November 27, 2008 at 07:30 PM EST

I got to bask a tiny bit in the Oscar glory of Steven Spielberg’s victory at the 1994 Oscars. I had scored an invite to Elton John’s Oscar party, and after the ceremony was through, I looked over, and in came Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Springsteen, along with their wives and their multiple Oscars picked up earlier that evening. They all sat down at a booth together at the restaurant, Oscars on the table like so many extra salt shakers, casting a blinding glow of fame, glamour, and accomplishment, at once casually matter-of-fact and jaw-droppingly impressive.

Spielberg deserved his directing prize for Schindler’s List that year (he also won as a producer for Best Picture). You could argue that he was overdue after three previous unsuccessful nominations over the past 16 years, but I still think he won on merit. Aside from being a moving story told bracingly and unsentimentally (until the weepy last five minutes) that found an artful way to address the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust, it’s also a dazzling display of technique, with every tool at the filmmaker’s vast arsenal brought to bear, and a tale told with the blazing urgency of a man determined to get off his chest before he dies the story he was born to tell. (It’s astonishing that he finished this and Jurassic Park in the same year.)

Good as the other directors were that year, no one really came close to Spielberg’s achievement. Robert Altman, hot off The Player, directed another sprawling masterpiece of social satire in Short Cuts, but the movie was lacking in heart, and Altman’s nod was its only nomination. Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father, a true-life tale of injustice and imprisonment, was nothing but heart, but it was otherwise a fairly conventional movie. James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day was the sort of elegant, literary chamber piece he’d been churning out for decades, finely polished but almost the same movie as Howards End, his film from just one year before. The only other real standout was Jane Campion, who told a unique and bizarre story in her romance The Piano, and who became only the second woman ever nominated for this prize. Her work here was visionary, and had she not been up against Spielberg, she might have won.

Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these directors doyou think did the best job? Vote in our poll, and list your comments below.(For a refresher, watch the clips embedded after the jump, whichmay contain some NSFW language.) Remember, we’ll be running the Recall the Gold surveys every Tuesdayand Thursday until January, so you may go back at any time and vote inthe other polls (click hereto see them all), reexamining the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25years ago. On Tuesday, Dec. 2, we’ll look at the 1983 Best Supporting Actorcompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout,including on Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.

addCredit(“Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images”)

Robert Altman’s Short Cuts

Jane Campion’s The Piano

James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day

Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father

Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List

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