We’ve reached a dozen entries in our Six Spot series!
Few narratives have been as juicy and satisfying as the 2009 Battle of the Exes. The director race came down between Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, who used to be married to each other. Cameron had the highest grossing movie of all-time which broke new technological ground. Bigelow’s film was in a tried and true Oscar genre, had critical buzz and support and would be the first female director to win the prize. With everyone concentrated on Bigelow vs. Cameron, the other three slots seemed to have gone to the same people. However, who came in sixth place in this lineup? Let’s first take a look at the five nominees that we got.
THE NOMINEES WERE:
- Kathryn Bigelow: “The Hurt Locker” – WINNER
- James Cameron: “Avatar”
- Lee Daniels: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
- Jason Reitman: “Up in the Air”
- Quentin Tarantino: “Inglourious Bastards”
As said before, the competition was between Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron. Bigelow was the critical favorite (Critics Choice, LAFCA and NYFCC winner) who also had guild/Oscar voter support (DGA and BAFTA winner). “The Hurt Locker” was also framed as the David going up against the Goliath “Avatar,” which helped from a narrative perspective. Cameron, meanwhile, had a Golden Globes win (where he said he “had to piss”) and a huge pile of money going into the Oscars. It was always Bigelow’s to lose, but the directing category was always framed as a race between both of them.
In third place was Quentin Tarantino, who was always positioned as a potential spoiler if the former Mr. and Mrs. split the vote. “Inglourious Basterds” was a buzzy summer hit and Tarantino (still) never won Best Director. His spot was always secure. Spots four and five were vulnerable, but both Reitman and Daniels were expected to make it. With “Up in the Air,” Jason Reitman showed the Academy “Juno” was no fluke. Thus, they were more than willing to double down on their love for him. With Lee Daniels, “Precious” was the Sundance sensation and limited release hit that was hard to ignore. Based on the film’s surprise Adapted Screenplay win, it seems “Precious” had even more love within the Academy than expected. So who came closest to knocking out Daniels or Reitman?
THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:
- Wes Anderson, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” – New York Film Critics Circle Runner Up
- Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” – Best Picture Nominee, BAFTA Nominee, Online Film Critics Society
- Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “A Serious Man” – Best Picture Nominee, Online Film Critics Society, Indie Spirit Nominee
- Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson, “Up” – Best Picture Nominee
- Clint Eastwood, “Invictus” – Golden Globe Nominee, National Board of Review Winner, Critics Choice Nominee
- John Lee Hancock, “The Blind Side” – Best Picture Nominee
- Lone Scherfig, “An Education” – Best Picture Nominee, BAFTA Nominee
ANIMATED FEATURE DIRECTORS
The year 2009 was great for animated features. On one hand, you have Pixar’s “Up,” which became the second animated feature nominated for Best Picture. The movie was an instant hit. To this day, people still cite it as one of the biggest tearjerkers of all time thanks to a, particularly wrenching opening sequence. So how close did co-directors Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson come to becoming the first directing nominees for an Animated Film? Based on no major precursors taking a chance and nominating them, it seems they weren’t really in the hunt. Still, “Up” was a fairly secure Best Picture nominee. Those who were taken with the film could have been nominating it all down the line.
One thing that may have hurt Doctor and Peterson’s chances was another animated director stealing focus. Wes Anderson, who had shown up in the writing categories beforehand, tried his hand at directing animation with “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The film wowed critics, even if it didn’t light the box office on fire. While Doctor and Peterson didn’t receive directing nominations, Anderson was the runner-up for the New York Film Critics Circle’s directing prize. Did he maybe have a better chance than the “Up” directors, or did he just siphon off votes to keep them from the lineup?
FORMER OSCAR WINNERS
The motto of the 2009 awards season is to never count out Clint Eastwood in the precursors. “Invictus” fumbled with Oscars at the end of the day, only receiving 2 nominations (Actor – Morgan Freeman, Supporting Actor – Matt Damon). However, leading up to nominations, some still thought Clint Eastwood could be a major Oscar player. Eastwood started off the awards season strong with a win at the National Board of Review, a group that throws prizes at Eastwood at the drop of a hat. Following that, Eastwood showed up in both the Critics Choice and Golden Globes director lineups. In fact, he’s the only person to show up in either lineup that did not make the Oscar five. These factors, plus Eastwood’s two Oscar wins for directing, made him a strong competitor this year. However, it seems the buzz fell off too quickly for him.
Some other former Oscar winners had a completely different precursor journey to Eastwood. The Coen Brothers were still celebrating their recent Best Director win for “No Country for Old Men” in 2007. Their 2009 film, “A Serious Man,” was thought of as an initial serious competitor. However, the film had very low box office numbers, despite critical adulation. This makes some pundits think of it as a minor work for the Coens. Still, they were able to get notices from the Indie Spirits and Online Film Critics Society. However, the film was able to muster up enough passion to sneak into the ten wide Best Picture field. Though the film may not have had widespread love, could this passion have translated to a surprise Best Director nomination?
EXPANDED BEST PICTURE NOMINEES
How nice would it have been to see two female directors make the Best Director lineup? In the 91 year history of the Oscars, we’ve never seen a directing category with two female nominees. Arguably, 2009 was the closest we came to that happening. Lone Scherfig’s film “An Education” mustered a great deal of support to receive three Oscar nominations (Picture, Actress, Adapted Screenplay). While Scherfig’s direction wasn’t honored a whole lot during the precursor season, she did get a BAFTA nomination in the directing category. Since BAFTA shares a good deal of members with the Academy, could this support have translated to a Best Director nomination?
This same argument could apply to fellow BAFTA-nominee Neill Blomkamp for his feature debut, “District 9.” The science fiction film was a late summer surprise hit. This support ultimately translated to a surprising Best Picture nomination, as well as Adapted Screenplay. The success of “District 9” made Blomkamp a hot director. He later squandered this momentum with a disastrous one-two punch of “Elysium” and “Chappie.” However, there’s a case to be made that Oscar would’ve wanted to support this exciting new director in the way they had just done with Jason Reitman (“Juno”) and would do for Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”).