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Longlists to Nominees: Director

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Shane Carruth at work on Upstream Color.

Some directors are auteurs. Some are hired guns. The rest fall somewhere in between. What matters here are the results. Luckily, this year yielded some good ones. The contenders:

  • Shane Carruth (Upstream Color)
  • Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
  • Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers)
  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
  • Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty)
  • Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners)
  • Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin)

As good as all of these directing jobs are, from my perspective this category is at least 80% locked. Maybe 100%. Let’s dig in.

  • Shane Carruth (Upstream Color)

What Carruth accomplished here–wearing as many as hats as he did, and wearing them all so well–is nothing short of amazing. There’s no doubt, seeing the finished film, that this is the film he set out to make. That it is so beautiful a film only adds to the wonder of it. Locked in.

  • Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

There’s no question that Cuarón did a hell of a job here. It’s a most impressive film in so many respects. But he also co-wrote the script, and the script is what keeps the film from being a great film (a decent ways from it, really). And, much as I respect what he did (and wouldn’t begrudge him the Oscar), I can’t nominate him. Not until I’ve at least seen the film again.

  • Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)

I can understand why the Academy overlooked Shane Carruth (most of them, I’m sure, have never heard of him), but how did they overlook Greengrass, especially since they nominated this for Best Picture? Greengrass is one of the best thriller directors working, and the tension here is well-nigh unbearable at times. If I don’t nominate him, it’s because there wasn’t room. The direction is marvelous.

  • Spike Jonze (Her)

This is such a lovely film. And Jonze does such a wonderful job with it, both as a writer and as a director. The Academy may well recognize his script (and should), but they didn’t nominate his direction, and it’s their loss. (Was American Hustle really that much better?) He’s not a 100% lock, but I really loved his work here and it’s a shortlister for sure.

  • Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers)

If you’ve seen the film, I think you know why he’s here. If you haven’t, just trust me…he belongs.

Oh, and see this movie.

  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

The first time I saw this film, when I saw the attempted-hanging scene, I said, “Enough. Give him the Oscar.”

Haven’t changed my mind since.

  • Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Great movie. Very solid direction. Not nomination-strong (it’s not as good as, say, Sideways), but it’s part of what makes the movie so good. I think the Academy went a little far in nominating him (especially over Greengrass and Jonze), but I don’t mind it terribly, either. 

  • Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

It’s Scorsese. One of the best and most beloved directors still working. To make a film, at 71 no less, that inspires people to cry out in disgust, to make a truly insane, balls-to-the-walls, comic thrill ride (unlike, say, a certain Mr. Russell), is nothing short of inspirational. Now, to be fair, this isn’t on the level of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, or The Aviator–but it’s one hell of a job nonetheless. I’ll refrain from nominating him (though I’m glad the Academy did), but I sure do appreciate what he accomplished.

  • Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty)

He was never getting nominated, I just wanted to acknowledge the quality of his work here. He crafts some great moments, and if the film doesn’t hold together as a whole (it wastes too much time getting to the real meat of the story), Sorrentino’s skills are still frequently on display. I’d like to check out more of his work.

  • Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners)

If Greengrass directed a great high-stakes, high-energy thriller, then Villeneuve directed a low-key, slow-yet-relentless one, and the achievement is nearly as impressive. From the superb sense of a small American town in winter, to the deliberate, cold-blooded pacing, to the stark depiction of obsession, to the moments of explosive action, Villeneuve crafted something really special here. As a directing job, it falls just short of a nomination (especially this year), but I look forward to more from him (and need to see Incendies).

  • Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin)

This movie is so fucking incredible, in every way. Zhangke’s vision–of a China held in thrall to a corrupt system, and of a few people who try and fight back–is perfectly realized. Of course, the Chinese government wasn’t too wild about it and didn’t submit it for the Oscar, and it was not much seen here (though it made a few critics’ top-ten lists), but perhaps that’s only further proof of the film’s effectiveness. It certainly worked for me. He’s on.

Carruth, Korine, McQueen, and Zhangke are on. That leaves Greengrass and Jonze vying for the final spot.

And really, I take Jonze. Greengrass did a great job, but Her is too good to turn down.

Tomorrow, I decide on the final ten Best Picture nominees, and announce the OFFICIAL FINAL NOMINEES!

The nominees:

  • Shane Carruth (Upstream Color)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers)
  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
  • Jia Zhangke (A Touch of SIn)
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