Six Spot: Who Did Bennett Miller Kick Out of the 2014 Best Director Race?

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Welcome to the fifth installment in our Six Spot series, spotlighting all the people who wished they were Oscar’s #5.

The 2014 Director race was a wild and contentious one throughout the season. The “Birdman” vs. “Boyhood” debate that went on in Best Picture bled into Best Director as well. “Birdman” brought Alejandro G. Iñárritu his first of two wins at the end of the day. However, what’s even crazier about this category was the fight for the fifth slot. This was the first time since the expanded Best Picture lineup that a director got nominated for a film that wasn’t in Best Picture. Let’s take a look at the field.

The Nominees Were:

  • Wes Anderson – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu – “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” – WINNER
  • Richard Linklater – “Boyhood”
  • Bennett Miller – “Foxcatcher”
  • Morten Tyldum – “The Imitation Game”

Overall Summary

Just like in Best Picture, this year’s Best Director race was tight. Richard Linklater and Alejandro G. Iñárritu traded off winning prizes throughout the season. Linklater took home the Golden Globes, BAFTA and Indie Spirits. However, Iñárritu’s campaign sped up once he won the DGA award. Wes Anderson was the only other nominee to consistently show up at all the awards. Morten Tyldum entered the race late riding the heat of “The Imitation Game” and its Best Picture nomination. Tyldum’s inclusion in the DGA lineup propelled him to an Oscar nomination in this category. Finally, Bennett Miller accomplished quite a feat by becoming the first director nominee for a film that did not get into Best Picture since the expanded lineup. “Foxcatcher” received five nominations, so there was an obvious passion for the film. His Cannes win signaled pockets of fans that carried him to a surprise nomination.

The Six Spot Contenders Are:

  • Damien Chazelle –  “Whiplash” (BAFTA, Indie Spirits)
  • Ava DuVernay – “Selma” (Critics Choice, Golden Globes, Indie Spirits, Online Film Critics)
  • Clint Eastwood – “American Sniper” (DGA, National Board of Review)
  • David Fincher – “Gone Girl” (Critics Choice, Golden Globes, Online Film Critics)
  • Mike Leigh – “Mr. Turner” (National Society of Film Critics)
  • Jean-Luc Godard – “Goodbye to Language” (National Society of Film Critics)
  • Angelina Jolie – “Unbroken” (Critics Choice)
  • James Marsh – “The Theory of Everything” (BAFTA)
  • David Zellner – “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” (Indie Spirits)

Critics Darlings

This year saw lots of “out of left field” longshots show up in a couple major critic prizes. In fact, Oscar even nominated an “out of left field” long shot (hi, Bennett Miller). The National Society of Film Critics called out two legendary directors in their runner up slots. Both Mike Leigh (“Mr. Turner”) and Jean-Luc Godard (“Goodbye to Language”) received recognition from this group. “Mr. Turner” received four craft nominations at the Oscars, but “Goodbye to Language” was left empty-handed. Also, empty-handed at the Oscars was David Zellner, director of “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” who only received an Indie Spirit nomination. Perhaps the person who had the most high profile Oscar buzz of this group was Angelina Jolie, director of “Unbroken.” The actress received a directing nomination at the Critics Choice. However, the lukewarm reception to the film prevented it from showing up elsewhere.

Precursor Favorites

Two filmmakers were omnipresent throughout the precursor race, only to find their films not live up to their Oscar potential. The first, and most egregious, was the snubbing of Ava DuVernay for “Selma.” The film was meant to be a major Oscar player. However, it only made it into Best Picture and Original Song. DuVernay, who would’ve become the first black woman nominated for Best Director, racked up an impressive precursor haul. She was nominated at the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, and Online Film Critics Awards, among other critics prizes. However, none of these precursors have voting overlap with Oscars. This perhaps explains the shocking snub.

The other director to share a similar trajectory was “Gone Girl”  director David Fincher. Like DuVernay, Fincher showed up at the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and Online Film Critics Awards. “Gone Girl” was a huge Q4 hit that was supposed to get into multiple categories, including Best Picture. However, once nominations were announced, “Gone Girl” only got nominated in Best Actress for Rosamund Pike. Unfortunately, Oscar voters must not have loved “Gone Girl,” as they snubbed it in so many categories, including Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography.

Best Picture Drafting

Which directors of Best Picture nominees did Bennett Miller beat out? We’ve already talked about Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma,” a Best Picture nominee. Of the remaining three films, James Marsh for “The Theory of Everything” was least likely to make it to the director lineup. Marsh received one major precursor leading into the Oscar race – BAFTA. This was an award that was always going to be in love with “The Theory of Everything.” Missing out on all other nominations signaled a lack of passion for his directorial mark.

The other two directors of Best Picture nominees could not be more different. Clint Eastwood made yet another run at Best Director for surprise hit “American Sniper.” The late-breaking blockbuster had not yet expanded wide by the time of Oscar nominations, but still managed six nominations. Yet, Eastwood managed a win at the National Board of Review (who usually loves him) and a nomination at the DGA Awards. In fact, he was the only DGA to not repeat at the Oscars. Still, Eastwood’s Oscar history is already impressive. He has 4 wins (including 2 director wins), 11 nominations (including 4 director nominations) and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

If the Oscars were looking for new blood, they could’ve easily gone with “Whiplash” director Damien Chazelle. Chazelle’s film got five nominations, including Best Picture. During the ceremony, the film overperformed, winning three of its five nominations. Chazelle received nominations from BAFTA and the Independent Spirit Awards. However, Chazelle would later go on to steamroll the 2016 season and win for “La La Land.” Perhaps Oscar would’ve invested in this young talent early, a la Benh Zeitlin. However, this year was not quite the year for Damien Chazelle’s coronation.

The Six Spot For 2014 Best Director Was:

Clint Eastwood – “American Sniper”

Agree or Disagree? Let us know who you think was the Six Spot for the 2014 Best Director race in the comments below.

Check out our Oscar predictions at the Circuit Hub for this year’s race and see who we have predicted to fall in sixth place.