Awards: Can ‘Ford v Ferrari’ Be James Mangold’s Vehicle for Best Director?

Racing films have a tough time with Oscar. Even just a few years back, Ron Howard was set to have a contender with “Rush,” only to see it mostly ignored when nominations came about. Car-related movies often struggle. See “Drive” as another example of this. Coming this week, another race car offering hopes to break this cycle with “Ford v Ferrari.” Expectations are all over the board for this one, which has proven to be a crowd pleaser on the festival circuit so far. If it’s a blockbuster, a Best Picture nomination is not out of the question, and that leads to the following thought: could James Mangold slip into Best Director?

The movie is a combination of biopic, racing drama, and sports flick, all rolled into one. It follows the attempt by Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to build a new kind of race car for Ford, one that can beat powerhouse Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Shelby is a former racer and now car designer, while Miles is a talented driver unable to get along with many people. Recruited by Ford, Shelby brings Miles aboard, hoping his skills will win the day.

Mangold directs a script co-written by Jed Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. Supporting players include Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, and more. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders composed the score, while the cinematography is by Phedon Papamichael.

Since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival, “Ford v Ferrari” has been tracking well with almost exclusively positive reviews. Currently at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes from 72 reviews, this week will see a lot more critics chime in. Back at Telluride, Clayton was a bigger fan of this than he expected, writing:

Ford v Ferrari” is a cleverly crafted machine.  Exhilarating in its construction, suspenseful in its execution, and captivating in its performances.

Mangold has never been nominated for Best Director, but has seen one of his films, “Walk the Line,” contend for Best Picture, while taking gold elsewhere. Two years ago, he scored Oscar love in Best Adapted Screenplay for “Logan.” The filmmaker has been building his stature slowly, becoming a true A-list storyteller. “Ford v Ferrari” brings together all of his talents into a high octane tale that requires no knowledge or interest in cars/car racing to enjoy. It’s certainly an accomplishment. The question is, will voters agree?

A lot will depend on whether “Ford v Ferrari” becomes more than just a below the line player. The more love it gets, the better a chance Mangold has. A Best Picture nomination seems like a requirement for him to score in Best Director, though he does somewhat have a “Lone Director” profile to him. However, that tends to go to a slightly more artistic endeavor — not that this work isn’t art. Just think more like Bennett Miller in “Foxcatcher” or Pawel Pawlikowski last year with “Cold War.” Mangold has a better chance of directing his way to the Picture lineup than driving himself into the Director field, at least at this moment.

On AwardsCircuit’s November 5th prediction updates, the film shows up in a number of Academy Award categories. Above the line, Clayton has the movie itself at number eleven in Picture, Mangold also at number eleven in Director, while Bale is number nine in Actor (Damon all the way down at 27). Then in Original Screenplay, the flick is at sixteen. Below the line is a different story. “Ford v Ferrari” is currently predicted to secure nominations in Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing, while just missing the cut in Best Original Score at number six. With a little extra precursor love, that tally could easily increase, moving the Picture itself into the top ten. If it does, then Mangold himself is certainly more in play.

It’s very difficult to accurately predict what will happen with “Ford v Ferrari” this season. Is it just a technical player? Is it going to be mostly ignored like similar films in the past? Could this one become a crowd pleaser that succeeds above the line? Only that latter scenario will truly benefit Mangold, though as mentioned above there’s at least a long shot scenario where we have him become this year’s “Lone Director.” Keep that in mind, but for now, only consider him if you have a Picture nomination coming along with Director.

Do you think “Ford v Ferrari” will be an Oscar player in Best Director for James Mangold? Let us know in the comments below!