If Oscar were a car, it probably would be a trusty old four-door sedan comfortably cruising down the middle of the road exactly at the speed limit. Oscar almost never veers from the double yellow line when picking its top choices: movies with important, uplifting themes and if there's a class foreign act around, preferably British, that's good too. As a result, many worthy pictures and talented players get left in the dust when nominations are announced. So buckle up, peek in 1989's cinematic rear-view mirror, and check out what Oscar passed by.
Someone Was Behind the Wheel:
Driving Miss Daisy picked up nine Oscar nominations the most of any film this year including all the major categories except Best Director. Sure, the performances by Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd were great, the script was great, even the costumes were great. But certainly director Bruce Beresford must have had something to do with all that. He couldn't have been just sitting there yelling ''cut,'' ''action,'' and ''print.'' Was the Australian director quota already filled this year by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society)?
'sex, lies,' and the Wrong 'Thing':
Although Steven Soderbergh's impressive debut sex, lies, and videotape and Spike Lee's controversial Do the Right Thing both racked up various film festival and critics society awards, neither managed more than a passing glance from the academy. Both Lee and Soderbergh did get the nod for Best Original Screenplay, and Danny Aiello, as Right Thing pizza parlor owner Sal, was tabbed for Best Supporting Actor. But no Best Director and no Best Picture acknowledgment for these two independent filmmakers whose personal visions struck both critical and commercial chords. Also ignored were the excellent performances by Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo and James Spader in sex, lies, and videotape.
Director Ed Zwick's impressive Civil War drama Glory despite five nominations was noticeably absent in both Best Picture and Best Director categories. Also missing from those lofty heights was Paul Mazursky's Enemies, A Love Story, based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, although it was recognized for two Best Supporting Actresses (Anjelica Huston and Lena Olin) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Mazursky and Roger L. Simon).
Not acknowledged in any category, however, were Michael Moore's quirky docu-home movie about General Motors plant closings in Flint, Mich., Roger & Me, and Gus Van Sant's offbeat Drugstore Cowboy, which featured a fine performance from former teen idol Matt Dillon.
Oscar has never liked unabashedly commercial efforts, no matter how well made. Just ask Steven Spielberg, who was passed over for E.T., Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's not that they believe there's anything wrong with making money last year's Best Picture, Rain Man, broke the bank it's just that autism is more acceptable than sharks, adventurers, and aliens. Or bats. Hype aside, Jack Nicholson gave a brilliantly dark performance as the Joker in Batman. And it should have been acknowledged. Instead, the most popular film of the year received a single nomination for art direction.
Design, costumes, and visual effects are considered safe categories by the academy for admitting that movies are actually made to enchant, impress, and entertain audiences. Unfortunately, they chose to cite Back to the Future Part II for visual effects, when that picture was most deserving of the Best Trailer Award for its ''To Be Continued'' ending. The incredibly unsatisfying sequel also should win an award for Best Product Placement. With all the Nike, Pepsi, Black & Decker, Adidas, Texaco, Jeep Cherokee, Beefeater gin, Mattel, and Magnavox plugs, the film was the longest ad ever to hit the screen.
Oscar's an Old Stone Face:
Twelve years have passed since Woody Allen's Annie Hall managed to sneak off with the Best Picture award. This year's quality comedies, Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally and Ron Howard's Parenthood, didn't have a prayer. Before the nominations, Harry Met Sally's Meg Ryan was mentioned frequently as a Best Actress candidate, but the academy wasn't listening.
Some of this year's most convincing performances were by you guessed it animals. Top honors go to Bart, the giant Kodiak in The Bear, with honorable mentions to Douce, Bart's little cub companion; Beasley, the dogue de Bordeaux who played the latter half of Turner and Hooch; and K-9's German shepherd Jerry Lee, who clearly outperformed co-star Jim Belushi.
There has to be some way for the academy to recognize great performances given under impossible conditions. This year's nominee is Andy Garcia, who shone as the chivalrous cop in Ridley Scott's dismal Black Rain. Finally, in recognition of talent, even when it beams out of a tiny pinhole of a role, we suggest the Best Bit Part award. The nominees: William Burroughs as a junkie priest in Drugstore Cowboy, Martin Bergmann as the professor in Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Martin Short as the L.A. agent in The Big Picture.