If the imaginary Oscars were held today, that is, if everything went as it’s expected to go, the Best Director category would look something like this:

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Miz
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

The next tier would be:

Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises
Peter Jackson, The Hobbit

Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Ben Affleck, Argo
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Bob Zemeckis,  Flight
Terrence Malick, To the Wonder
Joe Wright, Anna Karenina
David O’Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Cloud Atlas

Hope Springs Eternal:

Michael Haneke, Amour
Nicolas Jarecki, Arbitrage
Ben Lewin, the Sessions
Dustin Hoffman, Quartet
Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives
Mike Newell, Great Expectations
Roger Michell, Hyde Park on the Hudson

Many of you will want to savage the main lineup but, to my mind, that is the main lineup. We don’t know how any of those movies will play. Maybe they’ll all be good. Maybe a couple will be terrible. The only thing we know for sure is to have faith in the publicists pushing various films. They are more reliable than critics because, even though they have to sell crap because that is their job, they usually won’t roll with a turkey if they can help it. So if they’re standing firmly behind one movie they’re doing so because they think it’s worth selling.

It’s the Oscar race backwards. Since they changed the date, and since the internet exploded with self-made critics and bloggers, it can no longer be — the movies open and, depending on how well they do with the public, that perception helps to determine their Oscar-ability. Now it’s publicists who choose movies they think they can push, as well, and they start pushing them long before they ever get to theaters.

Barring a great film popping up out of nowhere, when I look at the year I think, okay, what studio is pushing what film? and work back from there.  For the most part, the Oscar race runs like clockwork in that way.  But there is always room for some kind of surprise.

Last year around this time, Gurus of Gold went like this:

1. War Horse (sight unseen)
2. The Ides of March (sight unseen)
3. The Artist (seen at Cannes.)
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (sight unseen)
5. The Descendants (not yet seen? Telluride.) 
6. Midnight in Paris (seen)
7. J. Edgar (sight unseen)
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (maybe seen in the UK?)
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not seen)
10. Tree of Life (seen at Cannes) 

Of all of these, three made it in sight unseen but had no chance of winning. It looks like it’s evenly split, though. Three seen, three not seen. Worth noting that The Help, Moneyball also placed but not in the top ten. Only one of the eventual BP nominees, Hugo, was not high on this list.  In that instance the studio especially and the director were horribly underestimated.

The year before it looked like this:

1. Inception (seen)
2. The King’s Speech (seen)
3. Toy Story 3 (seen)
4. The Kids Are All Right (seen, Sundance)
5. The Social Network (seen)
6. Black Swan (not seen)
7. True Grit (not seen)
8. Another Year (seen, Cannes)
9. 127 Hours (not seen)
10. Winter’s Bone (seen, Sundance) 

That was an especially easy year to call.  Most of the films were seen by now.

To my mind, it is always better to go with seen than unseen.  But I put my faith in publicists who generally know whether their dog will hunt.  I feel strongly that Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom are the two strongest right now heading into the festival season. Venice and Telluride will happen at exactly the same time.  Toronto shortly thereafter and then the New York Film Festival.  We will know by the end of it what the Oscar year will (mostly) look like, unless the Big Oscar Movies won’t go to the festivals.  And then, we’re all going to be fumbling around in the dark.


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  • Jack

    Even if Lincoln does win Best Picture, I still truly believe PT Anderson will win Director.

    1. PT Anderson- The Master
    2. Steven Spielberg- Lincoln
    3. Tom Hooper- Les Miserables
    4. Ben Affleck- Argo
    5. Ang Lee- Life of Pi

  • For me, although there are some strong contenders (and potential contenders) at this stage, none strike me as a likely winner. Spielberg has won twice before, Bigelow and Hooper both won recently, Zeitlin is too unknown, PTA may be too alternative. But The Master could become too big to ignore. And if Life of Pi can threaten the top spot, perhaps they’ll give out to Ang Lee again, and in Best Picture too…

    They repented their Crash debacle with rewarding critics’ darlings, now they have a chance to reward an Ang Lee film. Now all we need is for a gay cowboy movie to win Best Picture and we’re settled 😀

  • rAr

    PT Anderson
    Wes Anderson
    Kathryn Bigelow
    Ang Lee
    Steven Spielberg

    The previews for Les Miz look too much like Phantom of the Opera. Hooper won’t pull it off.

  • Peter Jackson will not get nominated for directing The Hobbit Part 1 of 3. Not even close. Take it to the bank.

    My Spidey sense also tells me that there will be at least one Anderson as a directing nominee, more than likely two.

    Only two women are possible nominees right now and one of them is part of a team. And neither of them is from an indie production. Pathetic.

  • JP

    I sign down Jack’s nominees list but disagree on PTA. I think he wins writing. A split can only happen in very special situations. If David Fincher couldn’t make a split happen 2 years ago I really doubt PTA will if Lincoln happens to be the BP frontrunner. Lincoln doesn’t look the kind of film that loses directing if wins BP. Gladiator also didn’t look but that was a very special situation. Sodebergh had 2 directing nods and The Master looks more divisive than Traffic.

  • steve50

    sight unseen, mostly:
    Lee (Pi for the win)
    Bigelow (have a feeling she’s going to impress big)
    Anderson (can’t ignore)
    Zeitlin (nobody ever heard of Havawhateverthefuckicious, either)
    Nolan or Affleck (likely the latter)

    I don’t know why – just because.

  • rufusondheim

    I know people are going to dismiss this post because Tom Hooper just won and for many it was an underserved win (full discosure, I have yet to see The King’s Speech) but I think he is the frontrunner right now.

    I think his decision to film the singing live rather than using pre-recorded vocals is a brilliant one. To the best of my knowledge this has never been done in a musical before (well, maybe in Once, which appears to have used both methods) but it’s certainly never been done in a major movie musical before.

    I think this will result in the Les Miz film having a sense of immediacy unknown in filmed musicals. I predict a common praise of the film will be “it was like I was in the actual theater” (imagine throwing 3D into the mix.) I’m imagining the non-solo songs and how exciting they will be (At the End of the Day, Confrontation, Master of the House) and of course there will be the triumphant One Day More.

    I don’t love Les Miz the musical, I think it is a bit dull at times and it’s rescued by about five great songs. But this version, with it’s ability to be tightly edited could be even more exciting than seeing the actual show.

    I firmly believe this is a decision that will revolutionize how musicals are filmed and will cause a flood of musicals to be adapted into film in the coming years (Crossing my fingers for The Last Five Years)

    Not only could Tom Hooper deserve this award, you could have a huge segment of the Academy clamouring to give him this award (notice I spelled that that English way) I mean, c’mon, almost every actor and many others got interested in show business because of theater (in school and community) – the older academy members did not grow up in the ease and cheapness of the digital age.

    I think he’s such an overwhelming favorite at this point in the game that I’m not going to consider anyone else unless Les Miz does not get an enthusiastic critical response or there is one film that’s so amazing, that’s so heads and tails above the others, that it simply can’t be denied

  • Joe W

    Since nobody knows anything, but it’s fun anyways…

    1. Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
    2. Spielberg (Lincoln)
    3. Affleck (Argo)
    4. Anderson (The Master)
    5. Zeitlin (Beasts)

    6. Tarantino (Django)
    7. Nolan (Dark Knight)
    8. Jackson (Hobbit)

  • Best Director
    1. Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
    2. Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
    3. Joe Wright for Anna Karenina
    4. Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
    5. Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

    6. Dustin Hoffman for Quartet
    7. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski for Cloud Atlas

  • Zach Laws

    As much as I loved “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, I just don’t see Benh Zeitlin getting a Best Director nomination, and maybe it’s for the best: as we’ve seen before, there is such a thing as peaking too early (just looks at M. Night Shymalan, Peter Cattaneo, Chris Noonan, John Singleton, etc). Better for him to build up a reputation for delivering strong films before the Academy decides to honor him, thus making it harder for him to live up to his early success.

    The closest thing I see as being a lock right now in this category (and even that’s subject to change) is Wes Anderson for “Moonrise Kingdom”: he’s never been nominated in this category, so he’s got the overdue factor, and this is easily his strongest work since “The Royal Tenenbaums”. If he can survive the upcoming season, he’s in. Once again, Christopher Nolan will more-than-likely be left out of the race for “The Dark Knight Rises”: I just don’t feel the fervor I felt with “The Dark Knight”, or with “Inception” for that matter. However, a groundswell of support could arise for the film, especially if the other Warner Bros. releases prove to be less than stellar.

    Sight unseen, the crowd is fairly packed with previous winners/nominees: Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, David O. Russell, Terence Malick, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis. And let’s not forget those who’ve yet to be nominated in this category: Ben Affleck, Michael Haneke, Joe Wright, Mike Newell. Having not seen any of the films, it’s just too early to tell who will be left out of this crowded field.

    All I know is this: “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a remarkable film, one that inspires me to go out and make a film of my own, whether the Academy chooses to honor it or not.

  • Ivan


  • Eckhard

    you have a typo: Ang Lee didn’t direct Clout Atlas

  • Bernard

    I’d sure be stunned if the Wachowskis/Tykwer were Best Director nominees before Joss Whedon for the Avengers. Not that I think Whedon will be nominated, just that he seems to validly fit on a list that’s this broad in scope. If Hobbit disappoints and a few other more mainstream favorites falter, I don’t see any reason why Whedon and Avengers couldn’t surprise and take a Sixth Sense-esque populist 5th seat.

    I’m not alone in seeing Avengers as simply superior to the also great The Dark Knight Rises.

  • m1

    Only two women are possible nominees right now and one of them is part of a team. And neither of them is from an indie production. Pathetic.

    How is this “pathetic”, exactly?

  • MikeS

    “Only two women are possible nominees right now and one of them is part of a team. And neither of them is from an indie production. Pathetic.”

    I second m1. How is it pathetic for two women to be possible nominees, given how few women have been nominated and only one has ever won.

    Also, both are backed by major studios, meaning hired to direct against an expectation of generating profit, rather than cobbling together funding and finding independent distribution outside the system because the studios doubt the bankability of a female director.

    Finally, assuming we’re talking about the same person, if the Wachowski’s did score a nomination, wouldn’t that be the first time we had a transgendered nominee? I’m pretty sure that counts as an advance.

  • In no particular order,

    From the mainstream: Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, Gary Ross
    From the arthouse: Paul Thomas Anderson, Tom Hooper, Ben Affleck

    This is a real fork in the road year for the Oscars. The members have two choices; cowboy up and recognize that there were 3 films that stirred the drink above all others this year, or just have the Academy buy out the Independent Spirit Awards and take over where they left off. And establish a 1000-mile no-Kathryn-Bigelow zone while you’re at it. She’s done more than enough to tarnish the Oscar brand with her direction of the least-seen BP winner, adjusted for inflation, in the history of American cinema.

  • VVS

    It’s silly to me that, after more than 60 years of film, the Academy still cannot separate direction and screenplay. If they do not like the story in one film, they will completely disregard the director, regardless of how immaculate their skill level and innovation in said film is.

    Chris Nolan should be a lock for Best Director at this point. Are people really watching what he’s doing or are they still stuck on the moronic point of “well, it’s a comic book movie”

  • menyc

    “(Bigelow’s) done more than enough to tarnish the Oscar brand with her direction of the least-seen BP winner, adjusted for inflation, in the history of American cinema.”

    What a sad, warped mindset you employ.
    “She” tarnished the (ever increasingly embarrassing) ‘brand’? Not the voters?
    You’ve got a lotta hate in you for such a small person.

  • Beth Stevens

    My early, out-on-a-limb predix:

    1. P.T. Anderson – The Master (Weinstein)
    2. Ang Lee – Life of Pi (Fox)
    3. Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia)
    4. Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight)
    5. Michael Haneke – Amour (Sony Classics)

    6. Steven Spielberg – Lincoln (Dreamworks)
    7. Tom Hooper – Les Miserables (Universal)
    8. David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein)

    Possible BP, but no BD:

    The Hobbit (Warner)
    The Hunger Games (Lionsgate)
    Anna Karenina (Focus)
    Flight (Paramount)
    Argo (Warner)

  • It’s pathetic that it’s 2012 and the cinema has only produced two viable female candidates for best director this year.

    Or in greater detail:

  • steve50

    Glad to see that Bigelow appears on so many lists.

    I don’t understand the bit of severe dislike for her, but then again I never understood the catch-all toybox called “arthouse” or the Spokesmodel category on StarSearch, either.

  • If only Another Year had gained more traction. Still can’t believe how Lesley Manville got the shaft. Best performance that year.

  • Eric

    I just don’t see “Life of Pi” gaining any traction in this race.

  • I’ve pummeled the Academy voters more than a few times, menyc over the years; they f’d up epically in ’09. Worse than Crash in ’05, worse than Shakespeare in Love, worse than Annie Hall, worse than How Green Was My Valley over only the greatest American film of them all, Citizen Kane. It’s part of the Oscars’ legacy. Can you honestly say that The Hurt Locker wins 6 awards, let alone gets nominated for 9, if it were directed by a man?

  • rufussondheim


  • Mattoc


  • Michael

    Here’s what truly aggravates me about everyone writing off Christopher Nolan: I defy Academy members to point to another filmmaker who can do what he does even periodically, let alone with the consistency that he has. They don’t have to necessarily respond to his films (and every quote I’ve read recently all but affirms that many of them don’t), but to deny that he lacks an equal as an architect of sensual, visceral spectacle is beyond comprehending.

    To be clear, I’m not saying his movies are perfect. They’re not. Most of them feature demonstrably flawed moments, at least a few objectively sloppy scenes. The courtroom scene in The Dark Knight? Silly and perfunctory, as though Nolan knew he had an expository point to make but wasn’t really invested in delivering it with any grace. The fact that multiple characters use the phrase “close to the vest” in the same film? Sloppy– unless this phrase is to Gotham what “hella” is to Northern California.

    But whatever. Films aren’t always about end-to-end perfection. Some movies are tightly written, without any obvious flaws. Well-acted with attractive production values, etc. If they were college assignments, they’d get an “A.” But as any teacher will attest, a lot of clear “A” papers fade into memory whereas a lot of “B+” efforts, marred as they are by flaws too clear to ignore, nonetheless manage to soar. That’s what Nolan is capable of. Does the Avengers hold together better? Absolutely. But do its best moments enthrall like the best moments in The Dark Knight Rises? To me, no, not if you see it in IMAX. I’d wager the same for 35mm prints– but there, Nolan’s movie is merely engrossing. In IMAX, it’s operatic, a phenomenological tour-de-force. Stilted lines and plot holes exist, but the high points are so transcendent that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The movie sticks with you (okay, maybe not you– but me, and lots of others) because you don’t just watch it, you EXPERIENCE something within it. I forgot the theorist, but someone once said that film is both a “form of perception and a material perceived, a new way of encountering reality and a part of the reality discovered.” The Dark Knight Rises delivers this quality, which I consider one of film’s distinct potentialities.

    What I’m talking about is abstract and subjective– sort of what Barthes meant when he said the image is what we bring to it and what is already there. But some filmmakers are able to summon what we bring with us unknowingly by what they put in the frame– and Nolan accomplishes that. He’s a unique talent. I completely understand if the Academy chooses not to award him best picture– but is his accomplishment more singular and thrilling than, say, what Tom Hooper did with The King’s Speech? Absolutely. It’s a fine film (though sort of hard to invest in, given that the suffering people who so desperately need a leader are never seen, leaving us to empathize with a shy but supremely privileged protagonist who sorta needs to grow a pair). But Hooper was a steady hand that merely kept all the pieces in line. He might show something new with Les Mis, and I hope he does. But other directors would have made basically the same film. Some could have been given the same raw materials and made something better. No one but Nolan could have made The Dark Knight Rises. He’s distinct. Just like Fincher, Malick, the Coen Brothers, Spielberg (most of the time), and the other contemporary auteurs. It doesn’t mean you have to love his movies… but to let such profound gifts go unrewarded… it makes me wonder if some Academy members even like cinema. They seem to want stories or fine acting or whatever– so go see a play. Cinema has particular qualities, and few filmmakers really tap into its uncanniness. Nolan does– and the Academy’s decision to willfully undervalue this rare trait is even more baffling that their perpetual love/hate act with Spielberg during the late 70s and early 80s.

    This is growing into a rant and has surely no longer comprehensible to people who aren’t inside my head, so I’ll leave it at that. But God, it’s aggravating.

  • rufussondheim

    You seem to forget, Michael, that many of us consider The Dark Knight Rises to be a bad film. I don’t even consider it an interesting failure. Outside of a few action sequences and a good performance from Anne Hathaway there’s nothing to recommend here.

    I don’t care if he’s the best director out there when it comes to making an exciting action sequence. If there was a category for “Best Action Sequence” your points would have merit. But there isn’t. You have to look at the totality of work in the film, and in this film it’s severely lacking. I, and others, have posted at length elsewhere what we find lacking so I won’t belabor the point.

    Now, of course, Nolan has done good work in the past. Memento was a great film and probably deserved a nomination for that (I’d have to look at all the possibilities for that year to be certain one way or the other.) The first two hours of The Dark Knight were most certainly the best two hours on film that year, but sadly the film was longer than two hours and fell apart for me in the end, but I wouldn’t quibble if he had gotten a nomination that year.

    Now I hated Inception, but I was in the minority, so while I would be disappointed if it got nominated I wouldn’t have argued too vociferously against it. Especially since I never made it to the end.

    But this film, it’s just not good. There are too many coincidences and inconsistencies and some downright laughable razzie-worthy scenes to rescue the stuff that works (I’m thinking of MC’s death scene.) How I’d love to have a discussion with Nolan on what he was thinking there. It’s just not good.

    Now I know so many people will be like “You don’t like comic book movies.” Well that’s true, but maybe it’s not a bias I have, maybe it’s because there hasn’t been a comic book movie that has moved me as much as Once, or excited me as much as Animal Kingdom, or has told as good a story as Winter’s Bone. Maybe the bias is yours, maybe you overlook the flaws becuase you aren’t noticing them. Maybe the problem is yours.

  • Michael


    I’m afraid you somewhat missed my point–though perhaps in that regard the problem IS mine. As I wrote, my post moved a bit beyond the point of being comprehensible. I’ll try to clarify.

    My references to subjectivity and to Barthes allow for people to consider The Dark Knight Rises a “bad film.” Indeed, the objections you offered are not incompatible with the sort of flaws that I conceded exist (though my examples were all from The Dark Knight, so I can grant that my failure to categorically check off TDKR flaw might have obfuscated the point).

    Even so, your unqualified reference to the “many of us” who disliked the film is no more persuasive than the half-baked argument I initially posed. Yes, Academy members are free to identify with this group, and when it comes down to it, they’re the only one’s who get to vote. But let’s not pretend that the film’s outright detractors outnumber the film’s admirers. There’s simply little statistical justification for claiming the “bad film” group is a meaningful portion of the population. This is not to invalidate the opinion, per se (I’ll get to that in a minute) but rather to refute the notion that I’m somehow an outlier. Critics were uniformly positive in their appraisal, with a minority of aggressive opponents and a larger number of enthusiastic proponents. The film’s imdb ranking, which now includes a fairly substantial number of votes, places the film within the Top 20, and it’s unlikely, even after late-comers emerge to somewhat compensate for fanboy over-exuberance, that it will fall out of the Top 40 in the near future. Are these groups representative of the population as a whole? No. IMDB is clearly skewed toward active Internet users, which puts it in the same company as 4Chan and AICN. Critics, in turn, are an even more restricted sub-group. Nonetheless, these statistics, while hardly infallible, at least substantiate that a lot of people liked the movie– more, in the absence of anything other than anecdotal accounts, than the number of people who disliked it.

    Its box office, meanwhile, will probably end up around $440 million domestic. Without knowing the precise ratio of IMAX sales to regular sales (to say nothing of geographic distribution of sales or the percentage of tickets that have come from matinees), I cannot calculate an exact number of admissions, but 50 million admissions is in the right ball park. Is this historic? No. But let’s not compare it to Start Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, which were released in a fundamentally incomparable era, before movie theaters had to compete with the Internet, television, and the like. I won’t address the Olympics or the tragedy in Colorado, as it would be purely speculative (and in the latter case, perhaps in poor taste) for me to do so– but it’s safe to say that these factors had a deleterious effect of some kind (perhaps not profound) that is separable from the quality of the film itself. How does 50 million admissions rate? It would be a little more than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade attracted in 1989, and around 70-75% of what TDK and The Avengers accrued. It places it as a special blockbuster, in other words, just not one that took over the zeitgeist (a distinction that I’d say falls around 70 million admissions in the contemporary landscape). These admissions derive from a weekend-to-total multiplier around 2.75 -2.8– a far cry from the 3+ multipliers that have characterized most of Nolan’s films, but still a very decent number for such a large opener. Compare it to Spider-man 3, a film for which there IS evidence that disappointment was widespread, which was closer to 2.25. My point? At best, one can argue that reactions were positive but less spectacular than TDK’s. Anyone who wants to argue that “bad film” is anything close to a consensus had better bring something empirical to the table. Doing so is hard, of course (look how many partial indicators I’ve tried to cobble together!), but so few people even make the attempt.

    Anyhow, all of that wasn’t really part of my argument either. Sometimes films soar because of great writing or great acting, with the more “uncanny” aspects of cinema playing a relatively lesser role. Sometimes the narrative and acting work in conjunction with these other factors. But sometimes, plot holes, poor line deliveries, and other objective flaws don’t matter because the unique phenomenological force of a film takes over. TDKR has plot holes– how the hell did a newly insolvent Bruce Wayne make it back to Gotham, for example? And even then, how the hell did he infiltrate a city whose tormenters evidently dispatch Navy seals as easily as they pass from one room to the next? TDKR has some sloppy writing and poor line deliveries; I was actually pretty wrapped up when Bane said, “And you think this gives you some power over me,” as there was a terrible intimacy in the way he cradled his soon-to-be victim’s head. But then the “you’re pure evil” line charged awkwardly out of nowhere, an emotional shift that the build-up simply had not earned. And why? Just so Bane could deliver a comic book line: “I am necessary evil.” While we’re at it, where are the 13 million citizens who’ve been taken hostage hiding out? For all the rhetoric about “the people,” Gotham’s streets seem to be filled only with released prisoners, determined cops, a few displaced former millionaires, and Anne Hathaway. Doesn’t make for the most elegant Occupy/Arab Spring/Whatever metaphor. As I said before, the film has flaws. I’m not blind to them.

    The point is, the parts of the film that work compel me not to care. I’m not even talking about single “great action scenes” (though the film features several of those) but rather single images that communicate the transcendent potential of cinema as a unique medium. The sorts of things that draw one into the image, inviting views to fall into textures, compositions, movement, shades and gradations. The sorts of things that scholars like Vivian Sobchack and Linda Williams write about– images that connect on a (at least in relative terms) pre-linguistic level, before additional layers of meaning are negotiated due to plot, allusions, postmodern associations, the guy who laughed in the seat next to you and distracted you, whatever. Not a lot of filmmakers are good at this. Nolan is.

    I happened to see many such moments in TDKR. Evidently you didn’t– and that’s fine. My point wasn’t necessarily that TDKR is the be all, end all. I think TDK is a stronger film, actually, and I don’t think either of them is necessarily as good as, say, The Assassination of Jesse James (at least if I’m in the right frame of mind for it). But you yourself praised the first two hours of TDK– and I suspect some of the effects (though “affects” would actually work here too!) that I’ve described had something to do with it. Maybe it was all Heath Ledger, but I think the sense of scale that the film viscerally communicated and its ability to physically affect viewers who had otherwise seen it all was central to its success. What I don’t understand is why the Academy seems so immune to this power, film after film. I’m annoyed at Christopher Nolan’s presumed exclusion for TDKR because, even if the film is imperfect, it still has these moments– still reminds people that the man is capable of things that maybe a dozen other people in the industry are (albeit in different ways). If Tom Hooper can somehow WIN an Oscar (against David Fincher’s best work, no less) for basically keeping the ship steady, I don’t see how people so allegedly devoted to film as a medium could be so immune to one of its most primal powers.

    I suspect that’s still not clear enough, but, hey, I’ve been awake for like 35 hours straight, so it’ll have to do. Goodnight.

  • Connor

    I so agree Clayton. I just watched High Hopes last night and Lesley Manville has a smaller part in it but my god does she act. I think of her roles in the Mike Leigh movies and they’ve all been so fully realized even in the smallest parts (like her two little scenes in Secrets & Lies… “do you want a Rolo..”). Lesley Manville should get the bigger paying roles like her baby daddy Commissioner Gordon! Do people get awards attention for playing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet?

  • Question Mark

    Man, what a list of big-name directors with films out this year. No matter what the final five is, you can guarantee that a few huge names and a few potential masterpiece films will be left out. Heck, I won’t even mind if Nolan is snubbed again just as long as he’s legitimately snubbed — as in, there are five better-directed films than TDKR this year. (If this happens, I don’t complain a whit, since that means we’re in for some awesome movies in 2012.)

    Of the potential contenders, I’m not sure I’d be so bullish on Bigelow. Don’t get me wrong, Hurt Locker was a terrific movie and worthy BP, and she completely deserved her BD Oscar…it’s just that Hurt Locker was her only good movie. Point Break, K-19 and Strange Days were all average at best. It may be way too soon to call Bigelow an elite-every-time-out filmmaker.

    I see Ang Lee looming as a big dark horse in this category.

    “The Master” may just be too controversial a subject matter for PT Anderson to actually win, though I can see him getting a nomination if the film is simply too good to be ignored. I guess there are probably as many anti-Scientologists as there are Scientologists in Hollywood, so the backlash may not be as large as predicted.

    Of course, with all these big names, watch Tom Hooper swoop in and claim Oscar #2. This might cause Sasha to break out in hives! 🙂

  • Mattoc

    Haneke – he is one of the best directors working today, and Amour is arguably his best film.

    Spielberg – I wrote this off, but I have a gut feeling this will work. And Django will only help the drama.

    Hooper – The trailer suggests the remaining 98% of the film will be just as crowd pleasing.

    P.TAnderson – the success of this film will be all his doing. I has zero interest in the plot but the trailer changed all that.

    Malick or Wes Anderson- the good oil is that this film is different Malick. Mor accessible or abstract I don’t know. But more of the same would have him nominated. Wes, just because of the buzz that isn’t fading but seems to be building.

  • Dan


    The reason Nolan won’t get nominated is because he lacks a great deal of visual, dramatic, and narrative intuition. Seven times out of ten the dude just straight up doesn’t know how to direct a movie properly.

    If you’re looking for sensual, visual spectacle done well, I’d suggest you turn to Cameron, Spielberg, or Jackson. They know how to make big movies properly (and, lookey there, they’ve all won best directing Oscars…strange coincidence, huh?).

    In fact, if someone seriously lists Nolan as a Best Director contender this year, I automatically skip the rest of the post because he/she obviously doesn’t get how the director’s branch votes. Been around the block too many times to put up with this bs.

  • tipsy

    I`m surprised that among Geek Gods Tarantino fares rather poorly in predictions. Worse than Nolan and Jackson? How come?

    I don`t see why Nolan would be nominated for a movie that`s considered his lesser work. Look at the reviews and reactions. Critics, industry people and regular Joes won`t be banding togetehr to support TDKR like they did TDK. You can take that to the bank.

    Jackson`s decision to split one book into 3 movies (I know, they added Appendices stuff, blah,blah…bullcrap) is widely seen as a blantant cash grab and not at all as the bold film-making in vein of LOTR when one book was filmed as one movie. So while AMPAS loves the guy (even an uber-turkey like TLB snagged supporting actor nom and he was aslo nominated as the producer of District 9 so, yep, love is there), the view of this franchise has changed. And 3 movies is a cash grab. So first has to be really mind-blowing for him to break though really tough competition in director and adapted script this year for I assume the plan with triple split is for the third movie to win for all 3 ROTK style. It`s pretty obvious PJ and WB are aiming at that scenario so locking BP and BD (and AS) as opposed to obligatory 10th blockbuster spot in BP and some techs wouldn`t do the trick.

    Finally, Tarantino. I don`t understand why his movie and he as a director look worse than lesser-received comic book movie and the clone of AMPAS fantasy favorites from 10 years ago, that is a Part 1 of a multi-billion dollar brand cash grab trilogy as opposed to FOTR that was Part 1 of bold, risky, never-done-before trilogy. Hot potatoes subject and all, assuming the movie is great, I don`t see why he would miss out in favor of Nolan (movie`s seen and buzz isn`t there) and Jackson (yet to be seen but cash-grab mentality irritates already).

  • rufussondheim

    Michael, take your grandfather to The Dark Knight Rises and then ask him what he did or didn’t like about it. Then you will understand why the Academy will not pick Nolan as Best Director.

    I understand what you are saying when you say parts of the movie were so good you overlook the bad parts. There are many movies I love and am able to overlook the bad parts. Latter Days is one of those films. But I am able to maintain a certain objectivity about the whole concept and not get bitter when people choose not to list it among their favorites. And I certainly don’t get annoyed because the Academy overlooked it.

    You say that there are these “single images that communicate the transcendent potential of cinema as a unique medium” but then you fail to point any of them out to me, so you can say over and over again that the film has them, but you offer no support of your argument. Your descriptions are abstract, and necessarily so, but not supported. You need to do better. How can I agree with you when you don’t give me anything to comment on?

    But mostly you sound like a spoiled little cloistered fanboy. “IMDB agrees with me!” “Ticket buyers agree with me” “Critics agree with me” are your evidence it was a good movie. Well, none of those work with me (well, the critics argument is a good one, but not until they compile their best of the year lists and we’ll see if they back up their positive reviews with good rankings.) But mostly it sounds like you talk and discuss movies with people just like you. It sounds like you don’t make an effort to understand how people unlike you think.

    You seem to think that just because a movie appeals to you that it must have universal appeal and you throw out all of these statistics to bolster your case. You point out that it had 50 million ticket sales. That’s a lot, I’ll grant you, but it’s such a silly statistic to use. First off, even if we assume no one saw it twice that’s the US and Canada, so we are looking at close to 340 Million people. Now some of these people are 30 days old and can’t buy tickets. And so on. So let’s say their are 250 million potential ticket buyers/ That means there are only 1 in 5 people buying a ticket. And not everyone who bought a ticket likes the movie (like me!) and so on. So even when you point out this stuff, you are looking at a small percentage of a sample who actually like the movie. I know my analysis is stupid, but so is your inclusion of it as support for your position. It’s just a lot of typing that leads nowhere.

    OK, let’s discuss the universal appeal of the movie. Is there any? To me it seems like a movie that’s written for a specific filmgoing ticket-buying audience. There are no characters to identify with, there is no “universal experience” that one can tap into. No, I never had to climb out of a cave to escape a prison, nor was I ever a cat burglar who had the hots for a guy who dressed in black armor. And, no, I was never a cop buried in rubble for 23 days with only an ironing board to survive. I don’t even know how these situations are adaptable to real life situations.

    Nolan doesn’t give us a chance to empathize with any of these characters. They are foreign to us. Yeah, Michael Caine has a crying scene and I get that it’s supposed to be a parent/child type of situation. I grant that the scene is mildly effective, but there is not a complex relationship going on here that can carry a movie. Heck, I think that relationship is so one-dimensionally portrayed in this movie that in retrospect I can’t recall why I ever thought the scene was mildly effective in the first place.

    My point is that I can’t think of one scene, one character that has universal appeal. There is nothing for audiences to grab onto, nothing to identify with, nothing to care about. How are people outside of the intended audience supposed to like this film?

    And let’s face it, the Academy is not the intended audience of this film. So how is the Academy supposed to like it? You tell me. How is your grandfather supposed to like this film?

  • That’s an awesome list of five, Sasha! By George, I think you’ve got it, as Col. Pickering once sang in “My Fair Lady.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Benh Zeitlin really did push through and get recognized by the Director’s Branch? A 29 year old Indie kid out of Louisianna. I would love to see that happen. And of course, he’s got Fox Searchlight pushing him, so….

    The odds are good, very good. Surprised at how weak the New York Film Festival is shaping up to be this year. Could this be because Richarad Pena is no longer running it? (He retired) Seems the big movies are all at TIFF. Hmmm….

  • Michael


    Fair enough on the failure to cite specific instances in TDKR. I get the feeling that I’m not gonna persuade you, though. I think this is an aspect of movies that you might not enjoy as much as I do (and – potentially but not definitely, as I’ve argued, as much as most moviegoers do). Or perhaps you do enjoy the pure sensorial aspect but just didn’t get it in the TDKR. I certainly can’t tell you what to feel. But here’s a quick example of what I mean: In a movie like Assassination of Jesse James, it might be high contrast nature of the photography, which emphasizes textures and lived-in, used quality of the objects– the realness of it. And yet the camera’s movements (which compel a dissociation between viewer and his/her sense of physical body in a theater) and the depth of field, and the editing juxtapositions create a sense of otherness, of irreality. The story could have been about racoons battling garden gnomes for trash can superiority and it would still be arresting due to the sensations it provokes by appealing to bodily investment in its formal aesthetics. In TDKR, geography of the city has this cumulative effect. Not just the big vistas, effective though they are. The vertical emphasis in the aesthetic. The use of creative geography. The attention to textures and physicality. The camera’s attitude within these spaces. The nature of light within these spaces.

    Again, my point isn’t that I need you to like the movie but rather that the movie appeals to a certain mindset toward filmmaking, and I find it troubling that the Academy is not at all receptive to it. Not because it is the apex of all modes of cinematic experience. But it is one of the few that is distinctly cinematic, not shared with other forms. And I think that deserves more attention. It’s not even that TDKR is Nolan’s best film– it’s not. It’s not even his best Batman film. It’s that, I guess, that I feel sad that the people who are supposed to be most invested in movies seem to undervalue such a fundamental aspect of the experience. Yes, they appreciate others– and those other aspects are important too. But it feels like they’re saying, “I am consent to love 90% of my wife” or something whent they so resolutely ignore the one I bring up. That’s more my point. And if I rashly hitched my wagon to TDKR to make it…

    Anyhow, my posts get so long because I make a lot of gestures to concede any points you make that I agree with. I also don’t advocate my chosen issue here to the exclusion of all the others– my argument allows inclusions for those but gets annoyed at the exclusion of one that I’m arguing is important. It’s sort of offbase for you to make assumptions about my being spoiled or unwilling to engage other points of view.

    Also, the point about IMDB, critics, attendence figures, etc was NOT to somehow trumpet that my reaction to the movie was the empirically superior conclusion. I POINTED OUT the flaws in trying to use any of those sources as serious data. No, my point wasn’t about pointing out the statistical dominance of my view– it was pointed out the vacuum of supporting evidence you provided to justify any claims that “TDKR is bad” is anything more than a minority view? And I only bothered to make that argument because you suggested that I had the outlier perspective to begin with! The point was: there is incomplete and flawed evidence to support that TDKR is a film held in high (but not necessarily ecstatic) public esteem; the accretion of circumstantial evidence does not prove the issue but at least makes it a likely outcome in the absense of any competing theory. The competing theory is that TDKR is a bad film. For that to be true in your view, fine. But you seemed to suggest that a substantial population – “many of us” – think the film is bad, that TDKR-haters are statistically similar (or God forbid, bigger) than the TDKR proponents. For that, there is not much besides anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t have even a flawed statistic to stand behind it. You for some reason that the critics list has some relevence (but only at the end of the year) but the hierarchy you’ve conjured is totally arbitrary. I wasn’t citing the examples because they are supposed to be you. I cited the examples because they’re the only insights we have (even if they are flawed) into the overall general population’s opinion. I suppose social media would have given another angle, but it would have drawn similar conclusions and been susceptible to the same flaws. And why did I consider the general population’s opinion so important? Because if you consider the nature of the cinematic sensatons I’m describing, they should affect people fairly broadly, rather than appealing to just a educated people or just old people or whatever. So a sense for the validity of this sensation (and thus the indignation that people undervalue it– not that they have to love it, but they consistently undervalue it) involves issues like popular sentiment, to at least an extent. It’s all pretty relevant to what I was saying, not about falling back on some spoiled, myopic disposition.

    Also, it never makes sense to place movie admissions within the context of the entire country. All contemporary movies lose on by that standard. It includes everyone who is predisposed against or who simply doesn’t care. We don’t talk about what percent of the vote Barack Obama might be from ALL CITIZENS. We talk about what percent he’d get among people who actually voted. I don’t think any movie since Star Wars has actually attracted anything close to 1/3 of the whole population. The only standard to use is the one that considers movies to the extent that they can actually be socially relevent. And until a movie finds an afterlife in DVD or whatever, the only way to consider that is to look only at people actually saw the movie. i.e. The sample HAS to be 50 million to be useful, not the whole country. And with that sample of 50 million people, we have evidence that the majority hold the movie in high (but no exceptional) regard. We have no evidence that more than a minority of people held it in very low regard. In fact, we have a couple points to refute that, all they involve more creative box office metrics (which you seem to dislike).

    Finally, your “objective” look at TDKR focused on themes, stories, characters, etc. My argument doesn’t deny that those things are important. My argument, however, is about experiential cinema. The phenomenology of the medium. It’s not just about exciting action sequences. It’s about the screen provoking physical reactions from you despite not actual physical contact, from the collapsing of the space between subject and object, from the sensuality with which a moving image can captivate us.


    That’s arbitrary without an argument. You seem to assume that if I turn to their films (e.g. see their films– and I have), I won’t be able to help but see how woefully Nolan compares. I’ll concede that all three of those directors are unique talents. That said, you don’t offer any reason to ignore Nolan, just some observations that you’ve personally experienced. Suppose I said, “Eh, Cameron’s got sh–. Go watch some Scorcese– then you’ll understand filmmaking!” Or even better, “Cameron is a hack. Go watch John Ford. You’ll see. I’ll show you.” Or even, “Forget Cameron. It’s all about Ed Wood. That man knows cinema.” All of these arguments rely on the same logic– the assumptiont that I’m just missing Nolan’s obvious inferiority. I don’t think I am. I believe Spielberg, for example, does things better than Nolan. Recomposing scenes over long takes, for example– Spielberg is a genius. And I don’t mean that flippantly. A dictor’s ability in this regard is central to the affects I was talking about (as are any other things that relate to the literal experiential part of watching the movie). I also believe that Nolan does some things better than Spielberg– communicating the sensation of communal isolaton that vast spaces impart and locating bodies within that space, for example (And again, I know that might sound funny– but why do you think the new Top Films list included Man With A Movie Camera in its top 10? Space – as a concept, apart from story – is another one of those renderings that cinema can render with distinct power, and that few wield well.)

    The one aspect of success he lacks is Academy recognition. Are you assuming that the Academy members’ opinion is a real arbiter of quality? If not, you’re agreeing with a point I made in my first post. I conceded in my first post that Academy members’ views are the only one that matter for the OSCAR. I was decrying the philosphy behind that thinking — behind denying Nolan repeatedly — not the end result (which is, as you correctly point out, probably inevitable).

  • rufussondheim

    I would argue that the inclusion of Malick’s The Tree of Life in last year’s nominations slate invalidates your theory. This is a movie that forsook a traditional narrative arc in favor of the more experiential aspects of cinema. And it’s clear that a large portion of the academy bought it.

    They don’t buy Nolan at the same level as Malick. Maybe it’s because Nolan doesn’t do it as well. For me there is a certain primal aspect to Malick. I recall sitting in the theater for The Thin Red Line not caring at all about the plot, I just let the experience wash over me. To this day, it is one of my most exhilerating experiences in watching film. Sorry, bud, but Nolan ain’t even close. In fact, I don’t see that at all with Nolan in this film (or any, really.)

    But that’s neither here nor there. The Academy for various reasons will reject Christopher Nolan again this year. Whatever reason each individual member uses is their choice. But they will be making the right one.

  • julian the emperor

    Michael: that’s a long post, yet you fail to effectively answer what Rufus was hinting at: actual examples from the movie in question. Which are the dazzling shots that encapsulate or epitomize what you are referring to with all of your abstractions?

    I can agree with you about The Assassination of JJ. It certainly is a good example of a movie that is very much defined by its chosen aesthetic (you could argue, though, that the story suffers slightly from this focus on creating a visually enhanced sense of “irreality”, as you call it).

    I am with Rufus on the (lack of) merits of TDKR. But when it comes to the estimation of critics, I tend to find initial reactions to spectacles like TDKR “warmer” than when viewed or estimated in retrospect. The same could be said about the last Harry Potter movie last year. It got rave reviews initially, but failed to appear on almost ANY single critic’s list by years’ end. Because it is not a film that lingers for very long, simple as that (haven’t seen it, I just cannot feel compelled to like HP, have only seen half of the first one and fell asleep, so I am no expert on the merits of that franchise). TDKR has managed a 78 on metacritic, in retrospect it would arguably gain a lot less. Not exactly Oscar-conquering numbers, especially when you consider the Academy demographic.

    One last thing: What Nolan needs to do (I kind of respect him if he chooses not to care, though) is to make a movie that speaks to the Academy. He needs to do more basic, human, narratively “simple” movies.
    He hasn’t proved an ability to work with a script that doesn’t involve either multiple twists, plots-within-plots etc. To me, his work is unintelligible in a bad way. I don’t get anything out of his movies, except for feeling tired and confused. His movies almost exclusively depend on the messiness of the structure, which always makes me a skeptic. I want to feel compelled to engage in a movie for other reasons than the sensory overload or the multiple twists and turns it brings on me. I would go as far as to say that a truly great movie doesn’t depend on the plot on a strictly formal level of execution.

    Furthermore, Nolan’s thematics are nothing more than an attempt to grab hold of some vague definition of the zeitgeist. I don’t see what he is trying to tell us, other than our world is fucked up by darkness. He molds all that darkness and pessimism into a visual spectacle, but where is the complexity? You need something other than a script that includes nothing but flat, one-dimensional characters. I don’t even recognize the shadow of a two-dimensional character in TDKR. That’s a major problem if you want to tell a good story.

  • Simon Warrasch

    Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master”! End of the Story!

  • rufussondheim

    As with all things TDKR I am in 100# agreeance, oops! I mean agreement!, with julian the emperor. I’m not sure that Nolan is even capable of telling a “normal” story. It may not interest him, that’s true. To put it another way, I’m not sure Nolan’s fundamentals of story and character are very strong. Over the past twenty years if you take the three worst Best Pic winners (in my mind) you have Forest Gump, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind all three tell a better story and have more interesting characters than TDKR (wait, Forest Gump might be the exception)

    I get a sense that everything in Nolan’s film is built about what he’s trying to say. Now I don’t know film as well as literature, but everything I read about literature is the opposite. Most great authors will create great characters and then let the chips fall where they may. Nothing is more disconcerting than a character doing something to serve the story. I would say that most great filmmakers would agree.

    With Nolan, the characters are so thinly drawn when they act in service of the themes/story you can’t even tell if they are going against what they believe. If a character can do anything at any given time, that’s not a character, that’s a prop. (And this is why I have issues with the boat scene in TDK)

    Nolan obviously has technical skills. But that’s not enough. I’d love to see him take a script or story that is not his own and do something with it, to make it Nolanesque. I know people will laugh at me, but I think Nolan would be great at doing something like The Hunger Games trilogy, something that would force him to work within a certain framework but something that offers him to explore a world he would find interesting.

    But I suspect he enjoys what he’s doing. He’s only 42. Maybe in the coming years his ambitions will change. We can hope.

  • rufussondheim

    On a side note, Michael. I can tell that you fall into one of two categories, maybe both.

    1) You are relatively new here

    2) You don’t read other people’s posts unless they discuss a topic you are enthusiastic about.

    I can tell this because you are acting shocked that the Academy doesn’t behave in a way you like it to. I think every regular poster agrees with that sentiment, and yet we charge on in spite of it. We come here to discuss movies mostly and every once in a while we like to play that age-old guessing game of what films the stodgy old Academy will embrace.

    Welcome to the club, stick around. We might not agree on this film, but you clearly can discuss the technical aspects of a film and what makes some scenes work. That type of input is always welcome. And I would hope I speak for everyone here when I say that.

  • Michael


    Thanks for the encouragement! I also respect the thrust of your last few comments. It’s not necessarily a reaction I share, but I can certainly see the rationale that you’re working under– and it makes sense. Filtered through literary conventions, much of the character development falls short.

    Also, Julian– glad you see the quality in Jesse James that I described. I see where you’re coming from in calling it a potential drawback. It’s an interesting film in that if I’m in the mood to be engaged, its force can sneak up on me and overwhelm, even after more than a dozen viewings. But if I’m in any other kind of mood, varying degrees of the film become offputtingly tedious. Anyhow, thanks for making the effort to address what I wrote.

    And since I am at work, I’ll establish a new first for myself and keep my post relatively short 🙂

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I think Spielberg and (PT) Anderson are the only sure-nominees at this point. The other three could be Zeitlin, Lee and Haneke. This is what I feel right now, but these things change weekly.


    Man, Harry Potter DH2 and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are arguably better BP nominees than Moneyball/and maybe arguably Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. You know what really surprises me is that they chose 9 Oscar BP nominees instead of 10, is this like the 1st time this happened?

  • oscar

    Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises
    Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
    Tom Hooper, Les Miz
    Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
    Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

  • brian

    Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
    Hooper, Les Miz
    P.T. Anderson, The Master
    Zeitlin, BOTSW
    W. Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

  • brian

    random prediction:

    Life of Pi will sweep the razzie awards … man that film looks awful

  • tipsy

    “random prediction:

    Life of Pi will sweep the razzie awards … man that film looks awful”

    Quoted for life. Those fake Lovely Bones coulds. That sparkling vampire whale. That awful awful actor. Just have the tiger eat him and get done with it.

    If this horror is hiding one of the best movies of the year than Fox should fire whoever made the trailer and whoever approved it. Terrible. It didn`t scream this movie is worth watching let alone I must grab the book before the movie opens. Cloud Atlas, OTOH, did and I don`t think it`ll be an Oscar contender either. But it definitely knew how to sell its s***.

    I get it, it`s Ang Lee, blah, whatever. Hulk was awful and nobody is talking about CTHD anymore.

  • rufussondheim

    Life of Pi was an enormously successful book, it has a built-in audience. That will sustain it for the first weekend. After that, it will all be about the quality. We’ll see.

    But the book is now assigned to high-school students, so it will be around for awhile.

  • juilus

    Personally, I want Nolan and Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) to get a nom.

    but other than that, I wish Zeitlin, Thomas Anderson, and Tarantino will get a nom and I think they will get a nom too . . .

    I’m gonna bet that TDKR will get a BP nom and in addition to my bet, The Master will win BP

  • Jimbo

    I reckon Ang Lee will own it.

    But the film you’re all overlooking – every single one of you – is ‘The Impossible’. Wait and see: it’s going to be a big Oscar contender, almost certainly in this category.

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