Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Director 2008

We're almost done with the year 2008. Usually, the directing category and Best Picture only line up four out of five, but this was a five-for-five year, the last that would occur when the BPs only numbered five. Who were the lucky nominees?
BEST DIRECTOR
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Gus van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Winner: Danny Boyle
This is an interesting bag of directors this year, each with their own unique talents that really came forward in their films. AMPAS proved that they really, really love Daldry, who has been nominated for Best Director for all three of his films so far. But The Reader is a weak film for him; though his direction is fine, it can't save the film from its overwrought story and at times Daldry doesn't really seem to know how he wants to tell it. Perhaps another director (Christopher Nolan? Andrew Stanton? Clint Eastwood?) would have been a better selection. Howard, who was a surprise choice to direct Frost/Nixon, proves he was the right choice with his deft handling of the drama, helping the film make an easy transition from stage to screen, as well as bringing out great performances from one of the year's best ensembles. Van Sant's direction is also admirable, allowing Milk to resonate in our time while existing purely in its own. Its an excellent return to prestige pictures after almost a decade of experimental indies (which are certainly recommendable, particularly Gerry). Fincher is better known for his work in very dark, very gritty, very violent films such as Fight Club and Se7en, but he handles Benjamin Button (an Oscar film if there ever was one) with surprising grace and ease while refusing to sacrifice all of his unique style. Though not nearly his best film, his work is certainly deserving of his long-awaited first Oscar nomination. Boyle is the true star here, though. For years he has proven himself to be one of the most versatile directors working today, easily shifting from drug-addled drama (Trainspotting) to zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later) to family films (Millions) and everything in between. He injects Slumdog Millionaire with such great energy and passion that its hard not to enjoy the film, even though it sometimes teeters toward obvious cliches. Its the perfect showcase for an immense talent.
Here's how my ballot would have looked:
1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3. Gus van Sant, Milk
4. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
5. Stephen Daldry, The Reader

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