2 Days: Director

(As I finished writing this, the DGA nominees were announced, including Lee and Hooper, excluding Russell and Tarantino, so i’m most likely wrong, but I’ll stick with where I was headed anyways… Briefly, most of the time the guild goes on to correspond with FOUR of the five nominees. This happens most of the time. Occasionlly they match exactly, and even less commonly then they match THREE of the four. So Hooper and Lee are far from locks, though Hooper is the more vulnerable. Plus, the Oscars finished voting a few days ago, so perhaps that means LESS correspondence… oh, whatever, so i’ll pick these five instead: Spielberg, Afleck, Bigelow, Lee, Russell, but i’ll keep the article I wrote below too)

So it all comes down to this. I am perfectly fine with the expansion to 10, then to between 6 and 10 (probably 8 or 9) Best Picture nominees. There are room for 10, but as far as I’m concerned that doesn’t mean there’s room for Blindside or Extremely whatever, but even the complex rules couldn’t block the latter. Nonetheless, there are plenty of great movies to make the cut and justify the expansion. Oftentimes I wonder if those outlier, frankly unworthy picks are merely industry picks. Meaning, if everyone involved with a film in the Academy, or anyone with a close relationship to those directly involved with the film put a movie at #1, it’s tough to stop it. This could make something like the Hobbit sneak in unexpectedly. It doesn’t deserve to be there, but it seems we’re getting used to those pure industry votes pulling in one…

But I digress, we’re talking Director. I talk about the picture race because, I suppose, even if you are for that new system, the Director’s slot is now the real cream of the crop. The major film category that still includes only five nominees. So the Director category kind of becomes the old Best Picture category, the five prestige pictures of the year. It helps to solidify such a description by pointing out that this category leads in the auteur direction, not necessarily taking the top 5 vote getters from BP, but the five more lauded achievments. Take Tree of Life, a film that was probably less likely to win than almost all other nominees last year, yet garnering a Director nod due to the prestige of a name like Malick… So, in some ways you could say it’s perhaps the most important category. You might say it’s the category with the most weight, featuring the picks that Hollywood wishes to be remembered for, no matter what lackluster mess they turned out, these five are meant to say: “Hay look, but we did something significant!”

Spielberg’s Lincoln is a passionate work, a career defining film from a career auteur. Katerine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, the most critically acclaimed film of the year, builds on the themes of the spectacular achievment of The Hurt Locker, with its own unique vision alongside. Ben Afleck, building on two previous films that began separating him from a mere Actor playing around behind the camera. Argo solidifies Afleck’s place amongst those who define themselves as expert filmmakers.

These picks are certain. They have been for some time now. Well at least since anyone got any kind of look at the films themselves. That leaves two slots with three, it would only be naively hopeful to say four possible candidates, okay, well five right? Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tom Hooper and David O Russell. First of all, PT Anderson. While it would fall under the category of a nominee morning surprise, that’s the only shot Anderson has right now. The Master has a long shot now even as a BP nominee. Anderson certainly deserves the nod. With an expansion on his Kubrick perfection-ism, Anderson guides actors through dizzying, raw emotion, steely precision, quiet desperation. I could go on. The visuals, the working together with Johnny Greenwood’s score, mood, manipulation of time, these achievments will unfortunately be relegated to the honors from Sight and Sound, Venice and others.

I am fairly torn over the remaining four possibilities. As I survey the remaining choices, I choose first to make the difficult choice (speaking strategically, I’m not as sold on the film myself) of omitting Tom Hooper. The premiers a few weeks ago blew audiences away. Perhaps a win would be elusive, but winning two years ago could only work in Hooper’s favor in garnering a repeat nomination this year. While Les Miserables left some unimpressed, there are considerably strong supporters of the movie, especially from within the industry. It’s an undeniable, technical achievment, and whatever you wish to say about it, it is certainly ambitious filmmaking. The timing is right to boot. Nonetheless, I’m gonna pass. I just believe there are greater prestige picks here. I pass mainly as a defection to my other 2 picks.

I also, with even greater strategic difficulty, pass on Ang Lee. A testament to the competitiveness of the season, Lee should, and many consider him to be still, a strong lock. Regardless of the criticisms by some of Life of Pi, what is not questioned is Ang Lee’s touch on the film. It’s easy to compare (1) The veteran status of Lee with the (2) Visual and technical excellence that Lee had everything to do with, to Hugo from last year. Nonetheless, the reviews for Hugo were better, the awards record was better, and if I must say, while Lee is a great director, Scorsese’s prestige level is still even higher. On the other hand, Hugo was nowhere near as visually gorgeous as Life of Pi. If I had to take five minutes from any movie this year, Life of Pi and The Master could easily compete in terms of visual extravagance. It sticks with you. I could be very wrong. I certainly wouldn’t put any money against a Lee nomination. I’m not very confident about this omission. Thursday morning will be quite exciting.

Anyways, my two choices for 4 and 5 will go to Quentin Tarantino and David O Russell. First of all, Tarantino. Look past the controversy and the fact remains that Django Unchained is not only the most commercially successful Tarantino film of all time, it’s also one of his most meticulously crafted. Yes, there are zooms and the thing is a derivative homage to Spaghetti Westerns. Nonetheless, the humor is always spot on and mixed with a sense of so much under the surface of each character. There are spellbinding moments of pregnant monologues, where word after word is simply transfixing. It’s also it’s own zeitgeist right now. I’ve noticed that where you find it tough to always find appreciators of film in most places, there are many people who are Tarantino fans singularly. But, I think this penetrates every echelon. Even within the industry, the name has power. Name recognition is important and the Tarantino brand gets some automatic votes by itself. He’s got more going for him here than people think.

Finally, I have to stand beside David O. Russell in that fifth slot. Maybe i’m giving Harvey Weinstein too much credit by going with both. Maybe his name alone will make it a split here, with folks choosing either/or of Russell and Tarantino as each a Weinstein backed filmmaker. Yet, sometimes allowing a little subjectivity into the mix isn’t all bad. My heart’s with Silver Linings Playbook, and I think that’s true for a lot of voters. Also, what’s really going on here director wise? Well, first of all, the directing of actors. From the elder film icon of De Niro to the up and coming Lawrence, plus a career defining Bradley Cooper and the quietly triumphant Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker. These aren’t just good performances, they’re performances where the director’s stamp is undeniably present. Russell brought something out in these actors that we either haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen in a really long time. Plus, what really stays with you is the ability for Russell to add one broken person into a scene, into a space, after another, changing the dynamics and emotions on a hair pin. Finally, Russell can take a song that is seemingly out of place, like “Girl from the North Country” and quietly and organically make the chaos sublime and purposeful.

So, after putting some thought into it, my predictions for Best Director nominees are:

Steven Spielberg “Lincoln”
Katheryn Bigelow “Zero Dark Thirty”
Ben Afleck “Argo”
Quentin Tarantino “Django Unchained”
David O. Russell “Silver Linings Playbook”

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