Sizing Up: Best Director

Sizing Up Series continues with an in-depth look at the Director candidates for this year’s Oscar ceremony.  As was the case last year, there are a few things to keep an eye for this particular category. One obviously is that a lot will have to do with which films get nominated for Best Picture at the end of the day. The other is the possibility of a Lone Director nod. It used to be something that happened, but it hasn’t come close of late. Now, with us in the brave new-ish world of anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees, it keeps the idea of the lone director alive, though it’s going to be unlikely for one to wind up breaking through. Not impossible, mind you…but I wouldn’t count on seeing it this year, or too many instances going forward.

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

Just to throw out a couple of names that have zero chances of getting nominated, I’d say that we can pretty solidly cite Stephen Chbosky (for The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Drew Goddard (for The Cabin in the Woods), Robert Lorenz (for Trouble with the Curve), Martin McDonagh (for Seven Psychopaths), Roger Michell (for Hyde Park on Hudson), and Steven Soderbergh (for Magic Mike) as a few of the countless filmmakers who shouldn’t expect any mentions this season and 100% can count on being out of the Oscar race. They’re solidly out of the race for various reasons (regardless of the quality of their work), but the point of the matter is…count those half-dozen gentlemen out. Let’s move on at this point to people with actual shots.

Now, on to the real contenders…

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first grouping consists of 10 directors that I think ultimately won’t be real big contenders/factors, but aren’t out of the race yet. They either have films that won’t last in the race until the end of the year, subject matter that could be out of the Academy’s wheelhouse, or just don’t seem to have the right kind of traction yet. Some of them are bigger contenders than others, but for me I’m inclined to bet against them all right now and feel confident in that. The directors in question are the following:

Noah Baumbach- Frances Ha
David Chase- Not Fade Away
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris- Ruby Sparks
Andrew Dominik- Killing Them Softly
Dustin Hoffman- Quartet
Rian Johnson- Looper
Richard Linklater- Bernie
Terrence Malick- To The Wonder
Mike Newell- Great Expectations
Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski- Cloud Atlas

One of two of these filmmakers have a better chance than the others of breaking away from the pack and moving towards a more decent to good shot at Best Director, but I honestly don’t see any of them going the distance. If I were to select one that could actually stand a chance of doing it, I’d go with Rian Johnson, since I have a feeling that Looper could be a bit of a surprise this season. A few others are question marks, such as Dustin Hoffman for Quartet, but I just don’t predict anyone in this group doing much damage in the race come the precursor season. I’d be more hopeful for Noah Baumbach if Frances Ha didn’t seem headed towards a 2013 release date, but it is what it is in that regard.

The “Second Tier” Contenders

This collection of directors are solidly in play for Best Director, but have definite question marks about their candidacy. Some issues relate to their film, while some do not. I’d say that there’s a very good shot that there will be at least one from this list that makes it to the big show, but many will no doubt fade away before long as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one make it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if none do. There’s 10 of these particular filmmakers that would like to be considered big time contenders for the prize. I don’t see them as big ones yet, but like I said (and always say about this part of the piece), they’re not far off, to differing degrees of course. The directors I see in this light are as follows:

Wes Anderson- Moonrise Kingdom
Judd Apatow- This Is 40
Juan Antonio Bayona- The Impossible
Peter Jackson- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Ben Lewin- The Sessions
John Madden- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Gus Van Sant- Promised Land
Joss Whedon- The Avengers
Joe Wright- Anna Karenina
Benh Zeitlin- Beasts of the Southern Wild

At some point during this season, I think that someone out there could have made the slate up of 5 of these 10 directors (perhaps foolishly, but still), though the race has already clearly evolved way beyond that. The only director I see really making a strong play is Gus Van Sant for Promised Land. A case could be made for Benh Zeitlin or Ben Lewin, but I think they’ll wind up canceling each other out when Fox Searchlight begins their campaigns for both. As for Van Sant, he’s an Academy favorite and if the film is good, his chances get very good for a nod here. I can see him getting nominated more than I can see the others, but the race is still developing, so don’t quote me on him just yet…

The “Pole Position” Contenders

These are the dozen most likely contenders for the Best Director Oscar in my book. My personal Oscar predictions here at The Awards Circuit for Best Director are contained within this list now. They each have a lot going in their favor and seem to be sitting pretty for some precursor love to come in a few months. They’re also the directors of some of the most mentioned (and in some cases praised) films so far this year, and I don’t exact that to change too much anytime soon. The twelve filmmakers that I speak of? Well, they are:

Ben Affleck- Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson- The Master
Kathryn Bigelow- Zero Dark Thirty
Sacha Gervasi- Hitchcock
Michael Haneke- Amour
Tom Hooper- Les Miserables
Ang Lee- Life of Pi
Christopher Nolan- The Dark Knight Rises
David O. Russell- The Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg- Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino- Django Unchained
Robert Zemeckis- Flight

I seem to have been vindicated with my early prediction of Ben Affleck in this category. He’s definitely one of the frontrunners now for directing Argo, and aside from near locks like Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master, Tom Hooper for Les Miserables, and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, is in a good position to win the Oscar. Throw in a tonally different choice like David O. Russell for The Silver Linings Playbook or Robert Zemeckis for Flight and those half dozen are perhaps the most likely to become this year’s 5. Of course, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Ang Lee for Life of Pi aren’t far behind them. The other 4 are somewhat longer shots, but I’m expecting Sacha Gervasi to be embraced by some Hitchcock, while Michael Haneke certainly has his most accessible awards vehicle to date in Amour. It’s foolish to count out Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained when the film is still a question mark, and of course I’ve been vocal on thinking that Christopher Nolan is still very much in play for The Dark Knight Rises. It’s going to be very interesting to see which directors stick and which ones end up going away before we reach the end of the road.

Obviously this list will whittle down a pretty good deal as the weather gets chillier and calendar turns over, but for now there’s a lot to look at and consider in this category. I think the ultimate nominees for Best Director will come from my pole position contenders (no surprises there), but we shall see. Anything is possible here. I know I’m excited to see how the race shapes up, and I bet you are too. It’s going to be fun, that’s a sure thing!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!