October 28, 2008 at 12:00 PM EDT

Who should have won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Director? The prize went to Barry Levinson for Rain Man (pictured), but there were four other strong contenders that year. The most unexpected of them was Charles Crichton, the 76-year-old director of A Fish Called Wanda, who scored a box office hit, two nominations (for directing and co-writing) and a career-capping comeback with the hilarious heist movie farce that recalled his heyday nearly 40 years earlier making such Ealing black comedies as The Lavender Hill Mob. All that made him the sentimental favorite, but Oscar’s bias against comedy and the movie’s lack of a Best Picture nod stacked the odds against him. Similarly, the lightness of Mike Nichols’ well-crafted romantic comedy/Wall Street satire Working Girl made it seem slight next to the weightier candidates. Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning dealt with a heavy topic (racist violence during the bitterest moments of the Civil Rights movement), but Parker’s chances may have been hurt by the movie’s glaring historical revisionism. Martin Scorsese was long overdue for an Oscar, but the controversy surrounding The Last Temptation of Christ and the movie’s poor showing at the box office meant he’d have to wait longer still. That left Levinson’s deft work on Rain Man, taking a screenplay long deemed unfilmable and finding in it a tone that balanced humor and heart, and which elicited sympathy for the plight of the autistic without resorting to sentimentality or pity. In retrospect, Rain Man marked the peak of Levinson’s career; nothing he’s done since has been anywhere near as popular or as acclaimed.

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 Thursday, Oct. 30, we’ll look at the 1993 Best Actresscompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout EW.com,including on Dave Karger’s new Oscar Watch blog.


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Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda

Barry Levinson’s Rain Man

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Mike Nichols’ Working Girl

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Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning

Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ

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