Two iconic filmmakers, Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, are competing for the most coveted Oscars this year: Best Director and Best Picture. Spielberg’s drama Lincoln has received 12 Oscar nominations, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is trailing with 11. It’s unclear who, among the five nominees for Best Director, will win but both Spielberg and Lee have left their mark on contemporary American cinema.
With Lincoln, Steven Spielberg created not only an Oscar-worthy film but a new classic.
Spielberg has been a force in Hollywood for nearly four decades.
His first big success was Jaws, about the hunt for a killer shark off the coast of New York's Long Island. It won three academy awards and established Spielberg as a master of suspense, a title he reclaimed with his science fiction film, Close encounters of the Third Kind.
A few years later, Spielberg returned with E.T. the Extraterrestrial, the poignant story of a boy who befriends an alien stranded on earth. It became the top grossing film of all time.
Other blockbusters, like the Indiana Jones trilogy, followed.
From the adventures, Spielberg turned to historical dramas.
His crowning achievement was the 1993 Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List, based on the story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers.
The film earned Spielberg his first Academy Awards - for Best Director and Best Picture.
In Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg again focused on the Second World War and won another Academy Award for Best Director.
Now, fifteen years later, with Lincoln, Spielberg is a continuing force in cinema, crafting history for millions of moviegoers.
Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated film Life of Pi, about an Indian boy adrift with a Bengal tiger, is a visual masterpiece. Lee’s cinematography and special effects make the sea and the kinetic tiger supporting characters.
For Ang Lee, success came late in life.
He won acclaim for his 1995 British period-piece, Sense and Sensibility.
From then on, he became famous for his nuanced treatment of culturally diverse stories.
In 1997, he directed The Ice Storm about dysfunctional families in the affluent New York suburbs.
In 1999, his Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, about Chinese martial arts, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.
But Lee’s climactic moment came in 2005 with Brokeback Mountain, about the forbidden love between two gay cowboys in the American West. Lee’s tender and poignant story put gay romance into the American mainstream. The film was nominated for Best Picture but lost to another, many say because of its subject matter. Yet, Ang Lee received the Oscar for Best Director.
This year, with Life of Pi, Lee focuses on an Indian family and the universality of faith as a source of strength and courage.
Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg go toe-to-toe as master filmmakers of their generation.