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The Five Directors who will be Competing at the Oscars

February 13, 2012

By John C.

Michel Hazanavicius

With the Academy Awards just under two weeks away, there is surprisingly little commentary or opinion to add at this point in the race.  As many of the top categories appear easy to predict, all that we can really do is wait it out until we see who takes home the gold on February 26th.  Although I’m not holding my breath that this will be a ceremony of many surprises, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking a closer look at the nominees in some of the major categories.

When the nominations were announced on January 24th, one of the most steller categories was for Best Director.  Although four of the five nominees are veterans of the industry and some of the finest directors working today, the frontrunner has quickly become Michel Hazanavicius.  Already a popular director in his native France, The Artist is the first of his films to really make a splash with international audiences.

Over the years, Woody Allen has gotten numerous Best Director and Best Screenplay nominations to his name.  The only time he won was in 1977 for the great Annie Hall, which was also the last true comedy to win Best Picture.  The delightful Midnight in Paris is one of his great modern films and a nostalgic love letter to the past that pays tribute to some of the biggest icons of the 1920’s, but as is the case with four of these five directors, the nomination here really is the award.  The most we can hope for is that he will take home Best Original Screenplay, although don’t expect to see Woody Allen in the audience as he is infamous for not attending awards shows.

Since 1973, Terrence Malick has only directed five films.  But he has a fully realized and deeply beautiful cinematic style that is instantly recognizable.  Having gotten his first Best Director nomination in 1998 for The Thin Red Line, it was a nice surprise to hear his name called for The Tree of Life.  Standing among the greats of modern cinema, Terrence Malick is a true visonary and his epic look at both the creation of the universe and the life of a family in the 1950’s is a uniquely beautiful film that is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  We likely won’t see the reclusive director in the audience at the Kodak Theatre as he usually avoids big crowds and large events, but I’m expecting Emmanual Lubezki will take home Best Cinematography for the stunning way that he helped bring Terrence Malick’s unique vision to the screen in The Tree of Life.

Alexander Payne is a director who always delivers fascinating character studies with consistently excellent performances from the entire cast, and The Descendants is no exception.  A deeply moving look at a family coming together through tragedy, the film features Best Actor hopeful George Clooney in one of the best performances of his career.  The screenplay based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings is nothing short of brilliant.  But as was the case when Alexander Payne was nominated back in 2004 for Sideways but lost to Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby, the nomination here should be seen as the award.  It’s also interesting to note that Alexander Payne has made as many films in the last fifteen years as Terrence Malick did in over forty.

These are all great directors who created films that were uniquely their own and fit in perfectly with their previous work, but the one I would love to see take home the gold is Martin Scorsese for Hugo.  One of the greatest directors of all time, Scorsese won his first Oscar in 2006 for the ensemble crime drama The Departed.  That was an excellent film and he deserved to win, but it’s shocking that he only has one Best Director trophy to his name.  It would only be fitting if he won for Hugo, which is perhaps his most personal work to date.  A love letter to the classic cinema that he advocates to preserve, this is a beautifully realized and visually breathtaking adaptation of the novel by Brian Selznick.

But Martin Scorsese is becoming more and more of a dark horse, and at this point in time I don’t think that he will actually win come Oscar night.  Best Director will likely be presented to Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, the wonderful tribute to black and white silent films that is expected to make a clean sweep of the awards.  Despite having already more than proven himself with the amusing spy spoofs OSS 117, the French director is still considered a relative newcomer when compared to these iconic veterans of the industry.  Although I would still love to see Martin Scorsese sneak in and take the award, Michel Hazanavicius’ nomination is highly deserved for his passion project The Artist, and having already won the top prize at the Directors Guild he seems like the clear frontrunner.

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