Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Director

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

BEST DIRECTOR

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1. STEVEN SPIELBERG
Lincoln

2. ANG LEE
LIFE OF PI

3. MICHAEL HANEKE
Amour

4. BENH ZEITLIN
Beasts of the Southern Wild

5. DAVID O. RUSSELL
Silver Linings Playbook

Missing: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty; Ben Affleck, Argo

I can’t get into the snubs here without getting über-depressed about my girl Kate and irrationally angry about Argo. So, let’s skip it. Just know that I think Kathryn Bigelow is a badass who, without question, deserves this award. Moving on… 

I’m thankful David O. Russell is here because his nomination ousted the Hoops. God bless you, sir. However, you don’t seem entirely sure what kind of film you’re directing (or have written). Is it a comedy? Or drama? Surely it needs not be confined to the conventions of a single genre, but the tone of Silver Linings Playbook shifts so fully, suddenly and frequently — one minute we’re in the middle of a breakdown, the next we’re back to jogging in garbage bags — it’s hard to tell what you’re going for (you and the Hoops seem to have that lack of clarity in common). Beyond that, romantic comedies — because frankly, that’s what the critical and popular consensus has pegged y1our film — do not Academy Award-winning directors make.

Yes, it’s true, Michel Hazanavicius won last year for his silent romantic comedy, The Artist — but the emphasis is on silent. It was that technically tricky gimmick that won him the gold, nothing else. With that exception, we can go as far back as 1972 for Cabaret (sure, you and I know it’s not a comedy, but these awards folks think musicals are so happy, what with all that singing and dancing!) or 1968 for Oliver! (another musical!) or perhaps you find The Graduate funny? I never did, but regardless, that was 1967. No director of comedy has won this award in the last forty years at least. Sorry, Dave.

Benh Zeitlin also plays fast and loose with tone, but it makes a bit more sense when Beasts of the Southern Wild is depicted as seen through the eyes of an imaginative six-year-old (she envisions being charged by aurochs, for goodness sake). The film is so theatrical (well, it was based on a play) and magical that it’s just plain gorgeous to watch. Parts of it look like floating, visual poetry — though I suppose we should also thank cinematographer Ben Richardson for that. Zeitlin’s nomination is but a whimsy of an Academy beguiled by its charms, but they know better than to hand him the actual award.

There’s been a lot of talk of Michael Haneke‘s “maturation” and “softening” as a director with Amour, which is pretty hilariousTrue, Amour is a love story of sorts, but it’s also a brutal, severe reminder of our mortality. This is the same guy, after all, who fucked with us with Funny Games and tortured us — ok, tortured me — with The White Ribbon; he’s not exactly gone suddenly soft on us. With subtle flash-forwards and flashbacks that slowly build tension and even fear, the pragmatic director guides two superb performances through a  slim, well-crafted script that is alternately tender and terrifying. It’s a devastating reminder of what’s to come, and  Haneke is well-positioned to spoil someone’s big night.

But whose? To be totally honest, I have no idea. Steven Spielberg tones done his Spielberg-ness — this is no War Horse, thank god — and directs Lincoln in a straightforward, unassuming style that is entirely subservient to Tony Kushner’s gorgeous script. And while I think Steve should win for the decade of work he put into this uncharacteristically subtle passion project, Lincoln is not going to win Best Picture, and I simply don’t see it winning for director if it’s also not going to also take home the big prize (yes, I know it’s happened before, but the odds are with me).  

On the other hand, Ang Lee dreamed the impossible dream and filmed the unfilmmable story. Life of Pi has its problems, but it could never have come to life without Lee’s exquisite sense of artistry. No, it won’t win Best Picture, but Lee’s used to that (a moment of silence for Brokeback, please) — and so is the Academy. Sometimes they get their heads out of their asses far enough to recognize a true visionary at work; I think they might be able to do so again. Plus, Lee is just so darn cute. How can you not love him?

Even as I conclude this post, I doubt myself. My prediction will surely change within the hour. If you use me for your office Oscar pools, please do us both a favor and just go with your gut on this one; this Oscar season is killing me.

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2013 by in Award Predictions, Directing, Oscar-Nominated and tagged , , , , , .

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