Your Guide to the Oscars: Best Director

Why should you care about the Academy Awards? In a sense, the Oscars are just as contrived as any other of the dozen awards handed out in the preceding months. However, somewhere amongst the glitz, glamour and incest the show has created, the awards have grown into something more. Win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and forever your DVD is plastered with a “BEST PICTURE” slogan. Win an Academy Award, and your movie (or your role) becomes canonized.

In the interest of taking a break from the actors, my Oscar nomination preview moves on today with a look at 2007’s deserving directors. Perhaps no category besides Best Picture is in disarray more than this category, both in terms of potential winners and potential nominees. Like everything else, let’s first attempt to learn from winners of yore. Here’s the last ten:

James Cameron, 43 (“Titanic”); Steven Spielberg, 52 (“Saving Private Ryan”); Sam Mendes, 34 (“American Beauty”); Steven Soderbergh, 38 (“Traffic”); Ron Howard, 37 (“A Beautiful Mind”); Roman Polanski, 69 (“The Pianist”); Peter Jackson, 42 (“Lord of the Rings”); Clint Eastwood, 74 (“Million Dollar Baby”); Ang Lee, 51 (“Brokeback Mountain”); Martin Scorsese, 64 (“The Departed”).

For the record, the Best Director and Best Picture aligned six times during this ten-year run: Titanic, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings, Million Dollar Baby and The Departed. I included the ages because it’s interesting that in recent years the trend has been to award older directors. Also, Spielberg and Eastwood are the only ones on the list that had won Best Director previously. We’ll keep this in mind during our analysis.

It should also be noted that not since Cameron won for “Titanic” has the Academy awarded a Best Director that also wrote the script. The streak of nine years will be threatened this year, as four formidable contenders (and one longshot) are credited as writer-directors.

Last year, the Academy gave an overdue recognition for Martin Scorsese, as he won his first Oscar at 64 for his work in “The Departed”. The Academy’s love of awarding the overdue could continue this year if Joel and Ethan Coen win for “No Country for Old Men”. The Coen brothers won in 1997 for their “Fargo” screenplay, a movie that was nominated for Best Picture, but they have yet to earn a Best DIrecting nomination. They will surely be nominated, but will the Academy find that to be recognition enough?

The same could be true for Paul Thomas Anderson, who is in a similar boat, nominated twice for his “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” screenplays, but never recognized as a director. I have already called “There Will Be Blood” his best work to date, and in my opinion, the movie showcased his brilliance behind the camera more than his penmanship. However, again, the Academy could find their statement of a nomination to be recognition enough, depending how well the movie played to its members.

Two passion projects that have gained steam since December are the work of Sean Penn for “Into the Wild” and Tony Gilroy‘s directorial debut in “Michael Clayton.” Gilroy is sure to be nominated for his script, but “Into the Wild” was a better movie visually, so Penn remains the better bet to earn a Directing nomination. The movie has taken Penn many years, and it would certainly mean more than his four nominations in the Best Actor category.

If the Academy turns away from writer-directors again, they will find others deserving of recognition. If they want to continue the recent trend in honoring the aging, Sidney Lumet would be a fitting choice. The dogmatic director has been nominated for 5 Oscars but never won, and at 83, there is no sign on how many more movies he has in him. I really enjoyed “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, and co-writer Jon called it a critical oversight yesterday, but Lumet is a longshot.

Another notorious Oscar snub has been Tim Burton, who like Anderson and the Coens has no directorial nominations after almost 20 movies. “Sweeney Todd” connected with the HFPA, but it’s a different movie that did not far well through the guild nominations. Like Lumet, Burton would be a fitting choice, but not a good bet. The other Golden Globe Best Picture winner, “Atonement”, is a better bet. Joe Wright‘s scene of walking James McAvoy through the war for five minutes has been heralded by some as the directorial work of the year, but five minutes does not a nomination make.

The hottest name in the last month has been 56-year-old accomplished International director Julian Schnabel. With just four movies under his belt, Schnabel is more new kid on the block than geezer, but he’s not new to art. Schnabel is an accomplished painter, and apparently his work in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is as much a piece of art as any movie this year. The film has killed in the guild awards, and with nominations from the Golden Globes and the DGA, Schnabel is among the favorites.

For the record, the Directors Guild of America has historically done a good job of forecasting the Oscar nominees. Most of the time, it’s been four DGA nominees and one oddball to make the Oscar five. However, experts at various blogs have predicted this could be the year the DGA goes 5-for-5: P.T. Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Tony Gilroy, Sean Penn, Julian Schnabel.

Handicapping the Race

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men (1:1)
Julian Schnabel, Diving Bell and the Butterfly (3:2)
P.T. Anderson, There Will Be Blood (5:2)
Sean Penn, Into the Wild (6:1)
Joe Wright, Atonement (8:1)
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton (10:1)
Jason Reitman, Juno (25:1)
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (30:1)
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd (50:1)
Sarah Polley, Away From Her (250:1)

If I did the nominations: P.T. Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), Sean Penn (“Into the Wild”), Coen Brothers (“No Country…”), Joe Wright (“Atonement”), Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”). NOTE: I have not seen “The Diving Bell” yet.

The WHAP Award goes to: Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood”.

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3 Responses to Your Guide to the Oscars: Best Director

  1. Reggie says:

    I know I’m starting to seem like an annoying internet douchebag — and I apologize — but Joel Coen was nominated for Best Director for “Fargo.”

  2. Bryan says:

    Not annoying at all, Reggie. I should try doing better research.

  3. Reggie says:

    ‘S all good man. Otherwise, I’m digging your site (obviously!)

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