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Oscar Talk (V): Best Director Race is Damien Chazelle’s to Lose

October 31, 2016
5 min read

With the Academy foolishly moving from five to up to ten nominees for Best Picture, the real race has become Best Director, though even then there are surprises. In most cases, Best Director and Best Film go hand in hand but since the Academy went to up to ten films nominated in 2009, Best Director and Best Picture have differed in 2012, 2013, and 2015. The same thing could happen this year, though at this writing La La Land and Damien Chazelle seem on track to take both, though the race is heating up with changes coming in every day. Not two weeks ago Ang Lee was a shoo-in, now that people have screened his film, he is out.

THE CONTENDERS

THE LOCKS

Damien Chazelle, ‘La La Land’: He has directed superbly, and frankly the opening number alone should earn him a nominee alone. Among the more gifted of the young directors on the rise, his bold brash musical should earn him a place in movie history as he has made a fresh new musical that pays homage to both Hollywood and musicals of the past. An easy call.

Kenneth Lonergan, ‘Manchester By the Sea’: Again, directed with absolute brilliance and a way with actors. The sort of performances Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams give in this film must have a strong guiding hand, even if to let them alone to create, and Lonergan did everything right with this drama. Shattering in every way, a masterpiece.

THE POSSIBILITIES

Martin Scorsese, ‘Silence’: Having not seem the film yet, Scorsese is not yet a lock, but I suspect he will be once the film screens. Images have been shown and it is said to have a hallucinatory effect, something very different for the master. Five of his last six films have been nominated, cannot see him NOT being nominated, but who knows.

Denzel Washington, ‘Fences’: Never nominated for his direction, he is a widely respected and much loved actor directing one of the great plays of the 20th century. Everything points to a nod for Best Director for him, but you just do not know. His film could be nominated without a Director nod; it does happen.

Barry Jenkins, ‘Moonlight’: One of the finds of the year about a young black man growing up questioning and finally accepting his sexuality as a gay man has earned solid reviews out of the festival season. As Lee Daniels did for Precious (2009), Jenkins could make the final five.

Clint Eastwood, ‘Sully’: Will he ever quit? Now in his eighties Eastwood is still making quality films. The two time Best Director winner could be in the mix again for ‘Sully’, his true story of an American hero portrayed no less by Tom Hanks. He just keeps hitting it out of the park.

Pablo Larrain, ‘Jackie’: The film is a showcase for the mesmerizing performance of Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in the immediate days after her husband was gunned down in Dallas. Revisiting history, Larrain allows the audience to see the film through the eyes of Jackie, a superb move because it allows to see what we have not seen before. Smart.

Denis Villenueve, ‘Arrival’: Intelligent, deeply moving filmmaking about mans contact with aliens and the struggle to discover a language and means of communicating. Sharply written, beautifully acted, the French Canadian stunned last year with Sicario (2015) and goes further with this stunner.

Warren Beatty, ‘Rules Don’t Apply’: It’s Beatty. And though he takes decades to make a film, when he does it is usually terrific. His long-awaited Howard Hughes film is surprisingly a screwball comedy set in old Hollywood during the late fifties. Beatty surrounds himself with people who admire and revere Hughes but no one is willing to tell him how daffy he is. Could be a contender.

Ben Affleck, ‘Live By Night’: Though his film Argo (2012) won Best Picture, Affleck was snubbed for a Best Direction nomination and there might be a need to honor him….finally. His noir is among the most anticipated films of the year, again starring the actor. It will be interesting to see the two brothers at the ceremony, both nominated.

Mel Gibson, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’: If they choose to forgive him, he could get in, if not, the film gets nominated and not him.

David MacKenzie, ‘Hell or High Water’: The best reviewed film of the summer, a box office hit, a tough, sparse film in the vein of Badlands (1974) he could make the final five, though at this writing it is a tough call.

WISHFUL THINKING

Steven Spielberg, ‘THE BFG’: I loved it. One of the best films of the year and I think he should be nominated, but not a chance folks. And it would have been the first time ever, that he and Scorsese would have squared off nominated together.

Jon Favreau, ‘The Jungle Book’: He did a great job bringing the live action version to the screen did he not, and come on, did anyone expect it to be that good? I didn’t. I would love to see it but it is not happening.

OUT OF THE RACE

Ang Lee, ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’: Underwhelming at best it did not dazzle critics or audiences at the New York Film Festival and seems finished as a major contender.

Oliver Stone, ‘Snowden’: A quality film, well directed and acted, in a year filled with better ones. That is all prevents Stone from a nomination, there are better achievements.

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