe Spielberg himself, thought remaking the Best Picture-winning “West Side Story” would be a shameless, creative disaster. Then it turned out great! It proved to be vibrant, energetic and different enough in ways that actually strengthened the story’s core themes without staining the reputation of the original. Plus it’d be fun to have two Best Picture winners named “West Side Story.”

Next chance — Best Picture for “The Post” (2017)

Not taking Guillermo del Toro’s big victory for “The Shape of Water” away here for Spielberg’s solid journalism flick. Even without “Shape of Water,” the Best Picture lineup also included exceptional films like “Get Out” and “Phantom Thread.” No luck here.

Next chance — Best Picture for “Bridge of Spies (2015)

The best film of that year actually won (“Spotlight”), and if you don’t agree with that opinion, then you probably think the also-incredible “Mad Max: Fury Road” should’ve won instead. No change.

Next chance — Best Picture and Director for “Lincoln” (2012)

As that year’s most nominated movie, “Lincoln” definitely feels like a Best Picture winner, especially with that Oscar-winning Daniel Day-Lewis performance at the center. Then you remember how this year got all messed up because the Academy snubbed Ben Affleck in the Director race for “Argo,” setting up that film’s eventual Best Picture win. I’m not taking that Oscar away from Affleck, man. Nor would I take the Directing Oscar away from another iconic director — Ang Lee, who won his third for “Life of Pi.” Sorry, Steven. We gotta keep traveling back.

Next chance — Best Picture for “War Horse” (2011)

Don’t care about the Best Picture winning “The Artist,” but the better options that year would be “Moneyball,” “The Descendants” or “The Tree of Life.”

Bonus Oscar No. 3 — Best Picture for “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006)

Most probably forget that Spielberg served as a producer on Clint Eastwood’s two acclaimed World War II films, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” This was the year of “The Departed,” where Martin Scorsese finally (finally!) won his first Oscar for Directing. Scorsese wasn’t a producer on the movie, so “The Departed” winning Best Picture doesn’t do much for me, especially since its run that year was seen as sort of an apology to Scorsese for largely ignoring all his past work. And look, “Letters from Iwo Jima” might be one of Eastwood’s best efforts behind the camera, so why not?

Next chance — Best Picture and Director for “Munich” (2005)

Oof, the “Crash” year. “Crash” is a bad movie, y’all. “Munich,” on the other hand, is one of Spielberg’s most underrated thrillers. But Ang Lee more than deserved that Oscar for directing “Brokeback Mountain,” and that movie should have (easily) won Best Picture as well. Tough beat, Steven.

Next chance — Best Picture for “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

Spielberg won for Directing but the movie lost Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love.” Both are good movies, and, well, I guess I just like “Shakespeare in Love” just a little bit more. Good split decision that year.

Bonus Oscar No. 4 — Best Picture for “The Color Purple” (1985)

Spielberg famously missed the Director category despite “The Color Purple" nabbing the most nominations. It ended up winning none of them. The Best Picture trophy instead went to “Out of Africa,” a movie I don’t care about in the slightest. I probably like another movie here better (“Witness”), but that 0 for 11 for “The Color Purple” just looks terrible on the stat sheet.

Bonus Oscar No. 5 — Picture or Director for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

This almost isn’t even a question, as “E.T.” has rightly gone down as one of the greatest movies of all-time. Period. Full stop. However, I don’t want to take both Oscars away from my friend John Hammond (better known as Richard Attenborough) who won for directing and producing “Gandhi.” Steve can take his pick here as to which category he wants to win more.

Next chance — Picture and Director for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

I’m not here to tell you that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” isn’t the best movie of this particular year. It’s basically a perfect movie! But, look, we can’t be selfish, and maybe at such a young age, Spielberg didn’t need to get too big of an ego about his skills. Leave “Chariots of Fire” and “Reds” as they lay.

Next chance — Best Director for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

Let’s not get into the weeds here about Woody Allen winning for “Annie Hall.” But even if we pretend he doesn’t exist, a guy named George Lucas also made “Star Wars” the same year. Kind of a big deal.

Shoulda been the first nomination: Best Director for “Jaws” (1975)

“Jaws” changed the movie landscape. While it was nominated for Best Picture and eventually won three Oscars, Spielberg famously missed the cut. This should have been Spielberg’s first big trip to the Oscars, if only because of the headache dealing with that broken mechanical shark. But this young upstart needed to wait for the trophy, because that motivation likely resulted in some of the best movies of a generation.

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Tyler Wilson is a member of the International Press Academy and has been writing about movies for Inland Northwest publications since 2000, including a regular column in The Press since 2006. He can be reached at

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