We’ve made it to the twentieth entry in our Six Spot series!
This week, we reignite one of the most famous Oscar battles. The “La La Land” vs. “Moonlight” debate still reverberates through the (now hostless) Oscars. When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read the wrong Best Picture winner, both movies became intrinsically linked together in history. Many have analyzed “Moonlight’s” path to victory as the little indie that could. For this week, we’re looking at the Best Director race, and who missed out on joining in this “La La Land” vs. “Moonlight” race. But first, let’s look at who was nominated alongside them.
THE NOMINEES WERE:
- Damien Chazelle – “La La Land” (WINNER)
- Mel Gibson – “Hacksaw Ridge”
- Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight”
- Kenneth Lonergan – “Manchester By The Sea”
- Denis Villeneuve – “Arrival”
The 2016 Oscar race seems defined by the “La La Land” vs. “Moonlight” narrative, following the Best Picture snafu. In actuality, the conversation revolved more around “how many awards would ‘La La Land’ take home?” It was almost a foregone conclusion that “La La Land” was going to be the big winner of the night. Damien Chazelle had also won all of the major awards, including the Golden Globes, DGA Award, Critics Choice Award and BAFTA Award. In hindsight, because of “Moonlight’s” Best Picture win, we should have been more wary of a Barry Jenkins upset. Though Chazelle won all the major awards, Jenkins swept the critics awards. He won prizes from the Independent Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle and New York Film Critics Online, among others.
Of the remaining nominees, Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) falls into the third place slot in the category. His film had been well received since Amazon bought it out of Sundance. “Manchester by the Sea” won Oscars for Lonergan in Original Screenplay and Casey Affleck for Best Actor. Meanwhile, Denis Villeneuve likely had the support of many branches, as “Arrival” tied “Moonlight” for the second most nominations of the night (eight). However, the Amy Adams Best Actress snub shows there was some vulnerability for the film. The fifth nominee was likely former winner Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge.” On his own, Gibson is a controversial figure due to his profane outbursts and assault allegations. The film eventually won two Oscars for Film Editing and Sound Mixing. Still, many questioned whether the Oscars or Hollywood would be willing to welcome him back.
THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:
- Garth Davis – “Lion”
- Precursors – DGA Nominee
- Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score
- Tom Ford – “Nocturnal Animals”
- Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee, BAFTA Nominee
- Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)
- Ken Loach – “I, Daniel Blake
- Precursors – BAFTA Nominee
- Oscar Nominations – None
- David MacKenzie – “Hell or High Water”
- Precursors – Critics Choice Nominee
- Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Original Screenplay, Film Editing
- Theodore Melfi – “Hidden Figures”
- Precursors – N/A
- Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Adapted Screenplay
- Denzel Washington – “Fences”
- Precursors – Critics Choice Nominee
- Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Actor (Washington), Supporting Actress (Viola Davis) (WINNER), Adapted Screenplay
Since the expanded Best Picture lineup, it’s become increasingly rare for a Best Director nominee to come from a film that was not a Best Picture nominee. Both Pawel Pawilkowski (“Cold War”) and Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”) proved that it’s possible. In 2016, two BAFTA nominated directors tried to find a similar path to the Best Director lineup. Palm d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” was incredibly well-received in European countries. The film was nominated in five categories at the BAFTA Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Ken Loach. However, the film received almost no traction in the US, whether it be with critics awards or audiences. No matter how much support Europeans were throwing behind the film, American Oscar voters weren’t taking the bait.
Meanwhile, one of the most divisive movies of the years had a roller coaster awards season trajectory. “Nocturnal Animals” either repulsed or delighted viewers. Former fashion designer turned director Tom Ford contented for a number of awards for the film. He was nominated for both writing and directing at the Golden Globes. Even supporting actor nominee Aaron Taylor-Johnson pulled off a surprising win at the Golden Globes for the film, edging out eventual Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. The other critics group to love “Nocturnal Animals” was the BAFTA Awards. They nominated the film in nine categories, including Best Director. Unfortunately, the film was less to Oscars taste. When all was said and done, the only Oscar nomination for the film went to Michael Shannon, an actor known for finding his way into the category.
The DGA Awards are known as the best predictor for the Best Director category, as the guild awards always have the strongest crossover with the Oscar voting body. However, the DGA usually nominates at least one person that won’t repeat at the Oscars. Since 2000, the DGA Awards have only perfectly matched up with the Oscars twice – in 2005 and 2009.
“Lion” director Garth Davis was the unlikely DGA nominee whose name was not called on Oscar morning. The inspirational film took a little longer to pick up heat. Still, it was able to pick up an impressive six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. This ties the film with “Manchester by the Sea” and “Hacksaw Ridge,” in terms of nominations. The Cinematography and Original Score nominations, in particular, were far from assured and speak to the pockets of support the film had. Since “Lion” was Davis’ first film, voters may have wanted to see more of a body of work before honoring him. However, they’ve nominated the likes of Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) in the past for debut work.
BEST PICTURE HEAT
Best Picture nominees used to automatically be in the Best Director conversation. Since the category expanded past five nominees, Best Picture nominees must fight harder to get into Best Director. Of the four remaining Best Picture nominees, the one with the least consistency in the directing category, coincidentally, had one of the stronger shots at pulling a Best Picture upset. “Hidden Figures” was a massive box office hit during the voting period for the Oscars. On top of that, its SAG Ensemble win showed broad support for the crowd-pleasing film. Despite showing up in most precursors, director Theodore Melfi was never lauded alongside the film. Voters classified the film as an acting and writing feat, and awarded it accordingly. Still, Melfi shared the Adapted Screenplay nomination with co-writer Allison Schroeder.
The last two directors both have the same precursor in common, and little else. David Mackenzie had a summer indie breakout with “Hell or High Water,” a modern day western following two bank robbers. The film was able to actually build its Oscar heat over the course of six months to land in the Best Picture category. But Mackenzie’s only directing nomination during the precursors was at the Critics Choice, which nominated seven directors.
Conversely, fellow Critics Choice nominee Denzel Washington was at the top of most Best Director predictions a year out. Washington directed the film adaptation of, “Fences,” the beloved August Wilson play that brought the actor turned filmmaker his first Tony win. The actor had won two Oscars for his onscreen work, at this point, but had never been nominated in the directing category. Anticipation was high for the film and it delivered on expectations, particularly in Washington and Viola Davis’ performances. Yet, the one criticism many critics pointed to was the direction was not as cinematic as some had hoped.