Amour – Michael Haneke
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi – Ang Lee
Lincoln – Steven Spielberg
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
Ah, the film director: the man or woman behind the curtain. The director is the person responsible for the entire production – from cast to crew. They are the visionary controlling and shaping the film in its entirety. They are the authority on everything from production to post-production – the tone of the film, the camera angles a certain shot is taken from, the lighting – all while working along side their cinematographers, set designers, and editors. Of course, the director must answer to the producer when it comes to finances, but as far as the film’s production, the director is God. So let’s take a closer look at the nominees for Best Director and their individual track records at the Oscars.
Michael Haneke (Amour) – It’s kind of hard to believe, but this is the first Oscar nomination for Haneke. Second, actually, if you consider he is a double nominee this year (Original Screenplay). If he were to win for Director, he would be the first man to win this award for a foreign-language film.
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) – Same goes for Zeitlin, who is also a double nominee (Adapted Screenplay). However, it’s less of a surprise that this is his first nomination since this is his first film. Zeitlin is this category’s youngest nominee since John Singleton 21 years ago.
Ang Lee (Life of Pi) – This is the third directing nomination for Lee, who previously was nominated for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), for which he won the Oscar. It is his fifth overall nomination, as he received Producer nods for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi.
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) – This is the seventh directing nomination for Spielberg, who was also nominated for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Schindler’s List (1993) – for which he won the Oscar, Saving Private Ryan (1998) – for which he won the Oscar, and Munich (2005). He has received Producer nods for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993) – for which he won the Oscar, Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), and War Horse (2011). He is a double nominee this year as well – sensing a trend? – as he is also a producer for Lincoln. If you are counting along, that brings his total to fifteen Oscar nominations and three wins.
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) – You guessed it: all five directors are double nominees this year. Along with being nominated for Director once before for The Fighter (2010), Russell is also up for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year.
The Oscar for Best Director began with the origin of the Academy Awards, and has long been tied to what wins Best Picture. Only three films in the 84 year history of the Oscars have won Best Picture without at least receiving a Best Director nomination to match, the last being Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – at least until this weekend (most likely). The nominations in this field are determined by the Academy’s Directors Branch – comprised of somewhere around 367 members – who select the five directors that the rest of the Academy will choose a winner from.
The guild that recognizes excellence in direction is the Directors Guild of America (DGA), who in years past was the most accurate precursor as to who would not only win Best Director at the Oscars, but which film would win Best Picture as well. In the 65 year history of the DGA, the winner has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar all but six times (make it seven in 66 years now that Affleck took home the DGA). The DGA winner’s film has won Best Picture all but 13 times in that same span. For the first time since 1966, the DGA and Oscar only matched two out of five nominees (Spielberg, Lee), which makes this year’s race all the more intriguing.
Will Win: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Should Win: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Snubbed: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Ben Affleck (Argo)