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Here are the Oscar nominees for Best Director this year:
Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
The lowdown: As usual, the big story here are the directors who weren’t nominated: Ben Affleck for Argo, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Tom Hooper for Les Misérables, and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained, all of which at one point were poised as potential frontrunners for the big prize. Their exclusions feel odd, though I’m not sure if they send a deliberate message. Truthfully, only Bigelow deserves to be on this list.
The good news? All four of these movies still got a Best Picture nod. More good news? All four of these directors already have at least one Oscar from various categories. Best news of all? They opened up room for Haneke and Zeitlin, who directed what I consider to be the year’s two best films.
However, I’d skip Russell altogether – he made a mess out of Silver and a mockery of mental illness, creating a hollow Hollywood fairy tale with a soupcon of grit thrown in for realism. Lee, for my money, is the most versatile director working today, as both an actors’ director and a true cineaste, but I could take or leave Life of Pi, which amounts to little more than a gorgeous bait-and-switch. I don’t think this is Lee’s year, anyway, as he already has two Oscars.
That leaves Spielberg, the most successful director of all time and a previous winner here for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Only two other directors have three Oscars: Frank Capra and William Wyler; John Ford holds the record with four. None of these have won in over fifty years. For Spielberg to join their ranks would, and should, be huge.
And…it’s just not. Is Lincoln a crown jewel in Spielberg’s career? I’m not so sure it screams masterpiece to me. And how is it that he has not won a single pre-cursor? No critics’ awards. No Golden Globe. No Directors’ Guild Award. (Many of these have gone to Affleck). It’s a crazy category with no momentum, and though there is the slightest chance of an upset here to Russell or Haneke, I say Spielberg takes it in the equivalent of a cinematic steal.
Snubs: Bigelow, Leos Carax (Holy Motors), Terence Davies (Deep Blue Sea), Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister).
Should win: Haneke
Will win: Spielberg (yawn)