Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 5: Best Director

Best Director Nominations (odds of winning):

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) (3 to 1)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) (4 to 1)

Ang Lee (Life of Pi) (5 to 1)

Michael Haneke (Amour) (10 to 1)

Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) (20 to 1)

ben-affleck-argo nominate

Will Win: Steven Spielberg

Should Win of Those Nominated: Behn Zeitlin

Should Have Been There: Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino

In this category there has been as much conversation about who isn’t nominated as there has been about which nominee will win. The word “snub” has been mentioned numerous times, sometimes justly, sometimes not. Appropriately, much of that attention has been focused on Ben Affleck. How can Affleck not be nominated when Argo has won every imaginable award and has strong shot at winning the Oscar for Best Picture? If there were snubs in this year’s race, this is certainly one of them. With Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now Argo, Affleck has proven himself to be a surprisingly good director, but, at least this year, surprisingly good wasn’t good enough. It’s hard to say what all the factors were that led to his exclusion, but certainly one of them is that it was a great year at the movies and that means that there were many deserving directors. For those directors who missed the cut, that is bad news, but for those of us who love movies, it is good news, indeed.

Before moving on to those who were nominated, here are a few thoughts regarding a few others who were not. The director I would most like to see on this list is Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom is one of my two favorite movies of the year. (The other is Beasts of the Southern Wild.) I found it to be delightful and deeply moving, as many others did. However, there are others who found it to be pretentious and off-putting. Anderson is that kind of director. You love him or you hate him. The critics generally loved it, but the folks giving out awards sure haven’t. I would say that Ben and Wes are the two true snubs this year. There are other directors who were deserving of the honor, but I wouldn’t call their exclusion a snub. Of those, I would have liked to see Tarantino included. Django Unchained was one of the most entertaining movies of the year, but, again, Tarantino is a love/hate kind of director.

There was a minor uproar when Kathryn Bigelow was excluded, but I agree with that decision. As I mentioned when writing about Chastain in the Best Actress category, something in Zero Dark Thirty rang false for me, as did Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. I’m not talking about factual details here. I recognize that movies will often play with the details to make the storytelling more powerful (certainly Argo and Lincoln did that.) But there is something at the emotional center of Bigelow’s movies that hasn’t worked for me. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it drew me out of the suspense that was so important to the film.

Among the delusional, there are even some who believe that Tom Hooper was snubbed. In my book, he is the one responsible for making Les Miserables a truly miserable experience. I love director’s with a strong personal style (i.e. Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, among many others), but Hooper’s heavy-handed, claustrophobic direction ruined Les Mis for me. (See more on that in the Best Picture category.) This wasn’t a snub, it was justice!

Now on to those who actually were nominated. Do they deserve to be here, given all those who were left out? I have yet to see Amour, so I can’t give a personal opinion on Haneke, but I would say that the other four are deserving of the recognition. Of those, I think that Spielberg has the best chance at winning, but I think that will be as much due to reputation as it is for his work on Lincoln. It won’t quite be a career achievement award, but it will be close to that. His work here is strong, but not particularly special or surprising. In fact, it feels quite Spielbergian, right down to the use of backlighting whenever possible. The more I consider the film as a whole, the more I think that if he does win, Spielberg should thank Daniel Day-Lewis first and foremost.

Spielberg does face stiff competition, especially in Russell and Lee. I like the gritty style of directing that Russell has developed and I thought it was effective here, helping to add depth to what could have been a fairly typical rom-com, but, other than the occasional use of the camera pivoting around a character, it’s hard to say what was truly remarkable about the direction of Silver Linings Playbook. However, Russell has Harvey Weinstein on his side and Harvey has shown the ability to lead a director and movie to Oscar victory (even if it was undeserved, i.e. Tom Hooper for King’s Speech.) Whatever the reason may be, if Russell does win, he is deserving of it. In contrast to Russell’s earthiness, Lee brought us a spectacle at sea. Although I didn’t find Life of Pi to be quite as magical as it should have been, there is no denying that Lee took on a huge challenge in bringing that book to the screen. He, too, would deserve it if he comes away with the Oscar.

If I had a vote, it would go to the director who is least likely to win, Behn Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild. As a first time director of a full length feature film (he’d done a few short films before), working with inexperienced, local actors, Zeitlin did an incredible job. There is a strong sense of personal style. As much as I’d love to see it happen, he won’t win this year, but he is definitely a director to watch out for in the future.

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