Since the time Best Picture nomination list was expanded from five to up-to ten films, “Best Director” category has become the most important of the night. This year it will be incredibly competitive, with a strong field of potential first time nominees, vying for the award with previous winners and nominees. It is as they say, “going to be a wild ride” till Oscar night.
With the announcement that Martin Scorsese’s Silence will indeed be released in December, Scorsese lands in discussions of the Best Director race. Of the last six films he has made, five have been nominated for Best Picture, and he has earned five nominations for Best Director, winning Best Director for The Departed (2006). There has been concern expressed from some critics that the film could be another Kundun (1997), the director’s beautiful but dull study of the Dalai Lama, but I believe he is a different director than he was back in 1997. It is my feeling he has made a three-hour epic that explores the depth of a man’s spirituality and devotion to his religion. We will see when the screenings start, but I have the utmost confidence in Scorsese. How can one not? Somewhere along the way the Academy has come to love Scorsese, forgetting the fact they snubbed him for years through the seventies, eighties and nineties, often not nominating him for his finest works! I sense they want to honor him again, and this could give them a chance to do so. True he should have won for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but come on Welles lost for Citizen Kane (1941)…it happens.
If Silence is as strong as I think it is going to be be, the other four nominees will be hard pressed to bump Scorsese off the inside rack headed towards the Oscar. But it could happen.
Damien Chazelle has done what Scorsese tried to do, make an original musical that paid homage to the films of years gone by, and create something new. Scorsese tried this with New York, New York (1977) which was a failure, whereas La La Land is most certainly NOT a failure. From the breathtaking opening frames, that stunning song and dance on the freeway moving into LA through to its incredible conclusion, La La Land is a film knockout, a dreamscape of a film that blisses the audience out. It feels alive from the opening, moves, and bounces, and is infectious in every way, my God I found myself smiling several times through the movie!! Audiences love it, and the cynical, jaded critics at TIFF cheered each song and dance like they were at a Broadway play, it was startling to witness, and had I not been in the audience, I would be hard pressed to believe it. Chazelle made a lovely film, and if anyone can snatch the Oscar from Scorsese it could be him.
I do not believe Ang Lee has much of a chance this year for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, I am just not feeling it for the film. Call it instinct, call it gut feeling, call it whatever you want, but I am not feeling much for this movie or Lee’s chances for a third Oscar. He could, but something about the trailer left me cold and I believe if the Academy could take back that Oscar for Life of Pi (2012) they would do just that, and honor either Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (2012) or Steven Spielberg for Lincoln (2012).
There is a sense in the Hollywood community that Ben Affleck is owed a nomination for the snub he received for Argo (2012) which won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. He could be in the running this year for his noir Live By Night, which could also see him receive an acting nomination. The film was slated for a 2017 release, but the studio got a look at the picture and decided it was Oscar bait and coming out this year. Affleck is a proven director, he has yet to make even a weak movie as a director, and frankly deserved a nomination for Argo (2012) which won him the DGA Award for Best Director.
The Academy loves to honor actors who direct, and have a long love affair with those who do, from Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Richard Attenborough, through Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, up to and including Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood. This year it could be Denzel Washington, who has directed one of the finest plays as a film, the superb Lanford Wilson drama Fences. More than twenty years have gone by since the first talk of the play becoming a film started, but finally, after a revival on Broadway which included Washington and Viola Davis caused interest in the work as a film again, here we are. Acting nominations are a given, and if the film is remotely good, Washington makes the cut with a directing nomination.
I would love to see Denis Villenueve be nominated for his superb Arrival, an astounding drama about man’s first contact with aliens, an intelligent, deeply moving, and powerful work that left audience breathless at TIFF. Nate Parker could be nominated for his film The Birth of a Nation, though the recent scandal from his pat might have killed his chances altogether, which is too bad because the film is of merit. Barry Jenkins could slip in with Moonlight, Clint Eastwood can never be discounted for Sully, and Jeff Nichols could be nominated for Loving, which would also be a double nod for Midnight Special.
Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece Manchester By the Sea should see the director nominated along with his cast, and if the Academy is paying attention this could be a multiple winner. His handling of the actors is astonishing, with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams doing career best work.
And finally Mel Gibson could be back in the Oscar circle with Hacksaw Ridge, which has been drawing raves and ovations wherever it is seen. Hollywood loves to forgive….so we’ll see.