A best-director Oscar rematch after 28 years: Jane Campion vs Steven Spielberg

Jane Campion and Steven Spielberg, who are nominated this year for The Power of the Dog and West Side Story, went head-to-head in 1994 as well.

By: Sarah Bahr
If the best director matchup at the Academy Awards on Sunday looks familiar, you aren’t hallucinating: On a warm spring night in Los Angeles in 1994, Jane Campion and Steven Spielberg, who are nominated this year for The Power of the Dog and West Side Story, went head-to-head.
But unlike this year, when Campion and her queer Western, The Power of the Dog, are the runaway favourites, both directors had a fighting chance in 1994.
At the time, Spielberg was 47 and had yet to enter the greatest-of-all-time conversation, although he had a stellar three Oscar nominations for directing. That was the backdrop when he was nominated for Schindler’s List, the Holocaust drama about a German businessman who saved more than 1,100 Jews from Nazi death camps. The film was the most-nominated feature that year, with 12 mentions in all, including one for best picture.
Although the directors’ field included James Ivory (The Remains of the Day), Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Spielberg’s strongest challenger was Campion, then 39, who was just the second woman ever nominated in the category, for her period drama The Piano. That film about a Scottish woman finding love outside an arranged marriage in 19th-century New Zealand earned eight nominations, including best picture. (Campion wrote the screenplay and had become the first female filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the previous summer.)
At first, Campion had the edge after winning best director at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, but both groups gave best picture to Schindler’s List. Spielberg’s film picked up a third accolade from the National Board of Review, which gave best director to Martin Scorsese for The Age of Innocence.
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Film critic Jack Mathews noted in Newsday that the first three critics awards naming Schindler’s List as their best picture while snubbing Spielberg in the director race recalled the controversy over The Color Purple eight years earlier, when that Spielberg drama received 11 Oscar nominations but none for directing.
“The charge made then by outraged Spielberg supporters was that his colleagues were too jealous of his success to honor him,” Mathews wrote.