It seems like many of the great directors have to wait until the tail end of their careers to bask in Oscar glory. Martin Scorsese sure can attest to this. This means there are plenty of filmmaking geniuses who still have not enjoyed their walk to the podium. Enjoying both critical acclaim and box office clout, I believe director Paul Greengrass well deserves his Oscar moment.
To date, Greengrass has one (very well deserved) nomination. This came for the harrowing 2006 film United 93. On his way to the Dolby Theater, Greengrass picked up a whole bunch of hardware. He won best director from the following organizations: BAFTA, the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. He also picked up directing nominations at the Critics Choice Awards and writing nominations from BAFTA and the Writers Guild. While his film was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year – scoring a 90 on Metacritic and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes – it failed to get a nomination for Best Picture. Nominated against Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima) Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), and eventual winner Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Greengrass was the only one whose film was not in the Best Picture lineup.
Thus, a win was unlikely. It was probably unlikely that any film about 9/11 would win in the year 2006, with the wound still fresh. However, Greengrass’ film was a masterful piece of filmmaking. It was almost voyeuristic how he captured the events that unfolded on United flight 93 the morning of the September 11th attacks. His bold, unflinching look didn’t take the easy route of defining good guys and bad guys. Instead, it was as close to journalistic as a film could be. It presented the facts in an unbiased light, making the details more horrendous and troubling.
This approach to filmmaking isn’t new if one is familiar with Greengrass’ work. Even more awe-inspiring in its terror is his 2002 film, Bloody Sunday. The film dramatized the 1972 Irish civil rights protest that turned into a brutal massacre. It was a stunningly ambitious epic that played almost as a cinema verite documentary mixed with a live stream news report. The film won Greengrass top prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival and British Independent Film Awards, and nominations at the BAFTA Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Sundance Film Festival. Effectively it was this film that introduced Greengrass to American cinephiles. However, if this film came out today with Greengrass being as big of a name as he is now, it would be hard pressed to imagine him not getting nominated.
Yet, Greengrass is no stranger to snubs, even when he is doing Academy friendly material. While 2010’s Green Zone tried to be Academy fare, it failed miserably. In 2013, Captain Phillips reaped six nominations – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Strangely enough, the film missed out on two of its most high profile bids – Greengrass for Directing and Tom Hanks for Best Actor. Up to this point, Greengrass seemed like a lock. He got nominated for the top four precursors – Globes, BAFTA, Critics Choice and DGA. In the end, though, Alexander Payne eeked out a surprise nomination over Greengrass. While I was not as enthralled with the film, it did bare a lot of his signature trademarks.
More effective, but less Oscar baity, were his Bourne films. The Bourne Supremacy marked a distinct change in directorial vision for the series. It helped make sure the series did not get lost in the crowded action marketplace and became a thrilling piece of cinema that inspired many imitators. However, the crème de la crème of the series was the third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum. The stakes were higher, the kinetic energy was up, the camera was shakier. It was a thrill ride you wanted to go on again and again.
Funny enough, Oscar took notice, something it hadn’t done for the previous two films. It’s not uncommon for popcorn films to get below the line nominations. This explains its sound editing and sound mixing nominations. Film Editing is rare for a populist action film to get nominated for, but not impossible. The fact that this film won all three of those categories signals Greengrass was closer than we think to a directing nomination. After all, he had surprised at the BAFTAs. Few summer blockbuster films have had a director as experienced, exemplary and ambitious as Greengrass was for The Bourne Ultimatum. It’s a shame he didn’t reap a surprise nomination on Oscar morning, as the support for the film was there.
With Jason Bourne opening this weekend, it is unlikely this will be the year he takes to the Oscar stage. However, he doesn’t seem like the type of director we lose to the blockbuster mentality.
Top Paul Greengrass films
“The Bourne Ultimatum”
“The Bourne Supremacy”