By Michael Schwartz
As the Best Picture race continues to heat up, we must consider what categories will be swept along with top tier contenders. One such category that often aligns with Best Picture is Best Director. The Academy’s director’s branch is notoriously fickle and prefers to reward so-called “members of the club.” Yet when they manage to surprise, the results are often sensational.
Let’s take a look at what filmmakers will be in the mix this season.
While the world was thrilled to see Martin Scorsese win his long-overdue Oscar for Best Director in 2006 for “The Departed,” it was clear that this was a make-up award for decades of groundbreaking work. While his work on “The Departed” was obviously worthy of accolades, many felt that he deserved it earlier for his collaborations with Robert De Niro. Thirteen years later, Marty finds himself back in the think of awards season with “The Irishman,” his sprawling epic that has taken audiences by storm. The scope he brings to the story of Frank Sheeran and his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa and the Bufalino Crime Family is reminiscent of recent winners in this category. While it’s always nice to see new names and faces awarded for the first time, Scorsese’s award mantle is so thin given his tremendous output of work over the past half-century. With glowing reviews and a massive Netflix campaign, the cinematic titan finds himself leading the pack.
Since its July release, critics and audiences alike have called Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” the director’s most accomplished film since “Pulp Fiction.” That’s due in part to how he recreates the senses of a bygone era. The film may not feature his most complex screenplay to date, but it’s certainly his most assured work behind the camera. After two wins for writing, and a trio of Best Picture nominations, it’s clear that the Academy has a QT love affair. After this summer’s enthusiastic response, it’s not difficult to envision a world where “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” is the industry consensus pick and Tarantino walks away with long-deserved recognition for his work as a filmmaker.
While we have yet to see Sam Mendes’s WWI epic “1917,” behind the scenes stories and the level of talent involved suggest that he is attempting to pull off a major feat. Filming a war movie is hard. Filming it in one shot is obscene, yet he seems game for the challenge. More to come once the film is seen in late November, but Mendes, a former winner for “American Beauty,” looks to play a significant factor in the race.
Without giving away a single element about Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” it’s safe to say that the Korean auteur continues to push boundaries while retaining his signature style. As a darkly comedic thriller about the perils of the classes, “Parasite” holds your attention from the very first frame. It’s a stunning cinematic work of the first order and the type of work that the director’s branch of the Academy loves to highlight. A nomination for Bong Joon-ho would not only recognize South Korean cinema, and put a spotlight on a beloved director, but would also be in keeping with recent trends with an ever-growing international contingent of the Academy.
Noah Baumbach’s work in “Marriage Story” is subtle by design, but only a strong director can pull such remarkable performances from his ensemble. Only a strong director can see their screenplay through to its intended vision. Only a strong director can craft a film so perfect that you don’t even notice the mechanics. After a quarter-century of perfect films, Noah Baumbach has earned his moment to be recognized by his peers in the director’s branch.
Over in the runners-up section, we find several contenders whose films are coming on strong. Perhaps strong enough to sweep their directors into the awards conversation. First up is Taika Waititi, whose anti-hate satire “Jojo Rabbit” seems to be a crowd favorite so far this season. Waititi is on the verge of becoming a household name and seems to add enough flair to his films to be recognized by his peers. Meanwhile, Jay Roach continues his trend of ripped from the headlines docudramas with “Bombshell,” the story of the women at Fox News who helped to take down Roger Ailes. After much success over at HBO, Roach brings his dramatic style to the big screen and supposedly finds success in doing so. Greta Gerwig follows up her stellar “Lady Bird” awards season run with an adaption of “Little Women” that’s said to set the classic story in a new and somewhat modern light. More to come as the film rolls out through the holiday season. And rounding out the pack, auteurs Terrence Malick and Pedro Almodóvar return with “A Hidden Life” and “Pain and Glory,” respectively. Both are names to always keep in contention when their films are strong.
Finally, dark horse contenders must be considered every season. This year finds “Ford v. Ferrari” from James Mangold, “The Two Popes” from Fernando Meirelles, and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” by Marielle Heller. If any of these titles strike a chord with both audiences and the Academy, nominations can surely follow.
Who do you predict will be nominated for Best Director? Which contenders do you most want to see in the mix? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and be sure to check out our updated Oscar Predictions.
You can follow Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mschwartz95