Oscarwatch: The Directors – Seven Contenders, Five Slots

directors

This year, Best Director seems to be pairing up in interesting ways.

Tarantino has launched into the race in a spectacular 11th hour surge. Whether this means he will, in fact, steal the last director’s slot from Tom Hooper or David O. Russell is still not known. But what is known is that Django Unchained and Lincoln are two views of the same moment in our history.  Both are satisfying smackdowns of the worst among us, the racist beginnings of our country, which could not have profited nor succeeded without slavery.  Even Thomas Jefferson praised the value of having free labor, among other things.  Lincoln, though, tells the story closer to the truth, farther from the bloody speculative spectacle than Tarantino has delivered. As real as Lincoln is, Django Unchained is unreal.Sequestered in clean orderly chambers where slavery was at last undone, Lincoln presides above the pain of slaves from a luminous distance. Django brings that bloody pain up close, thrusting the messy, brutal torment in our faces. Both of these American storytellers have gone out of their way throughout their careers to expand the American experience to include the African-American experience. It isn’t a surprise that they would each come at slavery, this year, from such wildly different perspectives.  The story of 2012 in film can’t be told without either of them, as they have each made two of the best films of the year.

Spielberg’s tightly reigned direction, following the dense, profound script by Tony Kushner with the career-best work from Day-Lewis has made, to my mind, 2012’s best film.  Tarantino’s lead actor, Jamie Foxx, gives one of the best unsung performances of the year. Tarantino’s script fully explores the director’s vision, even if it is disjointed and sloppy in places, the polar opposite of the Kushner’s precision. Still, these two films somehow convey equally vital messages about this American life in 2012.

Likewise, Kathryn Bigelow’s astonishing, unforgettable Zero Dark Thirty goes hand in hand with Argo in many ways. One is deadly serious, the other is fiendishly funny.  But both deal with treacherous episodes of our ongoing conflict in the middle east.  Zero Dark Thirty takes us right up to today, as we grapple with our own definition of what torture means, whether we are prepared to accept that we employed torture as tactic when “questioning” Al Qaeda suspects.  The film is about that — how could it not be — but it is also about the larger notion of revenge and its hollow compensations. Did we kill Bin Laden to avenge those who died in the attacks on 9/11? Or did we kill him in an effort to stop future terrorist attacks? It’s not a question the filmmakers try to answer. They want to ask it.  The best reviewed film of the year, Bigelow’s has become a lightning rod for controversy, some earned, some undeserved.

Argo, on the other hand, is a movie you can sit anyone down to watch and they will like it if not love it. That’s one of the best ways to define an Oscar winner.  Argo is about the CIA, our relationship with Iran (ongoing), and President Carter. But it is also about Hollywood. What makes it so playful is how it pokes fun at everything from how to define an “associate producer” to how the industry builds buzz and publicity. Moreover, it sort of makes a great point: people might hate us all over the world but they surely do love our movies.

The third motif running through the Best Director race is our search for life’s meaning.  Religion, the purpose of existence, love, God — all those themes are explored in Ang Lee’s crowdpleasing Life of Pi, Michael Haneke’s heartbreaking Amour and Paul Thomas Anderson’s troubling The Master.  These three films refract the spectral light of human experience to beautiful, satisfying, and terrifying effect.  They are literal and not literal, and mostly leave interpretations up to us.

In Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom, we follow a non-literal, symbolic and poetic pathway filtered through the eyes of children. Both of these films transport us to unexpected places. While neither is a likely Best Directing nominee, Best Picture seems possible. Silver Linings Playbook is the only bigtime/feelgood love story in the bunch. Truly, the only uplifting one.  But if I had to pick its partner I would choose Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, as both films deal with accepting your weaknesses and working to “fix” them so that you can find peace, love and understanding.

We delve into Wall Street and the great divide between rich and poor in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Nicolas Jarecki’s Arbitrage.  The Dark Knight Rises, like Les Miserables, is about revolution — it’s about mobilizing and working toward a common cause. Both are cloaked in a genre, no doubt, but their themes couldn’t be more clear.

Right now, there appear to be three solid locks in the Best Director category, one near lock, and three others competing for the last slot. It works out this way:

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Ben Affleck for Argo
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee for Life of Pi

From there the next three would be:
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master

The date change pushing the Oscar nomination deadline before the DGA and PGA announce will either throw everything off so that we can’t rely on ways we’ve previously played the game, or else it will go exactly as planned.

Oscar history tells us that strength in the Best Picture race is usually determined by twin forces. The first is the director, and the second is the movie itself. The power of the film movie worked to the advantage of The King’s Speech and The Artist. The power of the director propelled No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker and The Departed. Slumdog Millionaire fell somewhere in the middle.   When a film is liked and another director is liked at the same time, that sometimes can result in a split vote.  Only 15 times in the last 85 years has a split vote occurred.

1935 – Mutiny on the Bounty (8 noms) – John Ford, The Informer (6 noms)

1936 – The Great Ziegfeld (7 noms) – Frank Capra, Mr. Deed Goes to Town (5 noms)

1937 – The Life of Emile Zola (10 noms) – Leo McCary, The Awful Truth (6 noms)

1940 – Rebecca (11 noms) – John Ford, Grapes of Wrath (7 noms)

1948 – Hamlet (7 noms)  –John Huston, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (4 noms)

—-DGA formed —–

1949 – All the King’s Men (7 noms) – Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives (3 noms)

1951 – An American in Paris (8 noms) – George Stevens, A Place in the Sun (9 noms)

1952 – Greatest Show on Earth (5 noms) – John Ford, The Quiet Man (7 noms)

1956 – Around the World in 80 Days (8 noms) – George Stevens, Giant (10 noms)

1967 – In the Heat of the Night (7 noms)- Mike Nichols, The Graduate (7 noms)

1972 – The Godfather (12 noms) – Bob Fosse, Cabaret (10 noms)

1981 – Chariots of Fire (7 noms) – Warren Beatty, Reds (12 noms)

1989 – Driving Miss Daisy (9 noms) – Oliver Stone, Born on the 4th of July (8 noms)

1998 – Shakespeare in Love (13 noms) – Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan (11 noms)

2000 – Gladiator (12 noms) – Steven Soderbergh, Traffic (5 noms)

2002 – Chicago (13 noms) – Roman Polanski, The Pianist (7 noms)

2005 – Crash (6 noms) – Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain (8 noms)

Usually, the film with more nominations wins Best Picture, while the better film overall wins Best Director.

But these splits are rare and they’re difficult to predict.  You mostly don’t see them coming until they hit. Arguably, the Spielberg and Shakespeare in Love split might have been one of the few semi-predictable ones. This, because Shakespeare in Love had two things going for it — the SAG ensemble win and more nominations heading into the race.  The ensemble win also caused some split trouble with Crash and Traffic.  That led many to believe the same scenario would have played out when Little Miss Sunshine won the Producers Guild award and the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award the same year. But in the end, love for the director won out and The Departed took both awards at the top.

In only one instance did a film win without any director nod at all and that was for Driving Miss Daisy. That odd year is trotted out, as are these other years, when pundits can’t make the thing make sense. One of the reasons I knew that Tom Hooper would win the DGA for the King’s Speech in 2012 was that the film had 12 nominations for Oscar. If it was going to win Best Picture with 12 nominations, it was going to also win the DGA, as Rob Marshall had with Chicago even when he didn’t go on to win the Oscar.

The DGA has been a crucial indicator and influencer in the Oscar race since 1949. This is the first year when the Oscar nomination ballots will be turned in before we hear from the DGA, which makes it all very suspenseful for those of us who watch Oscar.

That brings us back to this year’s race and those last remaining slots.  It isn’t that the directing nominees for the Globes match Oscar all of the time but if you miss a directing nomination at the Globes, particularly if you are a musical/comedy, that drops your chances to win Best Picture significantly.  Only one film from that category without a Globes nod for director has won Best Picture and that’s … wait for it … Driving Miss Daisy.  We’ll never know if Bruce Beresford would have won for Driving Miss Daisy since he was not Oscar-nominated either.  We don’t know why Driving Miss Daisy won that year.  and although that was probably the movie everyone expected would win it’s frank deconstruction of patriotism might have been too touchy for some voters. But that same year, Do the Right Thing had been shut out and race relations were at the forefront.  Also, there was this idea that Oliver Stone and Oscar had already done the “Vietnam” thing.  Though Stone still won Director, his film couldn’t manage to win Best Picture.

Or did it just come down to likability?  Box office numbers show us that Driving Miss Daisy made $100 million back in 1989, Born on the Fourth of July made just $70 million.  Dead Poets Society made $95 million, My Left Foot made $14 million. Field of Dreams made $64 million.  Driving Miss Daisy had the highest box office of the year.

It’s easier, obviously, for a director with a comedy to get Oscar nominated than a musical. Norman Jewison (Moonstruck), Woody Allen (Broadway Danny Rose), Woody Allen (Broadway Danny Rose), Jason Reitman (Juno), and Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) all were Oscar nominated for directing comedies despite not getting Globe nominations (thanks to our Nate Silver, Marshall for those stats).  But for a musical?  Marshall tells us, “Bob Fosse was Oscar nominated for All That Jazz in 1979 despite missing at both the Globes and DGA. Robert Stevenson missed at the Globes for Mary Poppins, but was DGA and Oscar nominated, in 1956 Walter Lang was not Globe nominated but was Oscar nominated for The King and I. But no musical has ever won Best Picture without a Globe nod for Director. 

Reasonable arguments can be still made for Hooper and/or Russell making the cut, but just know that it’s a bit of a long shot, especially for Hooper.  Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables both have SAG ensemble nods, which gives them an edge over Zero Dark Thirty, which doesn’t have one.

But this is for Oscar not DGA. It’s entirely possible, even probable, that David O. Russell will get a DGA nod for his incredibly likable Silver Linings Playbook.  A previous DGA winner, Hooper also has a shot there.  Since there is going to be a disconnect this year with the right hand unable to see what the left hand is doing, predicting a different slate for DGA and Oscar would make good sense.

Meanwhile, there is always the chance that an outlier will make the cut at the Oscars, someone like Paul Thomas Anderson for the Master or Michael Haneke for Amour.

My current predictions–

DGA
Spielberg
Affleck
Bigelow
Lee
O. Russell
Alt. Hooper

Oscar
Spielberg
Affleck
Bigelow
Lee
Tarantino
Alt. Haneke, Anderson

I reserve the right to change my mind as the season progresses.

 

79 Comments on this Post

  1. Ok, but The King Speech got only 12 Oscar nominations, fortunately.

  2. ^
    fixed, thanks!

  3. I think Hooper is out for the Oscar. Django has an 98 on Rt with 47 reviews. Looks like QT will be in for sure.

  4. Your Lincoln/Django parallel is fascinating. I can’t wait to see Django Unchained….like wildly differing companion pieces. These two films seem so quintessentially American and I love that. Two great, hard-hitting and challenging films about the American experience by two great, creative filmakers, and I guess I could add ZD30 and Argo to that mix.
    Sasha, do you think the edginess of Tarantino will create a backlash against Lincoln? Lincoln is percieved by some as a conventional, Oscar-baity type of film (it’s actually the antithesis of that to me) while Tarantino is the renegade….

  5. With Django getting raves I think Tom is a long shot as well. Tarantino or David for the nod.

  6. I love how Lincoln and Django both deal with the same thing and yet both are very different and both getting great reviews. 6 more days until Django. as for Tom he can still get a lot of amps love but I do agree that Django is stilling the thunder.

  7. JamDenTel

    I think what will keep Hooper out as much as anything else are the early reviews which suggest that his directing is messy and overwrought. That, and the fact that he won an Oscar he shouldn’t have (does anyone really think The King’s Speech was better DIRECTED than The Social Network?), put him pretty much out of the running.

    I’m dubious about Haneke’s chances. He’s not QUITE big enough here to secure a Director nomination. The screenplay category is a much better bet for him.

    And while Spielberg will probably get nominated, I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t make it on. His chances of winning are low as it is (plus, the directing on Lincoln is nothing outstanding), so I’m hoping Anderson makes it in. The Master has its flaws, but it is BEAUTIFULLY directed.

    If Bigelow doesn’t win, though, I’ll be shocked.

  8. I do agree with the Oscar predictions as they stand. But I don’t know that I’m 100% sold on Lee getting in. The buzz for Life of Pi seems to be fading. But maybe that’s just in my little corner of the world? Part of me really does think Anderson has a chance, but I can’t tell if it’s wishful thinking.

    Dream noms (I know this would never happen): Anderson, Bigelow, Haneke, Tarantino, Zeitlin

  9. Linc4Jess

    My two cents just because I have the time. I am thinking OSCAR judging from what has already come and gone that Hooper, although his film “Les Mis” is right now setting Fandango record ticket sales but not especially with critics will be out of the mix as well as Tarantino, and possibly Ang Lee. I agree the three locks are Bigelow, Spielberg and Affleck with the other one or two slots going to Michael Haneke “Amour” and Benh Zeitlin of “Beast”. It could happen with the DGA and as far as OSCAR is concerned there has being several times where a director is nominated and his picture isn’t and the directors are usually from acclaimed foreign films not saying that “Beasts” is a foreign film. Hell, who knows, Christopher Nolan could get a nod. He is deserving.

  10. I don’t see anyone, apart from Kathryn Bigelow and Ang Lee, who should could will win best director. The did two miracles in one blessed year for films.

  11. The buzz for Life of Pi is so not fading. It’s hitting all the major markers. I expect it’ll continue to hit them. It feels, to me, like one of those safe predictions – a film that’s maybe less likely to win than some others (Les Mis, Silver Linings Playbook), yet more likely to be nominated (for Best Director, at least).

  12. I feel like Hooper getting in or not getting in has more to do with the DGA and Director’s branch liking/respecting him and rewarding his audacity, or not liking him and not loving the film. There’s really no way to figure this one out; as I don’t feel that critics determine how the director’s vote.

  13. ChrisFlick

    Having a premonition lately of a split, with Lincoln winning Picture and Bigelow Director. I don’t see Lee as even a near-lock and yet it was a perfectly directed film, I just don’t sense the passion for it. Agree Affleck is the third slot, the rest up for grabs. Not seeing Russell in the pack at all, if he is you can deduce a real affection for that film, more than it rates.

  14. Not to nit pick, but I do think you missed:

    An American in Paris, George Stevens, A Place in the Sun

    The Godfather, Bob Fosse, Cabaret

  15. Sasha,

    If your predicted five for the Oscar turns out to be true, I would call it probably the strongest Best Director line-up we’ve seen in quite some time. I haven’t seen Django yet, but the other four are my top 4 favorite movies of the year so far.

  16. I may be over thinking this, but I view a directing nom for “Beasts” to be quite similar to last year’s tree of life and it could get in just for being so poetic. if Chris Nolan got in, that would be amazing. But my predix are: Bigelow Spielberg Affleck O’ Russel and Tarantino

  17. Since you are doing a Globes analogy, it is worth noting that Haggis was not nominated for Crash, and Crash is one of only two Oscar winners ever to not even be nominated for thr Globe for Picture. Good for the Globes! The Sting is the other, but was that a comedy or drama. Of course the same can be said of Crash, it was so laughably bad. And so are the Oscars.

  18. I don’t know about the Oscars, but I think Christopher Nolan is a viable contender for a DGA nomination. They seem to love his work, they have already nominated him 3 (!) times, so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect them to honor the last film of his acclaimed trilogy. Come to think of it, with all the WGA-exclusions, I could actually see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES pulling off the PGA-DGA-WGA trio of nominations just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Inception, The Dark Knight, and then still being ignored by the Academy in Picture/Director/Screenplay, just like those three (with the exception of the original script-nod of Inception).

    Having said that, I agree with the article, the category is probably down to 7 (the locks Spielberg-Bigelow-Affleck and the Lee-Tarantino-Hooper-Russell quartet for the last two slots), with 2 viable surprises (Anderson, Haneke). Anyone else would be a major shock (Nolan, Bayona, Wright, Wachowskis/Tykwer).

    I think we should at least consider Juan Antonio Bayona, his film seems to have very passionate (AND high profile) supporters, and a small but passionate fanbase CAN secure the BP-nod (5% #1s)…and the BD category is not far from there.

    Also, as strong as Tarantino is, I wouldn’t write down Hooper just yet. Tracking is through the roof, so if the film has the spectacular 6-day opening next week that’s expected, that will give a huge boost to Hooper in the last 10 days of voting, not to mention Les Miserables might be closer to the Academy’s ‘kind of film’ than Django Unchained.

  19. Lee is a perennial bridesmaid. He will be this year as well. His film will get rewarded with cinematography and visual effects nods (and hopefully wins) but as a best picture, it is weak and ripe for the picking. Blame critics and their awards for that ;)

  20. I think Bigelow and ZD30’s chances just took a dive today with
    the Senate Foreign Relations Committee condemning the film as
    falsifying facts and giving a misleading account of the hunt.
    Lincoln is still the frontrunner. Django is sensational,
    Silver Linings terrific, and Les Miz is a turgid, tedious, leaden clunker.

  21. Leed, thanks!
    will add

  22. Hector Delgado, Jr.

    Every Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Director winner since 1990 has gone on to receive a Best Director nomination. Unless Paul Thomas Anderson suffers the same fate as Spike Lee (1989, LAFCA Best Director for Do the Right Thing), you have to say he’s on track for one of the remaining slots. As of today I see the nominees for Best Achievement in Directing for 2012 are …..

    Ben Affleck for Argo
    Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
    Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
    Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
    Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

  23. I don’t get this lack of passion thing about Ang Lee. I think he makes DGA, BAFTA and Oscar.

  24. The buzz for Life of Pi is so not fading. It’s hitting all the major markers.

    While we’ve been distracted by shiny objects, Life of Pi quietly passed $200 million worldwide this week and .. – Squirrel!!

  25. moviewatcher

    I so want Anderson to get in… I’m counting on the LAFCA stat to make it right. And I’m counting on the directors who have went for non-BP nominated auteurs in the past like Fellini, De Sica, Fernando Meireles, Malick, Greengrass, Almodovar… I’m counting on them to love PTA and on the 5% rule to get The Master into BP, just like The Tree of Life…

    Affleck
    Anderson
    Bigelow
    Hooper
    Spielberg

    I really don’t know about Lee, Russell and Tarantino. They’re the alternatives for sure. I’d say Russell’s not being nominated at the GG will hurt him a lot…

  26. “The buzz for Life of Pi is so not fading. It’s hitting all the major markers.”

    I’ve seen it 3 times now, I know I’m not the only one wanting to come back to experience this film again. It is difficult not to see all the great things that Lee brought to the screen with intimate grandeur. What if Life of Pi goes under the radar and then hits in the end with two upset wins for BP BD?

  27. Hmm, you kind of lost me a little with the Driving Miss Daisy talk. I would say it’s obvious Bruce wouldn’t have won Director since he wasn’t even nominated, and DMD was kind of the safe BP choice, especially in a year when you had “touchy” films like Glory and Do the Right Thing.

    As for this year, I think this is one of the most interesting Best Director races I’ve seen in a while. The only person I don’t think will get in is David O. Russell.

    As of now, I’d predict:
    AFFLECK
    BIGELOW
    HANEKE
    SPIELBERG
    TARANTINO

    I’d love to see Lee nominated (he really deserves it), but I agree with those who’ve said that Life of Pi’s buzz has died down.

  28. rufussondheim

    Even though Life of Pi isn’t getting as many critical awards as one would think it would need to be a lock for Best Director, there are other factors that come into play here. Water, Kids, Animals, 3D, Groundbreaking FX and on and on. The sheer difficulty of what Lee attempted is kind of staggering. And the director’s branch is pretty small and you kind of have to be successful to get into it. Even if the film may not register for these directors in the BP race, they have to respect his ambition and the results overall. He had a massive undertaking and I think he will be rewarded for his efforts (and his results.)

  29. Astraisborn

    Life of Pi will double its profit worldwide before the oscars. Globes love Lee, he is tops to win there if Speilberg and Bigelow wipe each other out.

  30. I think Les Miz will be just like “The Reader”, few years ago. A movie with mixed reviews, made by a director that the critics doesn’t like very much but who seems to have the Academy’s simpathy and be able to “touch” the academy voters’ hearts and get nominated for DIRECTING and PICTURE.

  31. rufussondheim

    I sincerely hope that both Spielberg and Tarantino lose Best Director (and Best Pic) because I don’t want Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to be met with a “been there, done that” attitude.

    I obviously haven’t seen McQueen’s movie, but I’ve seen enough of his work and now read enough of the source material to know that the film is going to be phenomenal and it’s my early favorite to be declared the years best film by the critics and, if so, would love it to get the awards recognition I think it will deserve.

    A storm’s a-coming and it’s going to be a big one. Brace yourselves.

  32. rufussondheim

    As I’ve said before I don’t think Life of Pi should be ruled out at the Globes. Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty are all American History and these are non-Americans voting. They may not view those three films in the same light as we do. Throw in Django Unchained and The Life of Pi is the only one not centered around US History and instead has a very international flair. I doubt Life of Pi will win, but I don’t think it should be written off either.

  33. I kinda hope that the Globes and SAG and Bafta surprise us and give us something different than ZD30, Bigelow, Lawrence, Chastain, etc.. Wouldn’t it be cool to see some Lincolns, Life of Pis, Ang Lees, Watts, Cotillards pop up as winners?

  34. Joe Clinton

    I think it is shrewd of The Weinstein Co. to push David O Russell as best director more than any other aspect of the film. It will be interesting to see if this paays off.

  35. But you know, THE HOBBIT is just a whole ‘nother level of filmmaking.

    Just sayin’.

  36. David Lindsey

    DRIVING MISS DAISY is not the only Best Pic winner without a corresponding director nod. GRAND HOTEL also did it. Also it says the other THREE directors fighting for the last slot when you listed four.

  37. “A storm’s a-coming and it’s going to be a big one. Brace yourselves.”

    Ahh – another 12 Years a Slave convert. Finished the book, rufus?

    I don’t worry that anything this year will steal McQueen’s thunder next year, though, because nobody has seen anything like what’s coming, I’ll bet.

  38. I think Tarantino is in. He is number 4. Number 5 I have no idea. I’m holding Hooper because I don’t know If I put Lee or Anderson. I think O. Russell is not getting it. And 2009 is going to get a revival as the Tarantino film is only going to be fully backed by the Weinstein when it’s too late.

    The 5 “recent” films that come to my mind when trying to predict the outcome of Les Miserables at the nominations are: Moulin Rouge, Gangs of New York, Cold Mountain, Dreamgirls and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Two of them scored BD and two didn’t. Let’s analyze each of them:

    1) Moulin Rouge: Shockingly out of the BD category to make room to David Lynch. Another musical that was kind of divisive (the only two recent musicals that opened to great reviews were Chicago and Hairspray). Had a lot of passion behind it.

    2) Gangs of New York: Weinstein + Scorsese + Day-Lewis was enough to overcome mixed reviews in another very good year. Its nomination for BP, despite a field of five, was never in doubt. Les Mis doesn’t have Weinstein, Hooper is in the opposite case of Scorsese (Scorsese was already a non-winner legend and Hooper scored one of the most controversial wins in the history of the category in only his second film) and although Day-Lewis couldn’t save Nine from sinking, he’s likely the most respected actor in Hollywood. And this is one of his best performances. It still was nominated for 10 Oscars and ended up as 2nd biggest loser later tied with True Grit.

    3) Cold Mountain: Was being comparing to Gone With the Wind by the people who saw it first… once again a typical film killed by expectations and shout out of Pic-Directing-Screenplay-Actress. Would obviously be nominated for BP nowadays but…

    4) Dreamgirls: The one that I think is getting closer and closer to Les Mis. As I remember, Oscarologists also went crazy predicting that would sweep the Oscars… and somehow the film’s awards possibilities were once again killed by it. Expectations were ridiculously high and the film couldn’t match them and even so it still is, along with Cold Mountain, the most shocking Best Picture omission of the past two decades in nominations morning. Didn’t score Directing or Screenplay and would definitely score the BP nom nowadays. Still could win Supporting Actress (although JH is talented and looks like a very good person, this is, in my opinion, the worst performance that won an Oscar in the past decade) and sound mixing…. looking very Les-Misey…

    5) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Despite mixed reviews, its nominations in the main categories were never in doubt. The question marks that season remained on WALL-E/The Dark Knight. And then came The Reader…. Still Ben Button was the only traditional epic among the awards contenders in a year the Academy could have made a historical BP lineup and made one of the worst in its history. I would nominate Ben Button and quite like the film but it would definitely be my number 5 after Slumdog, Milk, The Dark Knight and WALL-E. Les Mis doesn’t have the luck to be the only traditional epic. There’s Lincoln there. And Button was supposed to be the sentimental fave but Slumdog was the film of that amazing hope post-Obama-election moment and (in my opinion) better directed and better written.

    In my opinion, Les Mis is looking like Dreamgirls but I think it will still have a bigger passionate fan base. This could give the 5th slot to Hooper. And thankfully the other Oscarologists are beginning to realize that this film is not winning any of the top awards. I haven’t seen it but and I could really like it, but awards-saying it obviously is out.

    In the end, Lincoln will win Best Picture. But Directing could go to Bigelow. Or Affleck.

  39. I say Paul Thomas Anderson sneaks in. I think the Academy thinks highly of him enough to let him into the party but he won’t have a chance in hell of winning. I can see it go down to:

    Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master
    Ben Affleck – Argo
    Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
    Ang Lee – Life of Pi
    Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
    alt: David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook

    And having just seen ZDT yesterday, there is no doubt in my mind Kathryn Bigelow takes director. (Lincoln most likely for picture, but she deserves director more than anyone this year).

  40. rufussondheim

    Not finished it yet, just reading a chapter a day. I hate reading certain books too fast, I like to let them marinate. And this one’s haunting me completely.

    Sometimes when seeing a movie “based” on true events you have a tendency to forget that the events are real or you assume that they’ve been enhanced to make a better film. I hope that this doesn’t happen with the upcoming McQueen film, because one easily could. The two stories with Eliza and Tibeats are already so disturbingly horriffic and shocking that I don’t think people will think that they actually happened.

    And I’ve just gotten to the portly Epps (how the description of him doesn’t match Fassbender!) and know vaguely what happens with him and Patsey and, well, it’s just too much to bear.

    I know this will sound awful, but I think it’s something that will somehow be discussed and I hope you get what I mean. But these experiences are awful to happen to anyone, but to experience them after being free one’s whole life and then getting kidnapped and thrown into slavery, well, it adds another dimension to the suffering. And I think that added dimension is going to resonate with people in a major way.

    Slavery was a horrible evil, but it’s safely removed from us, almost 150 years now. But Northup’s experience, I believe, will cause viewers to empathize with slavery conceptually in a way they haven’t before. “What if that happened to me?” will be a question that most viewers will ask themselves. It’s going to make the concept of slavery, and the slave experience much more personal than what we’re usually given in these slave narratives.

    And then throw in the unsparing way McQueen has shot the prisoner abuse in Hunger and I think it will have a profound effect on the audience, and make them understand what being a slave meant in ways they’ve not done so before.

  41. danemychal

    I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if Ben Affleck won the Oscar.

  42. @Sarah

    Oh I love those things. Thank you. :)

  43. David Lindsey

    I agree with you, Danemychal! I think Affleck has a real shot.

  44. Extremely difficult to whittle this down to 5:
    Affleck
    Bigelow
    Hooper
    Lee
    Spielberg
    Tarantino

  45. Scottish Jellyfish

    The Hurt Locker was surrounded by political controversy whilst Avatar was being praised by your typical politician. I don’t see how free controversial publicity takes away Zero Dark Thirty’s chances. If anything, it’s merely free publicity that gets the debate rolling and the importance of the film grows from there.

  46. Linc4Jess

    More controversy and drama for “ZDT” and the Academy to consider. The US intelligence services are preparing the nation from retaliation attacks from Muslin radicals once the film is released. Much like the video (LOL) that was blamed for the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi where four Americans died.

  47. Linc4Jess

    @lindsey….Affleck does have a real shot at best director. The Academy is known to appreciate actors who turn director who do a great job directing and Affleck certainly fits the bill.

  48. danemychal

    Thanks for agreeing, David L! I guess I should have explained my reasoning as to why:

    Ben Affleck is extremely likable. His work is highly respected by critics and his peers in Hollywood alike (and movie-goers adore him). Two of your perceived contenders (Hooper and Bigelow) have won WAY too recently, IMO. Spielberg has won twice. Many would argue that isn’t nearly enough, but still… Hitchcock and Kubrick never got one and plenty of great directors never got more than 1 or 2. Ang Lee already has an Oscar as well.

    That leaves us with Affleck, PTA, Tarantino and Russell. Of these three, I’d have to think of Russell as sort of the “odd man out” because he directed the lone comedy that is in contention this year. With one previous nomination (one that he didn’t deserve to win anyway), he isn’t “due” but could still get in with the power of Harvey. PTA and Tarantino are both virtuosos who are extremely overdue for a win, but neither looks promising to change that this year. I do think one will sneak in as a nominee though, just not both. I’d be more likely to go with PTA at this point, if people are correct in saying Django isn’t as good as Inglourious Basterds (I haven’t seen it but will soon).

    If you can’t picture some of the Les Mis or ZDT or Lincoln BP voters picking Affleck for BD, I don’t know what to tell you. Because I think many will choose away from those directors in favor of someone like an Affleck or PTA or QT who have not been awarded (although Affleck and QT both boast screenplay Oscars).

    PS-
    Ang Lee’s BD nomination is anything but a lock. I could easily see him being the one left out that gets Russell or Hooper in. I’m just not hearing much buzz for Life of Pi. Kind words being said universally, but mild in context and not frequently enough. Nothing here that says the film is one of the 5 front-runners that usually gets you locked into the BD conversation. It may be cursed by consisting of a small cast of Indian actors and perceived as an “effects” movie (though yes, we all know it is much more than this). I can see many of the steak-eaters not even bothering to pop in their screeners.

  49. I know it has already been mentioned that Grand Hotel also did not have its director nominated. The same is also true of WINGS. Neither Broadway Melody nor Cimarron won best directing thought both were nominated for it. So that would bring the total up to 19 splits in 85 years. Still not often, but closer to 25% than we might have thought!!

  50. Oops, that is 19 out of 84 at this point. Which is only two films away from 25%!!

  51. SeattleMoviegoer

    “The third motif running through the Best Director race is our search for life’s meaning. Religion, the purpose of existence, love, God ” and then Sasha mentions only PI, AMOUR and THE MASTER in relation to this statement. hate to state the obvious, but LES MISERABLES–both with Victor Hugo and Schoenberg/Boublil/Hooper–is all about the big guy above. that’s the theme, the point of it all. there you have the reason for the wild popularity worldwide. most people who know and love the show get that.

  52. Joe Clinton

    Do not underestimate the power of Weinstein.

    Spielberg

    Affleck

    Bigelow

    Russell

    Tarantino

  53. But “the power of Weinstein” won’t happen to the expense of Ang Lee. He has way too much respect today among his peers…he’s definitely in for a director-driven, impossible-to-adapt movie. Possibly one of the strongest examples of the true cinematic power of 3-D. In fact, I think Lee could surprise and take the DGA award. Wouldn’t that be something of a game changer?? Something tells me the similarity in subject matter–American historical moments–in Lincoln, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty could lead to the emergence of a darkhorse.

    Based purely on merit this is down to Bigelow and Lee, as others have said above. I don’t think Spielberg is really seen as overdue by the Academy, especially after a decade of some lackluster work and the fact his next project could be seen as just another action movie. Very hard to get a third win when others have been overlooked or only have one. If Anderson or Tarantino get in, I have trouble buying they will be competitive for a win, since the films won’t be competitive for Best Picture. Affleck could most definitely spoil, but his direction is nowhere near the level of Lee and Bigelow, two of perhaps the most talented and distinctive voices we have.

    Sasha you said, “Spielberg’s tightly reigned direction, following the dense, profound script by Tony Kushner with the career-best work from Day-Lewis has made, to my mind, 2012′s best film.” I enjoyed Lincoln, but I think it’s missing a strong sense of vision and style on the part of the director that would elevate it to best film of the year for me. It’s a great accomplishment to pull off such a project in a blockbuster-driven age, for sure, but I recognize the movie, the pacing, whether it’s a procedural of passing the 13th amendment or a biopic, falls short of what other directors have accomplished. Yes, Lincoln the character moved me…but I’m not sure the filmmaking did. Look at Zero Dark Thirty, which works incredibly. There’s so much urgency imbued in the execution, a perfect blending of action and procedural, emotion and steel-forced will. I know some have said it’s not emotional enough to win, but I’m not sure I agree with this. I found the end to provide a wonderfully cathartic moment when you really feel for Maya after years of procedure and loss, a bookend to the nameless voices we hear at the beginning. For all the shit Bigelow has had to deal with for many years (including quite a bit I hear from Mark Boal making this and Hurt Locker), which might explain why it has taken her so long to emerge as a great talent, I would have no problem with her winning again. Like Ang Lee, she is a true artist and stands by her vision. This is proving to be the most competitive race, the one to watch…I hope voters get this one right.

  54. If not for Bigelow and Taratino’s finishing kick, Zeitlin would be in and possibly considered an outside shot to win.

  55. I should have said this above, but I think Zero Dark could resonate with the Academy in a similar way as The Deer Hunter did in 1978. Keep coming back to that one, how it was deemed controversial and caused an uproar, how that only drew more attention to the film and its merits. Certainly one of the stronger, more inspired winners. Could be an interesting comparison of two works contemporary to the times of their releases.

    The result of the Oscars is always dependent on the GROUP of films nominated. Some years an overdue or deserved director-win is able to propel a win for best picture. Other years it’s the opposite when unanimous love for a movie brings in the director. Some years an unconventional pick comes through, a la Silence of the Lambs, Hurt Locker, No Country For Old Men. Other years a surprise comes from Academy backlash (Crash) or from a surging film vs. competition of similar subject matter (Shakespeare in Love, as Life is Beautiful and Thin Red Line as war pictures certainly took some heat from Saving Private Ryan). But most years it’s too difficult to overcome a more conventional, consensus choice. I think it’s too early to tell this year, but surely we will see the dynamic of the group of nominees in some way determine the end result.

  56. I agree with the critics that Anderson should be on the BD line-up. I also think Zeitlin and Haneke should be on the list along with Bigelow and Affleck.
    So my list would be:

    Bigelow
    Affleck
    Zeitlin
    Haneke
    Anderson

  57. Top Critic James Berardinelli’s 3.5/4 star review of Les Miserables:

    http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=2568

  58. the other mike

    great writing Sasha.

    looks like realistically its down to Bigelow and Spielberg. I dont see anyone else even close to winning. Ultimately, I think it will go to Bigelow.

  59. I don’t think academy waited 15 year for another split for Spielberg who’s SPR was true BP of the year. This year he will win both or nothing IMO.

  60. Greg Robinson

    Lincoln will win Best Picture and Spielberg will take the directing award. Lincoln will also win Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay Adaption, Best Original Score and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. I agree with mecid that there will not be a split this years, not one involving Spielberg neither involving other directors and films. It has the critics, precursor nominations, audience approval and unexpected box office success, not forgetting a thumbs up from Mr Obama, relevance, prestige, topicality as well as very likely support from all the branches of the Academy. It will most likely receive the most nominations as well. Awarding Lincoln will make the Academy look good and important.

  61. I don’t think QT or Lee will be on the list come Oscar. I too think a storm is coming and the Guilds, BAFTA and Oscar are going to shake the state of the race up. Spielberg is definitely in as is Affleck … the rest are in a different pot. I think ZDT could be affected by the negative political press at the moment. Django could be seen to be too violent considering recent American events and Lee’s film has simply simmered in the US. I think Russell will get in and a foreign Director – perhaps for Amour. I think its a strange year in the Directing category but think its a two horse race between Spielberg and Affleck.

  62. Am I the only one dreaming just dreaming that Wes Anderson gets on the final five?

  63. Agree that Spielberg, Bigelow and Affleck are locks. If I had to bet I’d choose O Russel and Tarantino for the other two slots. It’s been a while since a foreign film director lands a nomination, so it looks complicated for Haneke, even with the buzz around Amour.

  64. Why are pundits and prognosticators so dead-set on making Life of Pi a major contender when it clearly isn’t? It is an attractive, muddled work that has neither the overwhelming critical or (certainly) financial success to guarantee it a place among the top 5 slots in either the Best Picture or Best Direction category. I love Ang Lee, but Pi pales in comparison to past efforts such as The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, and Brokeback. If we’re going to set aside a spot in the Top 5 for someone based on the quality of their entire filmography, then P.T. Anderson and Tarantino should be in the top 5 before Lee or (to a slightly lesser extent) Russell. It’s not just because they both have better track records, but because their current films are also receiving widespread acclaim.

    My Current Predictions for Director:

    – Spielberg (Lincoln)
    – Bigelow (ZDT)
    – Affleck (Argo)
    – Tarantino (Django)
    – Hooper (Les Miz)

    2nd Tier:

    – Lee (Pi)
    – Russell (SLP)
    – Anderson (Master)
    – Haneke (Amour)

  65. I know I’m in the minority. I know my opinion is not popular.

    But Steven Spielberg should not even be in this conversation.

    The directing in Lincoln was uninspired, stunningly dull, and pedestrian, at best.

    Sam Mendes did more creative directing in the first five minutes of Skyfall than is in the whole horrid lumpy dull mess of a movie that is Lincoln.

    DDL is very good. Although I walked away learning anything new or insightful about Lincoln the President. Tommy Lee Jones is good. Sally Field simply is Sally Field doing another spin-off character from Sybil. You learn nothing about Mary Toldd Lincoln that you did not know before.

    I don’t care that it’s popular. I don’t care that it’s made money. I don’t care that it’s winning critics prizes.

    Sorry, folks. I saw this movie with 5 other people and we all walked out unimpressed and disappointed.

    Simply put. Lincoln is a fascinating president. Lincoln (the movie) is incredibly dull, flat and emotionally uninvolving. I didn’t hate it. I was just expecting a LOT more from my hard-earned movie dollars.

  66. unlikely hood

    This year is all about this category. Love it.

    Just going by the predictions in the thread, pretty much no one in the OP photos – except perhaps Haneke – would be a shock.

    We’ve had so many years where the field was 4 shoo-ins or 5, or down to 6 with no chance for anyone else. This year is SPICY. 3 shoo-ins (BAS) and a lot of guesswork.

    And whoever is out – their film immediately loses any chance of winning BP. Love the stakes, love the action. This is a race for Grantland readers.

    After BAS I personally think Hooper and Lee. But this is as unpredictable as it gets.

  67. Just because you hate Les Miss and hooper missed out the Globe, he’ll still get in. Ang Lee will miss out mark my words.

    1. Steven Spielberg
    2. Ben Affleck
    3. Kathryn Bigelow
    4. Tom Hooper

    That leaves the Weinstein boys Russell, PTA, and Tarantino.

    I think Russell will miss out-he’ll get a writing, but the film is more of an actor thing, I think the Academy will decide, plus Russell hasn’t reached the acclaim somebody like Alexander Payne has with them, and the film isn’t that big of a hit. Plus, Brooks missed out for As Good as it Gets.

    So right now it’s QT vs PTA for that 5th spot. I still believe both will get screenplay nods. For whatever reason, I think PTA will sneak in with that Terrence Malick/David Lynch respect. The Academy can hate the film all they want, but they’d be lying if they didn’t believe that it’s not one of the 5 best directed films this year, if not the best.

    DGA:
    1. Spielberg
    2. Bigelow
    3. Affleck
    4. Ang Lee
    5. Tarantino

  68. guys, is there any way to watch any of these films online? I live in Turkey and there’s no way for me to watch Les Mis, Lincoln, Django before many awards announcement.

  69. Since it’s getting late and I didn’t like ARGO or LINCOLN or LIFE OF PI enough, I’ve decided to go all in for Quentin Tarantino. Haven’t seen it yet. But it doesn’t matter. If he’s got the shot, he must take it.

    Spielberg and Lee already have “career” Oscars. Affleck doesn’t deserve one of those yet. QT is way past due. PTA is the only other who needs one. But he’s not talking retirement. Christopher Nolan is in the on deck circle.

  70. Both Andersons should be in. Those are two outstanding films rooted in the original vision of their directors.

  71. Chris Uszler

    Regarding that pesky “Driving Miss Daisy” vs. “Born On the 4th of July” discussion, I would like to point out (and tell folks too young to remember) that Oliver Stone and “Born” both appeared headed for Oscar victories as would be expected the day the nominations were announced. But soon aftewards a major controversy erupted. Stone and his film were attacked on the Op-Ed pages of America’s newspapers by a conservative political columnist (I think it was Robert Novak, but it might have been George Will) for distorting the truth in his movie and having a left-wing axe to grind. This major blow-up was not limited to the soft-news, entertainment pages of publications. It was “real news,” the discussion continuing for quite some time and spilling over to shows like “Meet the Press” all while Oscar voting was taking place. That certainly sunk “Born” for the Best Picture Oscar. It might have sunk Stone’s Best Director Oscar too except “Daisy’s” director, Bruce Beresford had not been nominated and enough Academy members apparently decided to stick up for “our guy” even though they abandoned his picture.

  72. Looks like Weinstein has decided which director to push – QT has been everywhere in the past week and tonight has the hour with Charlie Rose. I think his nomination is pretty much assured.

  73. Thanks, stevsie. I’ll have to remember to tune in. :)

  74. Spielberg
    Affleck
    Russell
    Bigelow
    Tarantino

  75. moviewatcher

    I don’t understand why you hate Driving Miss Daisy, Sasha. It’s an amazing movie, IMHO.

  76. I really want David O. Russel to get a nomination because Silver Linings Playbook made my heart happy. I think it’s 50/50 with him. I wouldn’t call Ang Lee a near lock. I really enjoyed Life of Pi, but like everyone else is saying, I think the acclaim has died down a bit. Here’s how I see things going down…

    Locks:
    Affleck, Bigelow, Spielberg
    Strong Contenders:
    Russel, Lee, Tarantino, Anderson
    Dark Horse:
    Haneke

  77. I completely forgot about Hooper because I don’t find him to be a skilled director and the love for Les Mis isn’t really there. He’s a possibility because Les Mis is a movie the voters eat up, but I’m not on the bandwagon.

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