Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far .
Today, Audrey Fox of 1001 Movies and Beyond is here to look at the Best Director Category.
We’re rapidly approaching Oscar Sunday, which is a lucky thing because as soon as that’s over we can all pretend that this Oscar season never happened. Seriously, you guys, it’s been a mess, and the sooner we can put it in the rearview mirror, the better.
Some categories turned out better than others, though, and while it would wonderful if Oscar voters could stop routinely forgetting that there are great films made by women each and every year, for the most part the Best Director race is a pretty solid one.
But let’s start with the weak link in the chain first: Adam McKay. Somehow he parlayed Vice, a movie comprised of clever tricks almost identical to The Big Short only more poorly executed, into a Best Director nomination. This film has been divisive, with most audiences coming down on the side of seeing it as derivative and insultingly unsubtle in its portrayal of famous monster Dick Cheney. The praise has almost exclusively reserved for its acting, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Sam Rockwell all receiving nominations for their performances. Which makes it a bit of a surprise to see Adam McKay rewarded for his direction over arguably more deserving candidates. Regardless, barring an upset of legendary proportions, a nomination is as far as this puzzlingly successful Oscar run is going to go.
Next on the chopping block is Yorgos Lanthimos, a unique director who puts in a masterful job in The Favourite, easily his most accessible work to date. By all rights, this film should be seriously in the running for every award its nominated for (it would be, if Roma hadn’t also come out this year) and arguably still could if some races end up taking a turn. It seems, though, that it isn’t likely to happen for him in Best Director this year. The Favourite is truly some of his best work, but you generally either love it or you hate it, and 2018 boasts an incredibly crowded field for directors. Only Hollywood darlings have a realistic shot at the top prize this year.
Pawel Pawlikowski stands in that middle ground where he can’t be completely ruled out, but it would take a pretty major upset to see him win for Best Director. He has established himself as one of the top in his field after 2016’s Oscar-winning Ida, and Cold War seems to be garnering as much praise if not more amongst the Hollywood elite who vote in these things. There are some excellent films that seem to succeed on the strength of their cast or their story, and not because of any personal stamp that the director put on them – or at least, it seems as though they would have been just as successful in the hands of a different director. Not so in Cold War – Pawlikowski’s fingerprints are all over the stark, emotionally restrained love story, and his contribution to the film deserves special recognition.
And then we come to Spike Lee, Hollywood legend and the king of giving dirty looks to Peter Farrelly. How is it even possible that Spike Lee has never been nominated for Best Director before? I think we all need to pause for a second and briefly come to terms with the fact that until this year, we were all living in a world where Tom Hooper, the patron saint of creative mediocrity, had a Best Director sitting on his mantel while Spike Lee had never even been nominated. Anyway, justice was finally served, with Spike Lee getting recognition at last for his work on Blackkklansman, a film that seems almost universally praised. Will it be enough to see him take home the trophy? Honestly, probably not – he’s got a pretty uphill battle ahead of him. But he’s in consideration and frankly in this Oscar season who knows what’s going to happen?
That brings us to our fifth and final candidate for Best Director, Alfonso Cuaron. In a year where it seems like more categories than ever are still wide open, this is probably one of the closest things we have to a lock. Cuaron, who seems physically uncapable of making a bad film, puts in arguably the best creative work of his career with Roma, critics’ darling and likely Best Picture winner. The fact that it was such a deeply personal project for him is likely to resonate with voters, and in terms of craftsmanship, it features the sort of directing and cinematography that will be shown in film school for years to come. People throw around the word masterpiece very lightly, and I have heard complaints from some who found the film slow or inaccessible, but in terms of the directing skill it showcases from Cuaron, it’s the closest thing to a perfect film as we’re likely to get.