Peter Weir

Robin Williams in one of my favorite films - Dead Poets Society (1989)

Robin Williams in one of my favorite films - Dead Poets Society (1989)

  • Born: 1943
  • Rank: 20
  • Score: 674.10
  • Awards: 2 BAFTAs
  • Nominations: 4 Oscars / 4 DGA / 4 Golden Globes / 3 BAFTAs
  • Feature Films: 12
  • Best: Gallipoli
  • Worst: Green Card

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Gallipoli – 1981
  2. Picnic at Hanging Rock – 1975
  3. Master and Commander: Far Side of the World – 2003
  4. The Truman Show – 1998
  5. Dead Poets Society – 1989

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1979 – 3rd – Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • 1981 – 2nd – Gallipoli
  • 1983 – 8th – The Year of Living Dangerously
  • 1985 – 10th – Witness
  • 1989 – 9th – Dead Poets Society
  • 1998 – 6th – The Truman Show
  • 2003 – 6th – Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

While some great American directors got their first work for Roger Corman, down under you make do with what you can and Peter Weir, like Peter Jackson after him, began with a low budget horror comedy. Yet both soon found international acclaim in their early 30’s with eerie, disturbing true stories (at least Weir claims his is true – there is some doubt to that), Jackson with Heavenly Creatures, Weir with Picnic at Hanging Rock. In the eighties, Weir began to cement his reputation as a director of international acclaim, teaming with Mel Gibson for two of Gibson’s best performances – Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously. After that, Weir came to Hollywood, making Witness and earning the first of his Oscar nominations. He teamed up again with Harrison Ford the next year for The Mosquito Coast (Weir’s talent has gotten fantastic acting from two stars who usually don’t act much – Gibson and Ford – as well as getting strong serious performances from Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, and even got decent acting from Andie McDowell). Weir hasn’t done much since – only 5 films in the last 20 years and only 2 in the last 15, but those 5 films have amounted to three Best Director nominations and all 5 have gotten at least 1 Oscar nomination, so there are high hopes for next year’s The Way Back, his first film since the 10 Oscar nominations heaped on Master and Commander.

Dead Poets Society – #12 film of 1989

For a time this ranked as my favorite film of all-time.  It begs the question as to how personally involved you get in a film.  Roger Ebert mentioned that he was so moved at the end of the film “I wanted to throw up,” and my mother complained when she first saw it that she couldn’t find it believable because in 1959 kids didn’t commit suicide simply because they couldn’t follow their own career path.

Yet, this film drove a love of poetry into me that countless teachers had been unable to do up until this point.  Granted, I’ve had better teachers than Charles Keating, the inspiring teacher played quite well by Robin Williams in one of his best screen performances.  He does inspire them, but he inspires them to what they want, whereas the greatest teacher I ever had, Carol Mooney, inspired me to be who I am.  That poetry is what they both taught is perhaps a coincidence.

But at the root of it, Dead Poets Society was the exact right film at the exact right time. I was 15 when I saw it and I had been beaten down by school taught poetry and everyone knew I would someday be a history teacher.  That I have a M.A. in Literature is measured in part by my reaction to this film.  It brought classical poetry to life.  Ebert complained that these students are in 1959 and have never heard of the Beats, but the Beats are the wrong mood for private school kids and that would have turned me away.  It was their inspiration by classic poetry that set me alight.  And that inspiration must have caught with others – the script won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in a year when its competition was Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally), Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape), Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) and Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors).  The characters seemed like real high school kids suddenly confronted with inspiration at the same time that they are expected to pass into adulthood.

There’s no question that people respond to films at an emotional level.  One of the most constant complaints I hear about Stanley Kubrick is how cold his films are.  And Ebert’s own favorite film, La Dolce Vita, is certainly as much an emotional reaction as it is a measure of its greatness as a film (he admits as much).  In the end, Dead Poets Society did move me on an emotional level and that final scene that Ebert hated so much still gives me goosebumps.  Every teenager yearns for that moment when they can stand up to authority and for the inspiration that will provide such a moment.  Maybe I’m just too emotional about it all.  After all, Ebert is one of the great film critics of all-time and it pretty much made him want to puke.  But then again, I love the Winnie the Pooh books and love to expose them to my son and they made another great poet, Dorothy Parker throw up.  We all have our emotional moments.

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