Last year was a stunning time for movies, something you might not have gathered from the puzzling and borderline outrageous list of nominations from the Director Guild of America: Charles Crichton "A Fish Called Wanda"; Barry Levinson, "Rain Man"; Mike Nichols, "Working Girl"; Alan Parker, "Mississippi Burning," and Robert Zemeckis, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
At first the list seems only a triumph of style over content or commercialism uber alles . It comes a little more into focus when you remember that the large percentage of the guild are from television and its sheltering environs, or, to put it another way, the relatively small percentage who are in movies alone.
Every one of the films nominated fit a TV sensibility comfortably; three of them are pleasant, funny, hilarious. None of them strains us overmuch. They reduce complex situations to easily assimilated bites. Visually, they have strongly composed surfaces, almost as slickly beautiful as commercials.
If it were it not for the dentist's-drill intensity of Dustin Hoffman's performance which electrifies "Rain Man," its story would be perilously close to a disease-of-the-week television movie. The deep-seated, stubborn objections that many critics have raised to "Mississippi Burning's" perversions of the truth are regularly brushed aside when a serious subject is melodramatized for TV. If "Working Girl" turned up as episodic television, Staten Islander Tess McGill vs. the corporate world, it would probably surprise no one.