2017 Oscar Nominations Focus: Best Director

The nominations of the Directors Guild Awards for Best Director of 2016 have not really changed the Oscar predictions all that much, though the inclusion of Garth Davis was a shock, and the nomination of Nate Turner for Best First Film with ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was a welcome surprise.

That said, the omission of Martin Scorsese for ‘Silence’ is a disappointment and something of a surprise given directors nominate directors and must have understood the achievement of Scorsese’s work, at the very least. Snubbed too was Mel Gibson for ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, a fine film that has generated Oscar talk since its release. Both will pose challenge for the Academy Awards I think.

Damien Chazelle has been the frontrunner for months now with no sign of backlash or attacks coming, the film is universally beloved, audiences love it as much as critics and, those same critics are seeing it a second and third time! Chazelle seems to be the guy to be beat though they might honor his film and give Best Director to another in an effort to spread the wealth.

And Barry Jenkins could be the other for Moonlight, a critically acclaimed work that has earned the filmmaker critics awards through December and January. The powerful film explores the life of a young black man from childhood on and his relationship with his junkie mother and drug dealing mentor. Armed with ferociously good performances, the film has stormed through the award season, earning many honors including Best Director citations.

Kenneth Lonergan who both directed and wrote Manchester By the Sea could also prove to be an upset with a Best Director win, but is more likely to take the screenplay award. His exquisite film is heartbreaking and filled with surprising humor and startling humanity.

Controversial Mel Gibson won Best Director and Picture for Braveheart (1995), but has surpassed that twice with The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006), without a nomination for Best Director. So will they forgive Mel Gibson and nominate him for ‘Hacksaw Ridge’? The film is one of the best war films ever made, and an outstanding tale of heroism, exactly the sort of movie the Academy loves.

‘Arrival’, beautifully directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve comes one year after Sicario (2015) which many felt should have earned him an Oscar nomination. Already armed with a DGA nod, it appears he is headed for an Academy Award nomination for this majestic science fiction epic. Bravo for a fellow Canadian!

Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese directed ‘Silence’ with so much passion and heart, he might find himself nominated for just that. His reverent film is the most intimate, personal of his career and easily among his finest, exploring the directors very unique relationship with religion and the existence of God. The achievement cannot be denied, it is extraordinary to make a film such as this with the less than fifty million dollar budget he had, the production values are exquisite, the performances superb and Scorsese’s direction was sublime. He deserves a nomination but it might not happen this time. That said, if the film were to get a single nomination, Best Director should be it. I am hoping for the master, we will see.

In David MacKenzie we have a bold filmmaker who took a crime story about two brothers on the run from a determined about to retire old sheriff in Texas and turned into something akin to Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Badlands (1974), in other words, sheer brilliance. Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster are superb, and the forgotten man, Chris Pine brilliant, in making this one of the years very best films. MacKenzie would be a welcome nominee in a tough year.

Tom Ford guided ‘Nocturnal Animals’, a stylish, smooth film with strong performances from the entire cast, but it just never grabbed audiences coming out of TIFF until the end of December. There has been a lot of love for the film recently and it could snare a few nominations and an out of field Best Director nomination could be among them.

Garth Davis has a Directors Guild nod in his pocket and Harvey Weinstein’s cheque-book in his corner for ‘Lion’, both which could bode well for him. ‘Lion’ has a huge following, is well liked by audiences and some critics (it was OK), is well acted by Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, and is the sort of human spirit film the Academy celebrates, sometimes.

Finally, the Academy loves it when actors direct, they love it even more when they direct well and are fast to hand them an Oscar. Robert Redford, Richard Attenborough, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, and Ron Howard are among the actors to win directing Oscars, and in the mix this year could be Denzel Washington for ‘Fences’. He took the acclaimed August Wilson play and made it a masterful film with sterling performances.

It is a highly competitive year that will see some very fine work snubbed, and the Academy being the Academy will throw us at east one curve in this category.

The five nominated, I believe will be, Chazelle, Lonergan, Scorsese, Jenkins, and Villeneuve. The other groups and critics guild might have forgiven Mel Gibson, but the wounds run deep and the Academy might be loathe to go there just yet. David MacKenzie could slip in meaning Scorsese gets bumped, or they might drop a bomb and ignore Jenkins and nominate Denzel Washington for ‘Fences’.

Read More: The 10 Best Movies of Martin Scorsese, Ranked