Sizing Up: Best Director 2015

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S_05491AWelcome back again to the Sizing Up Series folks. It’s time to continue this 2015 incarnation with an in-depth look at the Director candidates competing for a spot in this year’s Oscar lineup. As was the case last year (and the many years before it, for that matter), there are a few things to keep an eye for this particular category. One obviously is that a whole lot will have to do with which films actually get nominated for Best Picture at the end of the year. The other is the ever tantalizing possibility of a Lone Director nod, though these days its almost the unicorn of Oscar prognostication…last year excluded, of course. It used to be something that happened from time to time, but up until 2014 it hasn’t come close of late, so it’s been a story of the lack thereof a Lone Director, a trend I expect to mostly continue. Is there a chance it happens again? There’s always a chance (especially if a Terrence Malick type is in the race, for example, though last year Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher was the one who got in like that), but with us firmly entrenched in the world of anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees in Best Picture, it makes the idea of the “Lone Director” one that’s more hypothetical than anything else, by and large. Of course, it could happen again at some point in the future but it’s going to be unlikely for one to wind up breaking through consistently, at least going by the odds. Not impossible, mind you…but I wouldn’t count on seeing it this year, or in too many instances going forward, honestly. Just keep that in mind when looking at this list. Anyway, why don’t we start sizing up this race!

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

Well, just to throw out a couple of that myriad names that have essentially zero chance of getting nominated, I’d say that we can pretty solidly cite Woody Allen (Irrational Man), Jonathan Demme (Ricki and the Flash), Roland Emmerich (Stonewall), Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw), Ryan Gosling (Lost River), and David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) 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 at this point. They’re solidly out of play for various reasons (regardless of the quality of their work, though some of their films disappointed to one degree or another…personally though, I’m big on a few of these, particularly Mitchell), but the point of the matter is simply to count those half-dozen gentlemen out of it. Let’s move on at this point now to people with actual shots of making a dent in the race.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, on to the real contenders…

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first large grouping here consists of ten directors that I believe ultimately won’t be real big contenders/factors, but aren’t out of the race just yet. As usual, they either have films that won’t last in heavy contention until the end of the year, subject matter that could be out of the Academy’s particular comfort zone/wheelhouse, or just don’t seem to have the right kind of traction yet, which pretty much cripples them. Some of them are slightly likelier contenders than others, but for me I’m inclined to go ahead and bet against them all right now and feel confident in that. The directors in question are the following:

star-wars-7-force-awakens-jj-abrams-bb8-600x400J.J. AbramsStar Wars: The Force Awakens
Judd ApatowTrainwreck
Pete Docter and Ronnie Del CarmenInside Out
Sarah GavronSuffragette
F. Gary GrayStraight Outta Compton
Ron HowardIn the Heart of the Sea
Angelina JolieBy the Sea
Charlie Kaufman and Duke JohnsonAnomalisa
Paul WeitzGrandma
Robert ZemeckisThe Walk

A few of these filmmakers have a better chance than others, while the vast majority are essentially long shots at best. Ron Howard happens to be a dark horse since In the Heart of the Sea is still an unknown entity, though again, most are all but out of it. If you want to look at an X factor who could potentially contend a bit more than expected, it’s J.J. Abrams, depending on how Star Wars: The Force Awakens does with the precursors. If it really is that special once in a generation event that many are hoping for, then it’s worth some discussion. The one here sitting in the best spot was probably Angelina Jolie, due to By the Sea still having been sight unseen until just a few days ago. Reviews haven’t been very kind though, so her road just got very rocky. Howard probably has better odds than Abrams or Jolie, but Abrams and Howard the only two here that I think truly have any notable amount of upward mobility to them. The bigger contenders are still to come, obviously.

The “Second Tier” Contenders

This next collection of directors here are solidly in play for potential Best Director nods, but have definite question marks about their candidacy which may or may not stop them in their tracks. Some issues obviously relate to their film, while some do not and are more extraneous, but they definitely have at least one factor that negatively affects their chances. I’d say that there’s a decently good shot that there will be at least one from this list that makes it close to a nod the big show, but most of these will no doubt fade away before too long as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if one made it (or possibly even two), but I also wouldn’t be surprised if none of them do either. There’s ten 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 each and every single solitary year), they’re not far off, to one degree or another. The directors I see in this light are as follows:

george-millerScott CooperBlack Mass
Cary Joji Fukanaga Beasts of No Nation
Justin KurzelMacbeth
Peter LandesmanConcussion
George MillerMad Max: Fury Road
László NemesSon of Saul
Bill PohladLove & Mercy
Jay RoachTrumbo
Paolo SorrentinoYouth
Denis VilleneuveSicario

At some earlier point during this season, I think that someone out there could have made the slate up using just five of these ten directors (perhaps somewhat foolishly, but still), though the race has already clearly evolved way beyond that by now.  One here sitting in a solid spot might actually wind up being Denis Villeneuve, who has a Lone Director possibility for Sicario. If not him, then there’s an outside chance for George Miller or László Nemes to crack the lineup, especially Miller. The former is the fanboy pick, though Mad Max: Fury Road has as much respect as any prestige player (he also represents the other one who could be a Lone Director), while the latter will just depend on if Son of Saul can get into Best Picture. They’re notable contenders, for sure, but the biggest fish are up next…

The “Pole Position” Contenders

Well, here we are. These are the dozen most likely contenders for the Best Director Oscar in my book. My personal Oscar predictions at The Awards Circuit in the Best Director category are contained within this list now, as you might expect. They each have a lot going in their favor and seem to be sitting in strong positions for some precursor love to come in the next couple of months. They’re also the directors of some of the most mentioned (and in most 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, here they are:

scottmartian.0Lenny AbrahamsonRoom
Danny BoyleSteve Jobs
John CrowleyBrooklyn
Todd HaynesCarol
Tom HooperThe Danish Girl
Alejandro González IñárrituThe Revenant
Tom McCarthySpotlight
Adam McKayThe Big Short
David O. RussellJoy
Ridley ScottThe Martian
Steven SpielbergBridge of Spies
Quentin TarantinoThe Hateful Eight

There are a few names that I usually think we can all but write down in black or red ink for nominations at this point. There’s only one or two of those right now though, which is different. The leader of the pack here has to be Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, with next in line probably being Ridley Scott for The Martian. They’re the only two I’m pretty confident are getting nominated. Another safe bet might ultimately include Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant, but even he’s up in the air. Give or take the box office disappointment for his film, there’s Danny Boyle in a solid spot for Steve Jobs, and total unseen players like David O. Russell for Joy and Quentin Tarantino for The Hateful Eight. Despite strong buzz, I see Adam McKay as the least likely here for The Big Short, while John Crowley for Brooklyn, Todd Haynes for Carol, and Steven Spielberg for Bridge of Spies might have harder roads to traverse than expected. That leaves Tom Hooper as a potential nominee for The Danish Girl as well as Lenny Abrahamson as perhaps a surprise citation for Room. Right this moment, my predicted lineup is McCarthy winning, with Abrahamson, Russell, Scott, and Tarantino making up the five. Boyle and Iñárritu are inches away though (and no one here is close to out of it), so this is hardly set in stone. Anything but, actually, so stay tuned!

Obviously, this list here will whittle itself down a pretty good deal still as the weather gets chillier and the calendar turns over, but for now there’s a lot to look at and consider in this very big category. I think the ultimate nominees for Best Director will come from my pole position contenders (no surprises there, I’m sure), but we shall see what happens in the end. Anything is possible here folks. Sit tight to see what happens next…

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Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!