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Ben Affleck Wins at the Directors Guild, but who will Triumph at the Oscars?

February 4, 2013

By John C.

Ben AffleckBen Affleck won the top prize at the Directors Guild Awards on Saturday for his impeccable work behind the camera on Argo, an honour that is even more deserved after he was left off the list of nominations at the Academy Awards.  The field of five nominees was rounded out by Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Tom Hooper for Les Misérables, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln.

Equally interesting about this lineup is that only Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg are actually in the running at the Oscars, where the field is rounded out by Michael Haneke for Amour, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  This makes predicting the winner even harder, because by all accounts everyone expected Ben Affleck to be the frontrunner.

What we are left to talk about are nine directors who have been honoured throughout this awards season, including Quentin Tarantino who was recognized at the Golden Globes for Django Unchained, and the five nominees that made it to the Oscars.  Tom Hooper won for The King’s Speech in 2010 and did a good job handling the strong performances that make up Les Misérables, but he was essentially bringing a popular stage show to the big screen and I never expected him to get an Oscar nomination.  But with Argo and Zero Dark Thrirty, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow both delivered films that very much felt like the work of a director perfectly in tune with what they were doing behind the camera, and many were shocked to see them not get recognized at the Academy Awards.

But the list of directors honoured with Oscar nominations is still undeniably strong.  Because Silver Linings Playbook was a deeply personal project for David O. Russell, the film feels like a perfect mix of directing and performances all playing together in harmony, with an energy that makes it one of the most exhilaratingly complete packages of last year.  I’m glad to see the director get his second Academy Award nomination for the film, after The Fighter.  Perhaps the biggest surprise inclusion at the Oscars was Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it was an exciting debut for the young director and I think he deserves recognition for the beautifully made film, which is one of my favourites of 2012.

Equally interesting is the fact that Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg have been the only two constants in terms of nominations throughout the season, being recognized at the Golden Globes, DGAs and the Oscars.  After winning Best Director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain but losing Best Picture to Crash, Ang Lee did the impossible with Life of Pi, delivering a visually beautiful adaptation of the spiritually confounding novel that many thought would be unfilmable.  Bringing the story of Lincoln to the big screen was a passion project for Steven Spielberg, and this dedication shines through in the film.  This is his seventh nomination for Best Director and he last won for Saving Private Ryan in 1999, another year that saw a split with Best Picture when the top prize went to Shakespeare in Love.

With heartbreaking realism, Michael Haneke captures the feeling that we are watching the last few days in the life of an elderly woman in Amour, with the steady shots and no musical score that have become trademarks of his films.  This is his first nomination for Best Director, but the film is the frontrunner for Best Foreign Language, which is likely the only category where it will triumph.  Because there are nine films in the running for Best Picture and only five slots for Best Director, there were always going to be several filmmakers who wouldn’t be included on the list of nominees.  But it does make the Oscars that much harder to predict, other than the fact that we will likely see a split between the two categories.

This awards season could end up playing out like the end of last night’s Super Bowl, when the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31.  It was an intense game filled with excellent touchdowns that was delayed by a power outage, but still provided genuine suspense right through to the end of the final quarter.  At this point I would put my money on Steven Spielberg winning Best Director for Lincoln, and Ben Affleck triumphing in the Best Picture category for Argo, but it’s a strong category of contenders and we really won’t know for sure until all is said and done on February 24th.

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