Best Director is probably the weirdest award presented at the Oscars. If you do the job right, then it is impossible to see your handiwork. If you do the job wrong, then everyone sees your handiwork and blames you. So how do you award something that is simultaneously everything and nothing?
Well, like it or not, the Best Director Oscar is one of the most important for predictions. As Best Director is so closely tied to Best Picture (63 out of 88 Best Director winners also won Best Picture, and 84 out of 88 were at least nominated), it is imperative to at least receive a nomination to be in contention. But just who is going to be contending for their first, second, or even third Oscar this year? Let’s go to the board, shall we?
As far as I’m concerned, there are six true contenders right now for Best Director. Unfortunately, that’s my problem: six. And I need to whittle that down to five. So where’s the fat I need to cut?
Well, let’s start with my locks. As I said in my post for Best Picture, there are two true done deals for this award. Martin Scorsese is looking to get his ninth nomination for Best Director for Silence-a shocking number that still somehow seems too low-and has only won once before, for The Departed. Silence is his passion project, and one that he has spent twenty years working on. I’m sure the “what an accomplishment” votes will come pouring in the same way they did for Iñárritu’s The Revenent, which won Best Direction last year. However, to get that win, he’ll have to edge out Ang Lee for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. War films are always a smash with the Academy, and Lee is certainly no stranger to the stage, winning twice for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, as well as a nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, both of those wins were for weaker or crippled fields. Can Lee pull off a third win and bring himself closer to the record? I say that his use of 120 fps will secure a nomination, but I’m not too sure about a win just yet.
Of course I’m going to have to continue down my All-In path for Damien Chazelle and La La Land. Chazelle just narrowly missed out in 2014 for Whiplash, and another original work, and especially a musical, should bring him into the Kodak Theater and possibly onto the stage come February. Of course, this isn’t a done deal either. I’ve checked the stats, and the last musical to be nominated for Best Director was Chicago in 2002, and the last original musical was All That Jazz in 1979 (great movie, by the way). So the odds aren’t particularly in Damien’s favor. That being said, stats were made to be broken, and I’m sure the Academy will be clamoring to honor such a hot young talent.
Now for the #OscarsSoWhite section. As we have now had five years with only 4/20 nominees representing minorities (two of those were the same guy, and one was Ang Lee), the Academy is going to want to shake things up. Luckily, they have two potential contenders this year. First we have young Nate Parker directing himself in The Birth of a Nation. Not only does the film combine a true story, period pieces and large battles, but Parker is young, handsome and directing himself. This is almost a done deal, so long as Parker’s past doesn’t come back to haunt him (Ed. Note-I have no reason to drag up Parker’s past at this time, as it is not a matter I have all the facts on. However, if the issue is brought to light again-and if this film becomes big later this year, it very well could-I will write an article dedicated to it. Until then, Google Nate Parker if you wish to learn for yourself). Then you have Denzel Washington, also directing himself in the Pulitzer-Prize winning play Fences. Denzel is an Academy favorite (he even got nominated for Flight which, come on), and he will have somewhere between one and three acting nominations for this film, which is usually helpful in the final tally. However, Washington has never been nominated for his directing before, as some of his other films are-how shall I put this?-a bit stuffy and boring. Could this be the award Fences misses out on?
Since we’re on the subject of actors directing themselves, let’s talk a bit about Ben Affleck, shall we? Ben’s proven himself to be quite the talented director-some would even say a better director than actor (he was great in Good Will Hunting, but did you SEE Daredevil? Jesus Christ). He’s been on a hot streak with Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, and he’s lining up what could be his magnum opus with Live By Night, a crime epic spanning the entire country. Ben was snubbed for Argo in 2012 in a move so shocking it literally won him the Oscar as a consolation prize. The Academy is going to be looking to rectify this decision. Is this the film that will earn him a nom? Or will Batman v. Superman jinx him?
That right there is a list of six nominees, all equally worthy, all equally possible, and one of them has to get cut. And that’s not even mentioning the other contenders this year, like former winners Robert Zemeckis for Allied, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Warren Beatty for Rules Don’t Apply, and Clint Eastwood for Sully; or the potential indie shockers in the vein of Behn Zeitlin and Lenny Abrahamson like Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Kenneth Lonnergan for Manchester by the Sea, Tom Ford for Nocturnal Animals, and especially Jeff Nichols for Loving and Ewan McGregor for American Pastoral (directing himself-between McGregor, Parker, Washington, and Affleck, I feel like there’s going to be at least one joke at the Oscars about how “directors are so hard to work with, actors have just started doing it themselves”).
At any rate, the fact it’s so hard to narrow down means that we have lots of potentially good films coming up, so here are my predictions, and hopefully they all end up being excellent. If you wish to see the full list of contenders, click here:
- Damien Chazelle-La La Land
- Ang Lee-Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
- Martin Scorsese-Silence
- Nate Parker-Birth of a Nation
- Ben Affleck-Live By Night