Of course, we can’t have Best Picture without Best Director. The two go hand in hand. Or, at least, they used to, back in the classic days of the Academy. In the last seven years, there was a split between the two bosom buddies four times. That’s 57% in favor of split as opposed to the usual 72% in favor of the matchup. It seems we are in a post-statistic era for the Academy (even if some critics managed to predict Moonlight based solely on them). At any rate, there are certain things that are givens, and one of them is that the majority of Oscar frontrunners also receive Best Director nominations. And it seems, at least for now, that this will be a much more challenging category than last year.
So let’s start with the lock, shall we? It may be risky to say it, because somehow he always finds himself on the outside looking in, but Christopher Nolan is arguably the only lock at this point. Nolan is someone who needs to be considered at some point, despite the Academy’s ignorance of the man behind the camera. Making a World War II film like Dunkirk is a great way to be nominated for an Oscar, and perhaps even win, as can be seen by Terrence Malick, David Fincher, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Steven Spielberg (who won twice for such films), and with a huge cast, a mastery of effects, and one of the sharpest eyes in the business, I think the Academy will finally take notice, and Nolan may win. After that, there’s my Best Picture frontrunner, Detroit. Kathryn Bigelow was widely considered one of the biggest snubs of the 2012 Academy Awards when she missed out for Zero Dark Thirty. She may already have an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but she is at the top of her game, and I see no reason for her to be left out this year. With a sharp, politically minded thriller, Bigelow should be able to continue her streak of Best Picture nominees, and strike a blow to Hollywood’s glass ceiling with her second Best Director nomination.
These are the two closest things to a lock that the Academy is offering up. After them, it’s a total crapshoot. Normally, the Academy loves to nominate previous nominees. While last year was filled with first timers (four of the five, to be exact), that’s not the way this award normally plays out. It’s normally an elite club, consisting of mostly veterans and leaving one or two spots for new members to earn their druthers. There’s a wide berth of old blood this year, and many of them are at their peak right now. This includes Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled, George Clooney for Suburbicon, Steven Spielberg for The Post, Joe Wright for Darkest Hour, Kenneth Branagh for Murder on the Orient Express. If you ask me, there are two you should keep an eye on, one obvious, and one a bit risky. The obvious choice is Alexander Payne for Downsizing. Downsizing is, of course, the type of smart, funny satire the Academy loves, but it has something bigger going for it: momentum. You see, Payne is on an incredibly hot streak at the moment. Of his last five films, all five have been nominated for major Oscars, and the last three received dual nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Now, common sense dictates that he’s headed for a fall, but so far the footage has looked incredible. I highly doubt this will be the film to make him fall, and with his success with the Academy, his nomination is a slam-dunk. As for the risk, I’m going to predict a nomination for Darren Aronofsky for mother! Aronofsky is something of a risk, considering he only has one nomination out of three critically acclaimed films. However, that nomination came for an Academy-friendly thriller film. It’s this genre that Aronofsky returns to, and this time with the added twist of family drama. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the plot of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of the biggest Academy successes of all time. Furthermore, the surest way to a nomination is to direct a great ensemble film. It’s what earned nominations for Manchester by the Sea, The Big Short, Spotlight, Silver Linings Playbook, and more, going back through the Academy history. Aronofsky has an auteur’s eye, and is turning it on an ensemble film with one of the best ensembles in the business right now. It’s the riskiest of the known entities, but I just can’t see the Academy passing this off.
Newcomers include Luca Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name, David Gordon Green for Stronger, Jason Hall for Thank You For Your Service, Destin Daniel Cretton for The Glass Castle, Aaron Sorkin for Molly’s Game, Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck and David Lowery for A Ghost Story. However, I’m going to make a prediction that shouldn’t be risky, but will be, for many reasons I’ll list for you. That prediction is Dee Rees for Mudbound. Why is this a risky pick, if it’s an important film that speaks to the times while also being a period piece? Well, two reasons. The kinder reason is the Academy’s mistrust of Netflix, which we’ve learned over the past two years. It’ll make it difficult for the film to receive a Best Picture nomination, let alone Best Director as well. However, the second is even more challenging. The Academy is always looking for African-American nominees, especially after two years of #OscarSoWhite, and certainly loved the pats on the back they got after this past year. However, there’s a couple of ugly statistics in her way. You see, the Academy has only nominated four African-American directors and four female directors, which adds up to a total of zero African-American females. That’s a huge statistic for Rees to be going up against. Now, do I think she can do it? Absolutely. However, due to the numbers (which are made to be broken, as I addressed earlier), I approach this with some skepticism.
At this point I’m sure you’ve noticed, “Wait a minute. You didn’t include Paul Thomas Anderson! Isn’t he most prognosticators’ #1 choice for director?” Why yes, you are right. I did not include him. This is nothing against Anderson. Indeed, if I had my way, he would be nominated for every film and already have two, maybe three Oscars under his belt. However, the Academy hasn’t been in love with him since There Will Be Blood, despite one great and one decent movie being released in that ten-year period. Therefore, I have to come to the conclusion he will not receive a nomination, in an example of a vicious snub. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but until then he sits safely as my #6 prediction.
There are still plenty of potential directors I haven’t even addressed yet. I haven’t touched on Yorgos Lanthimos or Reginald Hudlin, Michael Gracye or Jordan Peele, Thomas Alfredson or Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris, or even Garth Davis. And we don’t even know if Adam McKay will get his Dick Cheney biopic off the ground in time for the Oscar race. Literally anything can happen between now and the nominations next January. However, if you want the sharpest picks of the batch, look no further than the ones I have listed right here. And if you want to know which five have the best chance this far in advance, then you can look below, and see the full list of predictions right here. See you all tomorrow when we take a look at the actors.
- Christopher Nolan-Dunkirk
- Kathryn Bigelow-Detroit
- Alexander Payne-Downsizing
- Dee Rees-Mudbound
- Darren Aronofsky-mother!