Two (or perhaps three) of our presumed locks missed out on Director citations this year at the Academy Awards. It happened and now we have to try to sift out the “real” contender that will stand on stage at the end of the evening to be crowned Best Picture of the Year. Many, including myself, think Ben Affleck’s Argo stands a real chance to win it all if enough momentum builds in its favor. Our own Joey Magidson has a piece going up tomorrow to break it down more in-depth.
Today’s question might be one of our toughest yet.
Can you think of a film you would crown worthy of being named Best Picture of the Year without having its director make your personal five for Best Director?
On the surface, the question may not make too much sense to many of us because people have a hard time wrapping their heads around rewarding a Picture but not the Director. How can one go without the other? A reader posed this question for one of our podcasts recently and we were unable to answer it. He asked how you can personally pick out the direction from a film. How can you say one director was better than the other without ever being on set with him or her? Did the director make choices in telling the story that either seems unconventional or unprecedented that if another director stepped into his or her shoes, the entire structure and aura of the film would change?
I’m likely on an island alone when I say that Picture and Director do not go hand in hand. I define crowning a film Best Picture by my overall feelings about the feature. How did the film affect me? Did I cry? Did I laugh? Does it stand out among other films released in the same year? A movie usually provides several different feelings throughout. An excellent movie likely brings you on a roller coaster of emotions making you invested in each of its characters with some sort of indescribable feeling by film’s end.
The closest example I could think of is Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (2005), a film I had chosen as my #1 film of 2005 without citing Howard as one of the five Best Directors of the year. Looking back, 2005 is one of the worst years collectively for cinema in recent memory which is likely why this film fits these criteria but when I reviewed the film nearly seven years ago, Howard’s film stood as one of my favorite boxing films since Rocky (1976). Stars Russell Crowe and Academy Award Nominee Paul Giamatti delivered some of their finest works, bringing a touching story about a man down on his luck making an unbelievable comeback to merely put food on the table. I was moved, invested, and shattered by the heroic efforts of Jim Braddock, though I do understand everything in the film is dramatized and not in fact all true. A three and a half star rating seemed only fitting and as it stands today, 2005 is the only year not to receive a single four star review from me including Brokeback Mountain and Capote. Are these bad films? Not by a long shot and I’m still very taken with the majority of them but when looking at Howard’s film, the story remained front and center but didn’t present Howard’s stamp or signature artistic style that either raised or deflated the motion picture experience. Is it poor direction? Not at all, but standing next to David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), and even the flawed but directorially admirable Steven Spielberg for Munich, Howard simply didn’t make the cut.
This year Ben Affleck doesn’t quite fit the explanation of a film that is better than the direction. Affleck was just as worthy to be cited but with an outstanding year of cinema, someone, or in this case three directors, missed out on nominations. Argo is in a prime position to possible become the fifth film in Oscar history to win without a Directing nomination.
Talk among yourselves.