Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Oscars: My Picks for Best Director

Always a fun category, these are the directors who guided their films to the level of achievement they have reached. My picks for this category line up with 4/5 of the Best Picture nominees, which is how they usually do line up nowadays. BEST DIRECTOR David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Fincher is certainly the most deserving of a nomination, after being ignored for Se7en, Fight Club, and last year's criminally ignored Zodiac. Reteaming with Brad Pitt for the third time, Fincher brought an epic scale to Benjamin Button, but also, from what I understand, managed to examine the psychological effects of the backwards-aging process. The film also appears to stick somewhat to Fincher's usual style, but also looks like he has expanded his realm. Already a sure thing for this category, Fincher should finally recieve his due this year. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight - It's not easy to get a direction nod when you're directing a summer blockbuster. Even more difficult is creating a film that is both mainstream-enough to attract huge audiences and intellegent enough to recieve some of the best reviews of the year, especially in a franchise that was all but left for dead after the Nipplesuit/Robin disaster. And yet Christopher Nolan masterfully accomplished all of these with the headiest superhero movie ever made, and should now recieve his first nomination in this category regardless of whether the film lands in Best Picture. Balancing real explosions with emotional and ethical ones, Nolan took the promise he showed in Batman Begins and his wonderful Memento and brought the film to fully-realized life. Like Fincher, he is more than deserving of a nomination here. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino - The wild card of the year. He hasn't been recieving huge amounts of buzz for his direction in this film (much more for acting), but he's got a few good omens on his side. One is his fantastic direction, which has elevated the film from a profane Hallmark movie to one of the best reviewed films of the year. The film has also had a lot of buzz building, and thanks to strong word-of-mouth, its already a certified hit, claiming the #1 spot at last weekend's (1/11) box office. And then there's the simple fact that the Academy loves Eastwood, and will nominate him for anything they can. Though Revolutionary Road's Sam Mendes and Frost/Nixon's Ron Howard are also strong contenders, expect to hear Eastwood's name called the morning of January 21. Gus van Sant, Milk - The only other veteran in this category (he was nominated in 1997 for Good Will Hunting), van Sant faced a mighty task: taking the story of Harvey Milk and telling it in a way that would be both relevant to today (Prop 8 helped too) as well as a memorial to Milk without becoming a political Brokeback Mountain. And from what I can tell, he succeeded brilliantly (I will probably see the film tomorrrow night). It also marks a "return to form" for van Sant, who has spent recent years dabbling in independent films like Paranoid Park, Last Days and Elephant. His return to this category will certainly be a welcome one. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire - Boyle perhaps has the most eclectic filmography of this group, with a gangster film (Trainspotting), an adventure story (The Beach), a zombie movie (28 Days Later), a family film (Millions) and a sci-fi thriller (Sunshine). However, he manages to bring an exhilerating energy to Slumdog Millionaire, and also captures India in a way that makes you want to be there, even in the slums. It's also the mark of a truly great director to pull great performances from child actors, as he does in the early part of the film. Though some have criticized his direction as being too shallow, he brings Slumdog to vivid life, and deserves his first Oscar nomination. Tomorrow I'll post my picks for Best Actor.

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