Born: August 25th, 1972
Place: London, England, UK
Major Awards and Citations: BAFTA Awards (2006): Won the Most Promising Newcomer Award for ‘Pride & Prejudice’
BAFTA Awards (2008): Nominated for Best Director for ‘Atonement’
Golden Globes (2008): Nominated for Best Director for ‘Atonement’
Oscar Snub(s): ‘Atonement’ (2007)
The last time we tackled an Under the Circuit piece, I was trying to fit Michael Fassbender in under the wire for the series, since I was convinced he was about to become an Oscar nominee…until of course he was wasn’t, getting snubbed for ‘Shame’ (oops). So, I’m very sorry for jinxing him, but we’re going to move on from that (while I try to repress the anger that Fassbender was snubbed). Today, I’m starting fresh with a look at director Joe Wright, someone that I’ve found many people actually think was already previously nominated. Wright is a filmmaker that I find to be very interesting, even if his body of work is still a bit on the smaller side. He’s made a home in costume drama, but also dabbled in the realm of action (I for one think he’d be perfect to one day direct a James Bond film) as well, though in my eyes he’s yet to really find his niche. There’s a lot of talent to be found in this man, but the projects he’s choosing don’t always suit him in my eyes. For example, I don’t care much for ‘Atonement’, but I think his direction was excellent, worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and one of the past decade’s more surprising snubs in that category by Oscar.
Wright got his start in 1997 with the short film ‘Crocodile Snap’ (and following it the next year with ‘The End’) before moving on to British television from 2000-2003. There were mini series jobs (‘Nature Boy’, ‘Bodily Harm’, and ‘The Last King’) as well as episodes of the TV series ‘Bob & Rose’, all of which were preparing him for an upgrade to feature films. This is something I’ve noticed going on more across the pond than here in the states. It seems like more American filmmakers get their starts doing music videos or commercials while the English start on television. I can’t say that one approach is necessarily better than the other (both sides have strong directors to help out their own arguments), but I came across this again and thought it bore mentioning. Regardless of that, all of this was building up to Joe Wright making a high class debut in cinemas.
2005′s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ could easily have been just another in a long line of adaptations of the Jane Austen novel that seem to come out every decade or so (I’m sure we’re not too far off from another one, with or without zombies), but Wright was able to make it feel fresh with his directorial choices. It didn’t hurt that he had Keira Knightley in the lead role, and he made sure not to waste her, getting a career best performance from the actress. The film itself got 4 Academy Award nominations (including Best Actress for Knightley), but Wright was never truly in the conversation for a Best Director citation, mostly due to the competition, and somewhat due to being a newcomer on the scene (though that hasn’t been an impediment recently for Oscar). Mainly, this was most people’s introduction to the filmmaker, and it was a debut that would set up his next project 2 years later.
‘Atonement’ (2007) is a film that many appreciate more than they like, and I’m more or less among them, but I’m a huge fan of Joe Wright’s direction here. The cinematography that he and Seamus McGarvey brought to screens was breathtaking, and it’s almost impossible not to want to pat Wright on the back for the Dunkirk Beach scene (if you haven’t seen it, the scene alone is worth watching the film for) and the work that went into it. Nearly every directorial choice here elevates the film, even if the script and book that it’s based on aren’t quite of the same quality. The movie scored 7 Oscar nods (and won for Dario Marianelli’s Original Score), but a nomination for Wright was not among them. Granted, the competition was stiff, and he wasn’t the only snubbed director that year (cough, Ben Affleck and Sean Penn, cough), but work this good should’t be ignored by the Academy. This is the rare occasion where I get behind part of a film I’m not a huge fan of. Wright gave Oscar worthy direction, but he was ignored. I was fully convinced that his next film would be able to right that wrong…but how off I was. His next movie was going to be 2009′s ‘The Soloist’.
Many an Oscar prognosticator was predicting big things for ‘The Soloist’, but man did it disappoint (maybe he needed to have made another film with Keira Knightley instead?). Even the direction by Wright was a step down. It seemed like shameless Oscar bait while eschewing all of the things that would have made it good enough to actually be in any sort of contention for nominations. Rarely does a film disappoint as much as this one did, and I think it scared Wright off a bit from keeping on with the run of prestige films that he’d been making. This actually led to a good creative choice, as next he was going to try his hand at action.
Last year’s rather unique action film ‘Hanna’ (2011) was a step in the right direction (no pun intended) for Wright. It was no more than a popcorn flick, but it was very well made, featuring strong acting, and showed that he had this other skill in terms of making a movie not of the period piece variety (and showing he could make a good film that didn’t have Knightley in the cast as well). If nothing else, it sparked his creative juices again in some way and warded off the bad mojo from ‘The Soloist’ (thankfully). From ‘Hanna’, he then decided it was time to move on to working with Anna…’Anna Karenina’ that is.
On November 9th, Joe Wright is going back to the films he began with, re-teaming with Keira Knightley on ‘Anna Karenina’, another literary adaptation with high Oscar hopes. We don’t know how this will turn out yet, but I’m inclined to think that this will likely get a few Academy Award nods, and could even but him back in play for a Best Director award. Going forward, he has no new projects lined up, but as mentioned earlier, I’d love to see him do a Bond movie. I think he has a great one in him. Regardless of that wish of mine, it’s likely that the success or failure of ‘Anna Karnina’ will dictate where he goes next with his work.
Joe Wright may not quite be an A-list director at this current juncture in the game, but he’s going to get there eventually in all likelihood, and I think that might be when the Academy comes calling. When that happens, I’m sure he’ll be ready for them. Joe may not be Oscar’s pal yet, but it’s still early in his career. One thing’s for certain…he can always go back to action if costume dramas start to bore him! Keep an eye on Wright…he’s going places!
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Tags: Anna Karenina, Atonement, Hanna, Joe Wright, Oscar hopeful, Pride & Prejudice, under the circuit