2016 Oscar Circuit: Best Director



Welcome to our annual Oscar Circuit series, our deep down look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2016. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your predicted winners in the comment section too!

The Oscar winner for Best Director is often tied to the eventual winner for Best Picture. In the Academy’s 87-year history, the Oscar has gone to the same film in these categories 64 times. Even more telling is that only four times has the director of the eventual Best Picture winning film missed out on a nomination in his/her own category, and only won time in history did the Best Director winner’s film not find a way into the Best Picture field (Frank Lloyd, 1928/29 won while his film, The Divine Lady was left off the Best Picture slate). So as you can see, there is a very good chance that the winner here will watch his film take Best Picture as well.

And the Nominees Are:

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
  • The Revenant (Alejandro G. Inarritu)
  • Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

Just Happy To Be Here:


Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Knowing that Director and Picture are often connected, I think we have two directors that are probably in this spot. The first, I’m sure you’ll agree with. The latter, I think I’m alone in considering him outside of the race.

Abrahamson is the former. Of the five nominees, he was the least cited this awards year, as was his film. This is Abrahamson’s first nomination, and one that he probably deserves just for what he got out of his actors – including Oscar front-runner Brie Larson and (at the time) nine year-old Jacob Tremblay.


George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Yeah, yeah. I’m sure a lot of you will disagree with this assessment. A lot of people probably rank Miller number two on their own predictions. And while I’d agree with the fact that he should be number two, I think his film has just about zero chance at Best Picture, and would be extremely surprised to see him pull ahead of the three I’d place above him in my own evaluation.

Miller was the critics’ darling this season, taking home top honors from 12 major critics’ associations before taking home the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director.

This is the sixth Academy Award nomination for George Miller, who received a nomination for Best Picture this year as well. He was previously nominated for Happy Feet (2006; Animated Feature – Won), Babe (1995; Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay), and Lorenzo’s Oil (1992; Original Screenplay).

Watch Out For:


Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

McCarthy came into the season with the unenviable position of being the front-runner for Picture and Director, as many of those who saw the film in Telluride were convinced it would sweep its way to Oscar glory (this writer included). Now the film sits in either the two or three spot, depending who you ask, poised to surprise in the Picture field if the preferential ballot splits the right way for the film (God willing). But without a Director nom at BAFTA, and without the coveted DGA prize, I think McCarthy might be too far of a long-shot spoiler in this field to warrant a higher ranking.

Along with being nominated for Original Screenplay this year (which he should win), this is McCarthy’s third nomination. His previous nomination came for writing the Original Screenplay for Up (2009).

The Frontrunners:


Adam McKay (The Big Short)

Statistically, something has to give this year. The Big Short won the PGA, an award that has foreshadowed Oscar’s Best Picture winner the last eight years, and is the only large awards body to use the same preferential ballot as AMPAS. So I think we have to put McKay in the spoiler spot, because his film has a very good shot to win the big prize on Oscar night.

Adam McKay is nominated for his first two Academy Awards this year – the other coming in the Adapted Screenplay field, where he is all but a lock to win.

But we have a clear front-runner for Director…


Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Should Alejandro G. Iñárritu win the Best Director Oscar this year, he will be the third helmer to win back-to-back in this category (John Ford 1940/1941; Joseph Mankiewicz 1949/1950). Being the first to do anything in 65 years is never a small feat, but after becoming the first director to win the DGA in back-to-back years, it’s looking more and more like he might do just that.

The DGA is the most accurate precursor of any award in regards to predicting the Oscars, as 61 of the 68 winners have gone on to win the Best Director Oscar (90%!!). I think that says enough. Bet against the G at your own peril.

Iñárritu is nominated for Best Picture as well, giving him seven career nods. Last year he won Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay for Birdman. He was nominated for Picture and Director for Babel (2006).

Will Win/Should Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Could Win: Adam McKay (The Big Short)

Should Have Been Nominated: Todd Haynes (Carol)



  • James Hart

    Actually, I think I agree with your assessment of Miller’s predicament after reading this, as much as it pains me to say. I’m happy with either him or Inarritu winning.

  • Greg

    You’re right, Miller is number 2

  • Guestz

    I think we might get a surprise win in this category. I don’t think Lenny Abrahamson or George Miller are out of this race at all. Adam McKay could pull an upset. We all know Inarritu is the frontrunner here. I don’t think this category is locked as we thought it was based on what AMPAS voters have been saying around town.

  • Luke McGowan

    Great assessment, especially of McKay and Miller. I’d honestly be so happy for a Braveheart style swoop in and grab Picture/Director by The Big Short.

    Miller should be the winner but Inarritu’s film was really hard to make, you know. Really hard

  • Eli Sickel

    Aw man I really hope there’s an upset, seems everyone and their mom is predicting generally the same outcome for the top 8 categories. George Miller probably doesn’t have a shot in hell but it would be so refreshing to see him win.

  • Stein-Erik Rutledal

    I think he will win, but in no way should AGI win. Miller and Abrahamson delivered impeccable movies with rich and well used cinematic language. The use of cinematic language in The Revenant extends to not much more than “look at these pretty pictures and ignore the empty husk of a story masquerading as depth”. He also delivers a much weaker effort than the one he won for last year. The Revenant sweeping shows such a lack of touch with reality from The Academy who seems more interested in awarding something for being artsy rather than good.