In the weeks preceding Oscar night, Hollywood insiders and film buffs around the globe buzzed in hushed tones about 2007 being "Marty’s year–almost as if making an outright prediction could jinx Martin Scorsese from winning the coveted Best Director statuette that had eluded him so many times.
As the show drew nearer, however, the buzz grew louder. The director who had been snubbed in years past for such classic films as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, it seemed, was finally considered a lock to win the category.
Scorsese had, after all, amassed Best Director awards from film critics associations in Chicago, Boston and New York, among other groups, as well as a Best Director Golden Globe in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards.
"By the time the Oscars rolled around…it was pretty obvious that he was going to get the award," according to Boston Globe Film Critic Ty Burr, who began his October review of the film, “Martin Scorsese won’t be winning any Oscars for The Departed."
"It was pretty clear that it was his year."
On the blog he shares with fellow Globe film critic Wesley Morris, Burr predicted Scorsese to win the Best Director prize, but pegged Paul Greengrass (United 93) as the "Should Win" contender on the Friday before Oscar Sunday.
On the night itself, fans, colleagues and Scorsese himself breathed a collective sigh of relief as his name was read at the podium (by a trio consisting of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, no lessâ€”the show’s producers must have bet on his victory as well).
And then, just for good measure, Academy voters threw Scorsese a bone, awarding him the Best Picture prize for The Departed, which had also won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing awards earlier in the night.
While the previous awards for the film built momentum, Oscar was the icing on the cake, according to Burr.
"(Academy voters are) the people you work with," he explained. "It’s the industry you work within. That makes it different."
However, while the Oscars are considered to be the most prestigious of award shows, Burr believes there are too many factors going into an Oscar vote to have a victory be the definitive measure of a film’s worth.
"It’s not a guarantee that you have done the best work in the category," Burr said. "To me, it’s not a barometer of qualityâ€¦.It’s something between a high school popularity contest and a desire to show the world that this industry is capable of important, artistic work."
While no one denies that Scorsese deserves some official recognition for his body of work as a director, industry experts have debated whether The Departed is truly his best work, or if Academy voters were trying to make amends for past mistakes.
"There’s a lot of elements going into this win," Burr said. "I think that there’s definitely a massive sympathy factor."
"That’s always been a trend in Oscarâ€¦wanting to make up for previous oversights and mistakes," he added. "That’s what the lifetime achievement award is for, to say â€˜Oops, we fucked up.’ There’s a long, long history of the Academy trying to make amends."
Scorsese is one of a select few directors who is "a star in his own right," Burr said, one who is universally loved by his industry peers. After so many losses, that respect made his victory even more meaningful, Burr believes.
"When you’re rejected as he has been numerous times it’s not a bunch of Hollywood Foreign Press rejecting you," Burr pointed out. "It’s the people you work withâ€¦.It’s impossible not to take that personally.
Audience members demonstrated their genuine happiness for Scorsese by giving him a lengthy standing ovation after his name was called. He responded by asking, "Could you double-check the envelope?"
"To him, (the win) means that he’s been embraced by his peers," Burr said. "You know it feels good. It’s a big wet kiss from everybody you work with."
Mainstream appeal may have played a role in the victory as well. The Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio formula has proved a winning oneâ€”both at the box office and during awards season for films like The Aviator and Gangs of New York. The pair recently announced they will collaborate on a two more upcoming projects, biopic The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and The Wolf of Wall Street, about a corrupt stockbroker turned government informant.
According to Burr, The Departed "ranks in the second tier" behind Scorsese’s greatest work, which he cites as Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. But it is the best film he’s churned out in several years, Burr said, and Academy voters rewarded the effort.
"I love the movie," Burr gushed. "It’s an old-fashioned Hollywood picture. They’re honoring him for turning out the classic Hollywood modern movie."
The Warner Bros. marketing team behind The Departed, and Scorsese himself, chose to focus on the popcorn appeal of the movie, and seemed wary of characterizing it as award-worthy. When the film was released in October, Scorsese repeated in interviews that he hadn’t set out to win any awards when making it.
And Debbie Miller, executive VP of marketing at the studio, presented the film as more of a crowd-pleaser than a "For Your Consideration" film.
“First and foremost, we view The Departed as an event entertainment picture of the highest quality," Miller told the Los Angeles Times. "â€¦We are not overtly positioning the film for awards considerationâ€¦"
“If people continue to respond to the story, acting and filmmaking as positively as they have thus far â€” and the film organically becomes a legitimate contenderâ€”we would be proud to support The Departed with a full awards consideration campaign,” Miller added.
Burr believes the lack of awards-season pressure contributed to the overall quality of the film.
"He’s gone through a decade of making movies that want to be respected, and I think he works best when he doesn’t want to be respected, when he just gets into the moviemaking," Burr explained. "I’m certain he doesn’t go into movies saying, â€˜I want to win an Oscar for this.’ He’s best when he puts the pedal to the metal. That came back in Departed in a way it hadn’t been for a while."
"I’m hoping it’s the start of a career renaissance," Burr added.