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2019 Oscars Look: Best Director

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:

  • BlacKkKlansman” – Spike Lee
  • Cold War” – Pawel Pawlikowski
  • The Favourite” – Yorgos Lanthimos
  • Roma” – Alfonso Cuarón
  • Vice” – Adam McKay

The Oscar for Best Director has been in place since the Academy Awards began in 1927 and has a pretty solid track record of being tied to the winner of Best Picture. In the 90 year history of the Academy, the Oscar-winning director has watched his/her film go on to win the big prize 64 times (71% of the time). In recent years, however, that has occurred less and less.

Since 2009, when the Academy reinstated the use of the preferential ballot voting system for Best Picture, Director and Picture have only matched up five out of nine times (55%), and only two of the last six (33%). So where do you look to read the tea leaves in this category?

The most reliable of all Oscar precursors has been the Directors Guild Award, whose winner has only differed from the eventual Oscar winner eight times in 70 years (an incredible 89%). The stat I mentioned earlier about the Director and Picture winners matching up improves with the existence of the DGA as well. Since the DGA started being handed out in 1948, the guild-winner’s movie has won the Oscar for Best Picture 54 times (77%). This year’s DGA winner is Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), who is your front-runner for the Oscar.

Let’s take a closer look at the nominees:

Nominee: Spike Lee – “BlacKkKlansman”
Oscar Scene: The Rally

With his three nominations for “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee has now been nominated five times. He won an Honorary Oscar in at the 2016 ceremony.

Though it may be hard to believe, this is Lee’s first nomination for Best Director. After John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, and Jordan Peele, Spike Lee becomes only the sixth black filmmaker to receive a Best Director nod. If anyone is to upset Alfonso Cuarón, I would imagine Lee has the best shot. While Cuarón was busy sweeping through most of awards season, Lee’s film seemed to show up everywhere that mattered (especially guild-wise), including SAG Ensemble, a noteworthy citation that no other director in this group can claim. There is obviously much love for his film, and it goes without saying, for him.

Nominee: Pawel Pawlikowski – “Cold War”
Oscar Scene:  Zula singing “Dwa Serduszka”

This is the first nomination for Pawel Pawlikowski, whose previous film, “Ida,” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2014.

Pawlikowski is only the second lone director (nominated here without his/her film being nominated for Best Picture) since the field expanded beyond five nominees. He joins only Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”) with this distinction. Only once did a director win Best Director without his/her film being nominated for Picture – Frank Lloyd won in 1928/29 for “The Divine Lady” at the 2nd Oscars.

Despite his long odds to win, the fact that he received a nomination without his film in the Best Picture lineup, paired with his “Ida” win, might say a lot about the respect the Academy has for Pawlikowski’s work. And with the recent expansion to a more global membership, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if he were to win. That being said, I would place the longest odds on the Polish-born director.

Nominee: Yorgos Lanthimos – “The Favourite”
Oscar Scene: Duel of Words

With his two nominations for “The Favourite” (Picture, Director), Yorgos Lanthimos has now been nominated three times. His previous nomination came for Original Screenplay (“The Lobster,” 2016). While he didn’t receive an individual nomination, his Greek-language film, “Dogtooth,” received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010.

Lanthimos’ film tied for the most nominations this year (10; with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”), so there is certainly an abundance of love and respect for his work. After Cuarón, Lanthimos received the most recognition for Best Director on the precursor trail leading up to Oscar, but came up short with the most important of all harbingers: the DGA. If Lanthimos were to win the Oscar, he would be the first to ever win without at least being nominated by DGA. A mountain that may be too steep to climb.

Nominee: Alfonso Cuarón – “Roma”
Oscar Scene: A Day at the Beach

With his four nominations for “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón has now been nominated ten times (twice for Director). He has won two statues, both for “Gravity” (Film Editing – with partner Mark Sanger – and Director).

As mentioned before, Cuarón nabbed the DGA, marking him as the most likely to succeed from this 2018 class. Additionally, Cuarón took home honors from BAFTA, which has matched with Oscar’s Best Director category eight times in the past eleven years (72%). Along with these two major citations, Cuarón has received awards for Best Director from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and over twenty individual critics groups. To say he is the favorite is a major understatement.

Nominee: Adam McKay – “Vice”
Oscar Scene: The Negotiation 

Adam McKay’s Oscar nomination tally climbs to five with the three he received this year for “Vice” (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay). He was previously nominated for Director and Adapted Screenplay for “The Big Short,” winning for the latter.

McKay is a bit of the man in the middle of this year’s race. Cuarón hit all the right notes by winning DGA, BAFTA, and the Golden Globe; Lee has the right career narrative; McKay has neither of the two going for him. What he does have is the fact that his movie showed up in all the right places: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, and THREE acting nominations. These key nods, plus an additional citation for Makeup and Hairstyling, display the strength and popularity of “Vice.” So it may be unwise to count out the man helming the film. While McKay was blocked by Cuarón, he still managed nominations from DGA, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes, so to say he has been in the thick of the race all year should be obvious. But when one person sweeps…

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón – “Roma”
Could Win: Spike Lee – “BlacKkKlansman”
Should Have Won But Isn’t Even Nominated: Damien Chazelle – “First Man”



What do you think?

72 points
AC Fan

Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.


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