Under the Circuit: Joe Wright


Most Known For: ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Atonement,’ ‘Anna Karenina’

Snubbed For: ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Atonement’

Joe Wright will be taking us back to Never Never Land in the coming weeks with ‘Pan’ – though early word makes it seem like it will be a not so happy return – marking his sixth feature film. With films like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’ on his resume, it is surprising that he is not often immediately brought up as a upper level director, Wright established himself early as a filmmaker to watch, but has struggled in taking that next step to becoming an A-list director. Perhaps contributing to that is the fact he has yet to add ‘Academy Award-nominated director’ to his title card.

darcy-elizabeth-pandp2005-mirrorLet’s just jump right into this, Wright should have gotten a hell of a lot more consideration for his work on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ than he did. Wright made the most successful Jane Austen adaptation in years and was able to add his own special touches to it as well – that spectacular mirror sequence with Keira Knightley comes to mind.

Sure, he was up against a tough crowd with Spielberg (‘Munich’), Clooney (‘Good Night, and Good Luck’), Bennett Miller (‘Capote’), and winner Ang Lee (‘Brokeback Mountain’), but would many really argue swapping Wright with Paul Haggis’ nomination for ‘Crash’? Few voting bodies actually stumped for Wright however, with his only wins coming in the form of most promising newcomer, or something of the like. I see this as his biggest snub, but perhaps even more surprising was the one he got for his second film.

‘Atonement’ was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and considering this was the era with only five BP nominees, the omission of one of the film’s directors was still a rarity. And Wright’s work is quite good here; the scale is larger and the story a bit more complex, but he handles it all in stride. He received a Golden Globe nomination for his direction, as well as one from BAFTA.

Gallery-images-from-Atonement-nominated-Best-Art-DirectionThe outsider crashing the field of directors that year was Julian Schnabel for ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly;’ so it actually was a good wild card for the Academy. The Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson weren’t going anywhere for their films, so Wright would have had to been swapped in for either Jason Reitman for ‘Juno’ or Tony Gilroy for ‘Michael Clayton.’ Arguments could be made for all three, unfortunately, Wright just happened to be the one left out.

After going two for two, Wright’s career has been a little bit more scattered. He went with some clear Oscar catnip in ‘The Soloist’ starring the post-‘Iron Man’ Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, but the film fell flat and didn’t pan out at all as a player. He then shifted gears and did the action film ‘Hanna’ with his ‘Atonement’ star Saoirse Ronan; pretty well received, though failed to become a major hit and certainly not the Academy’s usual cup of tea.

His most recent effort was a bold experiment to retell ‘Anna Karenina’ in a way that made it seem as if it were all taking place in a theater. The idea was intriguing, and it certainly made for a visually engaging film, but unlike ‘Atonement’ Wright was unable to bring this large scale story into a truly cohesive film.

And so, here we are with ‘Pan.’ Few probably expected this to be another go with Oscar, but the negative reviews are disappointing as Wright is having trouble duplicating his early success. He currently doesn’t have his next project lined up, according to IMDB, so we’ll have to wait and see where he goes next.

Despite the less than stellar batting average over the last few years, Wright clearly has a vision and has shown he is more than capable of adding a unique spin on even familiar stories. It would be hard to believe that he won’t one day find a pairing with a project that could lead him to an Oscar nomination, we’ll just have to wait and see when and what that project may be.

What do you think?

72 points

Written by Michael Balderston

NoVA native who has returned to the Washington D.C. area after two years in L.A. My biggest annoyance since leaving L.A. is not having immediate access to indie films on their first weekend, but I'm making due. When I'm not tracking the year's Oscar players or exploring film history, I'm rooting for my Philadelphia sports teams.


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