We’ve taken a look at the talent in front of the camera, now lets see which masters behind it might be duking it out later this year.
George Clooney – The Monuments Men
Is there a man more universally loved by the movie industry right now than George Clooney? He has netted three Oscar nominations in the last two years, and only one of them have been as an actor. He is an exceptional writer, director, and as a producer he quietly was a big part of the “Argo” team that won best picture. He steps back behind the camera (and in front) in one of the year’s most stacked and highly anticipated films, “The Monuments Men”.
Clooney is not flashy or overtly stylistic in any part of his game, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. He is unquestionably solid; he knows how to frame a story and how to direct his actors. That’s a combination that has proven extremely successful for many previous best director winners, just ask Tom Hooper. It doesn’t hurt either that his film has a huge number of factors that the Academy usually tends to eat up, but more on that later.
David O. Russell – American Hustle
David O. Russell has proven just as favorable as Clooney with the Academy his last couple of times out, receiving best director nominations for both “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook”. He was a pleasant surprise last year on nomination morning as many had him on the outside looking in. It is likely that he will be considered as a top contender all the way up to when “American Hustle” hits screens in December.
Russell’s style is full of energy and emotion, a vibrant movie-going experience that embeds the audience into the arguments between characters like 3D does for action sequences. It is kind of fitting that Russell and Clooney should be potential rivals this year, as the two have a history from their time working together on “Three Kings”. They have different approaches to how they work and a heated past that if it should come down to these two filmmakers it could be one hell of a storyline.
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
This year’s winner for best director was Ang Lee after he pulled off an extremely impressive feat in successfully creating an adaptation of “Life of Pi”. It would be hard to ignore the level of influence Lee’s technical innovation and execution on the film had in his victory. That logic could prevail twice in a row and if it does that means that Alfonso Cuaron could be taking home best director honors this year.
Cuaron is said to be attempting something very ambitious with his upcoming sci-fi film “Gravity”. The project was delayed to this year because the effects of the film were simply not acceptable for him last year. Whether this is a coincidence or not, it also has another thing in common with “Life of Pi”, its minimal cast. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are pretty much all that accounts as the cast. So it seems quite clear, like “Pi”, “Gravity” will be hugely reliant on its direction, and if it succeeds, it could be hard to deny the man his due.
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Bennett Miller may be one of the more prestigious directors today that most people don’t really know about. The director’s last two films were “Moneyball” and “Capote”, combining for a total of eleven nominations, including one for himself as best director for “Capote”. And after taking on baseball and a murder story in his last two films he returns this year with “Foxcatcher”.
Oddly enough, “Foxcathcer” is kind of a combination of his last two films, as the film takes on a sports angle (wrestling this time rather than baseball), but primarily follows a murder. Where Miller unquestionably shines is his gift with his actors, and he has some very talented ones for this project in Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, and Vanessa Redgrave. Put it all together and you may just have another nomination coming Miller’s way at the end of the year.
Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
Thanks to Paul Greengrass one of the most over used types of cinematography came about. Greengrass legitimized the shaky-cam as he used it extensively in “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”. While it has been beaten to death and done so poorly since then, we can’t blame Greengrass because he actually knew how to use it in both the “Bourne” film and in his Oscar-nominated work in “United 93”.
Like in “United 93”, Greengrass will again be depicting a true-life story of heroism in “Captain Phillips”. The film tackles the 2009 event when a U.S. ship was taken over by Somali pirates, and the ship’s captain was held hostage until American forces were able to eliminate the hostiles. Greengrass is extremely gifted creating tension and depicting chaotic events, so his talents should be utilized at their best here.
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Alexander Payne has taken us to the vineyards of northern California wine country in “Sideways” and the islands of Hawaii in “The Descendants” and been able to show that these picturesque locations aren’t short of their set of problems. This year he will be taking us all on the road from Montana to Nebraska to tell a story of father and son in the aptly titled “Nebraska”.
Payne has a distinct tone that is able to balance humor and drama in an extremely realistic way. His characters and their journeys never veer so heavily one way that it isn’t something that could never happen. His style never makes it feel like something is rushed or pandering. How he will enact all that in a cross-country road trip story should be a lot of fun to watch.
Joel and Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
It is kind of a wonder that Joel and Ethan Coen have become perennial contenders with each new project they usher out. The most mainstream thing the Coen brothers have done in their career has been “No Country For Old Men”, which did win them their Oscar, but to say it was a typical Academy selection is just stupid. It just goes to show that if you stick to your guns and continually put out unique and high quality work, even the outsiders can become accepted.
This year they bring to the table “Inside Llewyn Davis”, a story centered in the folk music genre of 1960s New York. The subject matter seems a little more middle of the road than some of the brothers’ work, but it doesn’t mean they can’t infuse much of their signature humor and style. The film debuts at Cannes, so we’ll know relatively soon if the Coens strike again.
John Wells – August: Osage County
“August: Osage County” is a major potential player this year for a number of reasons; its cast, its pedigree, the subject matter fits in with something the Academy could latch on to. However, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who truly believes one of the reasons it is such a possible threat this year is because of director John Wells.
That’s nothing against John Wells as a director, it is simply on the fact there is little previous work to go off and so he is the biggest question mark for this film. However, he is still a possibility for a nominee. He could either surprise everyone by bringing something special to the film or he could ride its coattails if the field proves to be weak this year. Crazier things have happened.
Steve McQueen – Twelve Years a Slave
Nicolas Winding Refn – Only God Forgives
Baz Luhrmann – The Great Gatsby
Don’t worry, those three directors are grouped together for a reason. That reason being that they all are in a similar boat when it comes to their chances for each to earn their first Oscar nomination this year. All have had much of their previous worked praise, and in the case of Luhrmann, even recognized by the Academy, but they themselves haven’t been able to join the party.
For each of them it won’t be about if their films are praised or well directed, they’ve already had that previously. What will really matter for these three filmmakers is the ability for the Academy to look over their harsh subject matter and unique styles.
Steve McQueen is probably in the best situation right now in his third effort and while still a hard subject matter, something a little less controversial than “Shame”. Nicolas Winding Refn faces the biggest uphill battle needing the Academy to overcome his sure to be ultra violent film on top of his style. But Baz Luhrmann is probably the least likely; he has the earliest release, has been less reputable as of late, and actually has the most outlandish style of the group. All long shots, but they are all deserving to at least be in the conversation.
1. George Clooney
2. David O. Russell
3. Alfonso Cuaron
4. Bennett Miller
5. Paul Greengrass
6. Alexander Payne
7. Joel and Ethan Coen
8. John Wells
9. Steve McQueen/Nicholas Winding Refn/Baz Luhrmann
Now it’s time for the big prize, as next up is what films have a best picture feel just a little over a quarter of the way into 2013.