Sizing Up 2014: Best Director

Richard Linklater, J.C. Chandor, and Ava DuVernay are among the names seeking their first Director nominations…

linklaterBoyhood01.ashxWelcome back to the Sizing Up Series. It’s time to continue this 2014 incarnation with an in-depth look at the Director candidates competing for a spot in this year’s Oscar lineup. As was the case last year (and the years before it, for that matter), there are a few things to keep an eye for this particular category. One obviously is that a whole lot will have to do with which films actually get nominated for Best Picture at the end of the year. The other is the ever tantalizing possibility of a Lone Director nod, though these days its almost the unicorn of Oscar prognostication. It used to be something that happened from time to time, but it hasn’t come close of late, so it’s been a story of the lack thereof a Lone Director, a trend I expect to continue. Is there a chance it changes? There’s always a chance (especially if a Terrence Malick type is in the race, for example), but with us firmly entrenched in the world of anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees in Best Picture, it makes the idea of the “Lone Director” one that’s more hypothetical than anything else. Of course, it could happen at some point in the future but it’s going to be unlikely for one to wind up breaking through, at least going by the odds. Not impossible, mind you…but I wouldn’t count on seeing it this year, or in too many instances going forward. Just keep that in mind when looking at this list. Anyway, why don’t we start sizing up this race!

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

Well, just to throw out a couple of that myriad names that have essentially zero chance of getting nominated, I’d say that we can pretty solidly cite Woody Allen (Magic in the Moonlight), Darren Aronofsky (Noah), David Dobkin (The Judge), Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Jon Favrau (Chef), and Jason Reitman (Men, Women & Children) as a few of the countless filmmakers who shouldn’t expect any mentions this season and 100% can count on being out of the Oscar race at this point. They’re solidly out of play for various reasons (regardless of the quality of their work, though some of their films disappointed to one degree or another…personally though, I’m very big on a few of these, particularly Reitman), but the point of the matter is simply…count those half-dozen gentlemen out of it. Let’s move on at this point to people with actual shots of making a dent in the race.

Now, on to the real contenders…

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first large grouping here consists of ten directors that I believe ultimately won’t be real big contenders/factors, but aren’t out of the race just yet. As usual, they either have films that won’t last in heavy contention until the end of the year, subject matter that could be out of the Academy’s particular comfort zone/wheelhouse, or just don’t seem to have the right kind of traction yet, which pretty much cripples them. Some of them are slightly likelier contenders than others, but for me I’m inclined to bet against them all right now and feel confident in that. The directors in question are the following:

Eleanor-Rigby-Chastain-Benson-ClassroomWes AndersonThe Grand Budapest Hotel
Ned BensonThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
John CarneyBegin Again
James GunnGuardians of the Galaxy
Craig JohnsonThe Skeleton Twins
Tommy Lee JonesThe Homesman
Theodore MelfiSt. Vincent
Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes
Ira SachsLove is Strange
Rupert WyattThe Gambler

A select few of these filmmakers have a better chance than the others of breaking away from the pack and moving towards an actual shot at Best Director, but I honestly don’t really see any of them going the distance. If I were to grab one that could actually stand a chance of doing it, I’d go with Tommy Lee Jones here, since I seem to be about the only one who doesn’t think this is a good movie. I don’t think it’ll ultimately do much, Academy wise, but Jones has a bit of a prayer at least. You can also try to make the case for Wes Anderson, Theodore Melfi, or even Rupert Wyatt, but they’re just very unlikely. In a different world, I think Ned Benson is in heavier play for his work, but the various versions of his film more or less doomed him Had just the original incarnation of the flick been the only thing pushed, the story might have been different…alas. Some bigger fish are about to be fried next though, so let us move on…

The “Second Tier” Contenders

This next collection of directors here are solidly in play for potential Best Director nods, but have definite question marks about their candidacy which may or may not stop them in their tracks. Some issues obviously relate to their film, while some do not and are more extraneous, but they definitely have at least one factor that negatively affects their chances. I’d say that there’s a decently good shot that there will be at least one from this list that makes it close to a nod the big show, but most of these will no doubt fade away before too long as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if one made it (or possibly even two), but I also wouldn’t be surprised if none of them do either. There’s ten of these particular filmmakers that would like to be considered big time contenders for the prize. I don’t see them as big ones yet, but like I said (and always say about this part of the piece each and every single year), they’re not far off, to one degree or another. The directors I see in this light are as follows:

xW_003401Paul Thomas AndersonInherent Vice
David AyerFury
Tim BurtonBig Eyes
J.C. ChandorA Most Violent Year
Clint EastwoodAmerican Sniper
Dan GilroyNightcrawler
James MarshThe Theory of Everything
Chris RockTop Five
Ridley ScottExodus: Gods and Kings
Jean-Marc ValléeWild

At some earlier point during this season, I think that someone out there could have made the slate up using just five of these ten directors (perhaps foolishly, but still), though the race has already clearly evolved way beyond that by now. The ones here sitting in the best spots are James Marsh and Jean-Marc Vallée, who both very nearly wound up a level higher in my top contenders section. Aside from them, who just have to hope their films wind up in the Best Picture lineup, there are potentially big contenders like Paul Thomas Anderson (though having seen the movie, I have a lot of doubts), J.C. Chandor, Clint Eastwood, and Ridley Scott. There’s also Tim Burton, but his buzz is nonexistent right now (what little there is isn’t good either). Marsh and Vallée are the ones to watch here, but some bigger players are standing in their way…

The “Pole Position” Contenders

Well, here we are. These are the dozen most likely contenders for the Best Director Oscar in my book. My personal Oscar predictions at The Awards Circuit in the Best Director category are contained within this list now, as you might expect. They each have a lot going in their favor and seem to be sitting in strong positions for some precursor love to come in the next couple of months. They’re also the directors of some of the most mentioned (and in most cases praised) films so far this year, and I don’t exact that to change too much anytime soon. The twelve filmmakers that I speak of? Well, here they are:

Whiplash-chazelle-5x3Damien ChazelleWhiplash
Ava DuVernaySelma
David FincherGone Girl
Alejandro González IñárrituBirdman
Angelina JolieUnbroken
Mike LeighMr. Turner
Richard LinklaterBoyhood
Rob MarshallInto the Woods
Bennett MillerFoxcatcher
Christopher NolanInterstellar
Jon StewartRosewater
Morten TyldumThe Imitation Game

There are a few names that I think we can all but write down in ink for nominations. There’s a trio of them, in fact. Those particular gentlemen would be Alejandro González Iñárritu, Richard Linklater, and Morten Tyldum. They’re also the most likely winners right now, though Iñárritu and Linklater are far more likely in my eyes than Tyldum. The biggest contenders we haven’t seen yet in this field are Angelina Jolie, and Rob Marshall. They could either crash the party big time or quickly fade away. Aside from those names, the most interesting story is going to be if Christopher Nolan finally cracks the lineup. Right now I have him in, but we’ll see. As for a potential dark horse, look to Damien Chazelle, who I currently have sneaking into the lineup. There’s also Ava Duvernay, who was just positively cited at AFI Fest but will have to potentially deal with Jolie in her way if voters are reluctant to nominate two women in one year (doesn’t make it right, but the odds don’t favor it). The other contenders of note here to really watch out for are David Fincher and Bennett Miller, who are far from out of the race. Mike Leigh and Jon Stewart are less likely, but worth considering as well (the former more so than the latter). In any event, it’s going to be very interesting to see which directors stick and which ones end up going away before we reach the end of the road in this category.

Obviously, this particular list will whittle itself down a pretty good deal as the weather gets chillier and the calendar turns over, but for now there’s a lot to look at and consider in this very big category. I think the ultimate nominees for Best Director will come from my pole position contenders (no surprises there, I’m sure), but we shall see what happens in the end. Anything is possible here folks.

Check out the Clayton’s official Oscar Predictions for Best Director!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

What do you think?


Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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