Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscars 2010: Best Director

Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room: yes, Christopher Nolan was snubbed by the Academy again. In the past, this has been somewhat understandable, since either his films were too small (Memento), not flashy enough (The Prestige), or too genre (The Dark Knight). This year, though, it seems very surprising, given how integral his direction was to the success of Inception (the film was ignored in editing, too, which was also a major influence on the film). And yes, I was disappointed; I had picked Nolan as my personal best director of the year, and I think he's made some solid films that are deserving of a nomination. But I'm not too bothered by it, because the set we got is very satisfying, and Darren Aronofsky finally received an Oscar nomination, so it all works out in the end. Nolan will have more chances in the future.

A few other notes. Yes, all of this year's nominees are white men, but here's the deal: there aren't that many opportunities for black or women directors in Hollywood right now, and we can't expect a category as diverse as last year's every year. Hopefully that will change one day soon, but for now, let's just recognize these five considerable talents.

Secondly, and this is Nolan-related, before the Best Picture category expanded to 10 nominees, it wasn't unusual for one of the directing nominees to not have his film nominated for BP. On several cases they would line up five-for-five (between 1998 and 2008, that only happened twice, in 2005 and 2008). Last year, if it had been five BP nominees, its obvious that the two categories would have lined up five-for-five, since those films were the runaway frontrunners. This year, however, is a different story. I think the BP nominees would have been The King's Speech, The Social Network, The Fighter, True Grit, and Inception, with Darren Aronofsky being that "lonely" director. Though I also believe that its possible that David O. Russell could have been the one who beat out Nolan. But its really impossible to tell for sure; what are you're theories?

 Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

In my opinion, Aronofsky has yet to make a disappointing movie (though his Wolverine "sequel" may be his first; I won't judge before I see it, but I'm worried). However, he hasn't had such a "director" movie since he made Requiem for a Dream 10 years ago. Black Swan is a movie that is very much defined by Aronofsky's work, and he turns in some of the best direction of the year, utilizing everything in his reach to add to the delirium that Nina Sayers is going through, from the multitude of mirrors everywhere to Matthew Libatique's handheld cameras. More than that, he captured the violence of the ballet, and the equally violent change from innocence into adulthood. Its a virtuoso work, and Black Swan will stand up as one of his greatest directoral achievements. I doubt he's going to win this year, since the Academy wasn't crazy about the film, but if any of these men deserve it, its him.

 Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

The Coens are Academy favorites: they've been nominated several times before for writing, and most recently won Best Director in 2007 (only the second duo to do so) for No Country for Old Men, itself a sort of modern Western in the vein of a more nihilistic Peckinpah. Its not surprising that they're nominated this year, since their work on True Grit is more than excellent. The Coens have slowly been building a collage of American history, and with this film they add 1870s Arkansas to the snapshots they've created. The film is a departure from what the Coens usually make, a straight-forward Western with only a few obvious Coen-isms, which caused many to balk initially. However, while the quirks may not be present, the themes certainly are, as they continue to examine the cost of justice and why it may ultimately be meaningless. They've created a unique Western that's well-acted and well-made, and in return scored the biggest box office hit of their careers. Its probably too soon since their last win for them to win again, but if voters decide that they really liked True Grit (those chances have greatly diminished since nominations were announced), they could conceivably walk away with their second pair of directing Oscars.

 David Fincher, The Social Network

If there's any director comparable to Christopher Nolan's Oscar history, its Fincher. His feature debut was Alien 3, a less-than-critically-acclaimed film, but went on to make such widely-regarded films as Se7en, Fight Club, The Game and Panic Room. These films were uniquely his, each investigating the dark violence within ordinary people and how obsession can destroy a person. Though his last two films have certainly lacked the graphic violence of his previous works, both have tackled that second theme in ways that have been fresh and engaging (yes, I rather liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, thank you very much). In The Social Network, he turns Aaron Sorkin's script into a thing of beauty, bringing out all of the neuroses in Mark Zuckerberg that helped him make Facebook but also (ironically) alienate practically everyone in his life. Thematically, its not much different than, say, Zodiac, and Fincher's terrific direction brings all of the elements together to make a great film. Regardless of The Social Network's status in the Best Picture race, I've got a feeling that this prize will go to him.

 Tom Hooper, The King's Speech

Tom Hooper is probably the most conventional director to be nominated this year. He's not as flashy or auteurist as the other four men, but that doesn't mean that he's not deserving. I'm not familiar with his previous films, but he makes some very interesting stylistic choices here, and I'm not just talking about the use of a gay porn set for Logue's office. The King's Speech could have very easily been stagy, hokey, and performance-based (think Doubt), but Hooper manages to find a way to make it cinematic, such as setting most of the characters in the sides of the frame rather than the center. And, of course, someone had to help Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and the rest of the cast create those wonderful performances. Hooper managed a very surprising DGA win this year, and there's a real possibility that he'll pull off the win this year, but I don't think voters will really bite for him.

 David O. Russell, The Fighter

Unfortunately, O. Russell is another director that I haven't seen any films by, but from what I understand his work on The Fighter is rather different from that of his previous films. However, I was very impressed with his deft, original handling of a boxing film, choosing to focus on the family dynamics of the Ward-Ecklunds instead of actual ringside action, and filming the latter in the HBO style (something he's gotten knocked for, but that I thought was a good decision). He also elicits great performances from one of the year's best casts and created some very interesting scenes, such as the terrific Dickie-Charlene porch scene. Best of all, he captured the local flavor of Lowell, Massachusetts, making the whole film feel authentic. He probably doesn't stand a chance of winning, given his film's underdog status and his prickly past behavior, but he totally earned this nomination.

My ballot looks like this:

1. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
2. David O. Russell, The Fighter
3. David Fincher, The Social Network
4. Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
5. Tom Hooper, The King's Speech

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