Best Director

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. The Best Director category at this year’s Academy Awards, regardless of how it turns out, has been tainted by an incredible snub. No, I’m not referring to Kathryn Bigelow’s helming of the controversial Zero Dark Thirty or even Rupert Sanders’ double tap of Snow White and the Huntsman and Kristen Stewart.

I’m talking about Ben Mothereffing Affleck.

His third film as director, Argo, is nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Script, Best Editing and more, but the man himself did not make the cut. It’s anybody’s guess why, and while it obviously made Benh Zeitlin’s day, the rest of us are left wondering how exactly it happened. But don’t feel too bad for Affleck… not only will his movie take home the Oscar for Best Picture on February 24th but he and the film have been cleaning up elsewhere left and right. But that’s enough about Ben Affleck.

Keep reading for a look at all five nominees for Best Director along with my predicted winner in red

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Michael Haneke, Amour

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Why He Was Nominated

While it’s far from a guarantee (ahem, Ben Affleck), films that are nominated for Best Picture often see a paired nom for Best Director. Amour is up for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language, the latter of which it’s a near lock to win, so it seems only fitting that the man who guided the film receives a nom of its own.

Why He Might Win

Momentum is always a good indicator going into the Oscars, and Haneke’s drama has that in spades. Starting with the film’s Palme d’Or win at Cannes last year, Amour has racked up multiple nominations and awards including eighteen (noms and wins) for acting, thirty for the film itself and six for Haneke’s direction.

Why He Might Not Win

All the momentum in the world doesn’t change the fact that the prize has never been given to a director for a foreign language film.

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Ang Lee, Life of Pi

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Why He Was Nominated

Yann Martel’s source novel, while widely acclaimed, was always viewed as essentially unfilmable. Between the book’s theme of faith vs reason, the fact that the majority of it is set at sea and the heavy use of animals (a tiger in particular) the novel was guaranteed to be a nightmare to adapt. But not only did Lee succeed, he did so through an incredible marriage of live action and CGI.

Why He Might Win

The film was obviously critically acclaimed, but it also did quite well commercially. And by quite well, I mean half a billion dollars worldwide which is more than double the box office of the next nearest nominee (Lincoln). The wide appeal combined with the obvious effort and advances Lee made in the visual department are accomplishments worth rewarding. Lastly, and this is the cynical view, Lee is the only minority in the Director race. Since there are only two others across the four acting categories, neither of them expected to win, Lee may the only chance to get a recognizable minority face on stage. Conspiracy theorists unite!

Why He Might Not Win

In a word, Spielberg.

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David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

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Why He Was Nominated

Once upon a time Russell was considered a director of less weighty fare who was almost run out of town due to his terrible on-set demeanor, but 2010’s The Fighter changed all of that. His follow-up film is equally acclaimed and shows a director who’s developed a clearly successful and rewarding rapport with his actors.

Why He Might Win

Russell’s film received eight nominations, so the Academy’s love for the film is clear. He was nominated (but didn’t win) for The Fighter, and the fact that he’s again delivered a solid film with two fantastic lead performances hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Why He Might Not Win

Some folks have identified Russell’s nom as the one that stole Bigelow’s spot as the support for him going in wasn’t nearly as strong. Also, while his film was critically acclaimed, the majority of that praise was focused on the performances of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (both of whom have also been nominated). Russell’s script also received a nom, and that’s where voters may have decided to award him.

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Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

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Why He Was Nominated

In a word, Spielberg.

Why He Might Win

Expectations for the film were high for the obvious reason that he was directing, but Spielberg surprised viewers by delivering a film that focused on arguably the president’s finest achievement instead of being a more typical biopic of Lincoln’s life story. With Daniel Day-Lewis’ celebrated performance at its core the movie brings history alive through words and the promise that government can in fact get things right sometimes.

Why He Might Not Win

The film is already guaranteed one award (for Best Actor), and there’s a chance it will take home Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor too, so those may be all that the voters are willing to give it. There have also been complaints that the movie takes too many liberties with history in its attempt to canonize the 16th president. Where’s Frederick Douglass? Not in Lincoln

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Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Why He Was Nominated

Academy voters may still be holding a grudge that the lead from Gigli has turned into one of Hollywood’s brightest newcomer directors, and the result is that they had an unexpected slot to fill in this category. Additionally, the film has been a critical darling since its debut at last year’s Sundance film festival.

Why He Might Win

Zeitlin’s first feature is an experience like nothing else in cinemas this past year. From its its near fantastical world to its endearingly fresh lead performance from an eight-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, many people feel the movie is far more original and pure than any of its counterparts.

Why He Might Not Win

Come on Zeitlin… aurochs were cow-like animals not pigs. And while it’s a minority opinion some critics (including this one) think that an eight year old acting like an eight year old while surrounded by unlikable and irresponsible drunks in a slapdash world isn’t an accomplishment worth celebrating. It’s also worth noting that only six directors have won the award on their feature debut with the last one being Sam Mendes in 1999 for American Beauty. And lastly, it’s commonly accepted among experts in this type of thing that he’s the director with the fifth best chance of winning.

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Wh0 Should Win: Ben Affleck, obviously.

But if we’re going to stay within the confines of the available nominees, then the award should probably go to Ang Lee for his accomplishment with Life of Pi. I’m not really even a fan of the film, but the parts that work well do so thanks to his overriding vision. He crafted a world that managed a brilliant balance between the magical and the real, and while the other four films are coasting in part due to strong performances Lee’s film relied on a more complete and immersive experience for its praise.

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Read more about The Oscars


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