If the Oscars started and ended with the announcement of nominees, you’d call it a strange year for the Oscars, just by the handling of the Best Director nominations. The final list of five is somewhat mystifying, let alone figuring out who will win the damn thing.
Best Achievement in Directing
- Michael Haneke – “Amour”
- Ang Lee - ”Life of Pi”
- David O. Russell – “Silver Linings Playbook”
- Steven Spielberg – “Lincoln”
- Benh Zeitlin – “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
So what makes this category so strange in 2013? Let’s start with Ben Affleck, winner of Best Director at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, BAFTA Awards and the Best Director Oscar litmus test itself, the Directors Guild of America Awards. How is the Academy so out of touch that it didn’t even nominate the man? Affleck would be a guaranteed Oscar winner — if they had only included him on the list.
But that’s OK, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a pretty similar film from a great—wait a minute—no Kathryn Bigelow either? The director who swept critics awards all December? The first woman to win Best Director in history? Mind-boggling. You can at least point fingers to controversy over enhanced interrogation techniques and the kerfuffle with the Senate, but the film was still nominated in a number of categories including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
So where does that leave us? No one else ever won anything this year, so we haven’t a clue, really. The place to start would be cross-checking the nominees for the DGA Awards, Globes, BAFTAs and Critics Choice. If Affleck and Bigelow were nominated for other awards, clearly a couple names on this list wouldn’t have been here if the Academy knew what it was doing.
The one name that appears on none of those lists is Benh Zeitlin. The rookie director made an incredible film in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and shows tons of promise, but Best Director is the one award given to the person who deserves it the most. Last year’s Oscar winner, Michel Hazanavicius, found himself riding the wave of his film’s popularity (not to mention help from the Weinstein Co.), but he also won most of the major awards leading up to the Oscars, so to not be nominated for any of those means Zeitlin got lucky. Good for him, but he won’t win.
Michael Haneke was only nominated by BAFTA, which was clearly smitten with “Amour” to say the least, similar to the Academy. With the film already likely to win Best Foreign Language Film and having a great chance at Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress, it would be unlikely for voters to also award Haneke. If he somehow wins, “Amour” looks guaranteed to be Best Picture, and wouldn’t that be a coup.
David O. Russell deserves to be there for the second time in three years for his incredible ability to get the best of his performers, not to mention the use of some great techniques in “Silver Linings Playbook” that put us in the head of the psychologically troubled characters. All that said, Russell was excluded from the nominees for the BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes (Quentin Tarantino was nominated instead) and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) replaced him on the DGA Awards ballot. Given the film’s four acting nominations, it’s likely voters are not considering Russell seriously for this category and maybe not even for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Making every list except the BAFTA Awards was Steven Spielberg. The U.K. did not think much of “Lincoln,” though they did enjoy seeing Daniel Day-Lewis own the film. Nevertheless, “Lincoln” is one of Spielberg’s most loved and popular films in ages. It ranks as his 11th biggest hit at the U.S. box office, the second most successful drama of his behind “Saving Private Ryan,” which netted the director his most recent Oscar win.
The name that made every nominee list this year? Ang Lee. “Life of Pi” has very little momentum and is seen predominantly as a technical marvel, but production quality usually reflects on the director, and that gives Lee a great chance at a second Oscar win. If “Life of Pi” does really well in the technical categories, which it might, keep an eye on Lee walking up to the podium.
With the two most deserving candidates out of the picture, this award is a total crapshoot. The odds say Lee or Spielberg for sure. “Lincoln” has 12 nominations and “Life of Pi” 11. It could come down to whichever movie wins the higher percentage of the categories in which it’s nominated.
Both directors have won Oscars in this category, so that won’t settle the debate of who “deserves” it more. My thought process has to be simplified even more. This is basically a popularity contest. The artistic Academy voters might side with “Pi,” but the emotional play is to vote for Spielberg. If I’m an Academy voter disturbed by the lack of the word “Affleck” on my ballot, I’m going to vote the person I most want to see accept the award. Who wouldn’t want to see Spielberg join William Wyler and Frank Capra as the only men with three Best Director wins? I’m all for witnessing history.
Prediction: Steven Spielberg – “Lincoln”