Hollywood’s most famous and powerful director is going for his seventh nomination in the category and first since Munich in 2005 . Previously nominated for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and a winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, this is his best chance to make it a three-peat with his screen adaptation of the beloved book and play War Horse. The epic look at the adventures of a brave horse in World War I has all the elements of a winner: strong emotion, big action scenes and a major pedigree. With his well-reviewed first animated foray Tintin also being released at the same time, Spielberg is a force to be reckoned with this year.
Although his filmography is not large, it includes such modern classics as Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, which won him an adapted screenplay Oscar in 2005 and represents his only nomination in the directing category. A second nomination for the much-acclaimed Hawaiian-set dramedy The Descendants would seem a strong bet, and the film — which resembles past winners like Terms Of Endearment and The Apartment in its effortless mix of comedy and drama — would seem a perfect recipe for success here.
Like Spielberg, Allen has been Oscar-nominated six previous times as best director, but his last nod came 17 years ago for Bullets Over Broadway. He won the first time out for Annie Hall in 1977, although he also has two other Oscars for screenwriting and 14 overall nominations in that category. Since its opening-night debut in Cannes in May, Midnight In Paris has seemed destined to put Allen back in the driver’s seat in both categories this year, and the continuing box office and critical success of the movie has not hurt his chances. Once thought to be well beyond his prime, Allen is a longtime Academy favorite who could benefit from proving he is this year’s true comeback kid — although comedy isn’t usually a huge factor here.
Yet another six-time nominee in this category for the likes of Raging Bull, The Last Temptation Of Christ, GoodFellas, Gangs Of New York, The Aviator and his winner The Departed, Scorsese has made his first 3D excursion and family film with Hugo, based on the children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. While serving as a history lesson in the origins of cinema, Hugo is a true director’s treat, and the use of 3D may be the best yet seen onscreen. It makes this master a formidable contender here, even if the film itself fails to make the cut as a best picture nominee.
Although his directing resume is thin — only five films released in 38 years, and he has been nominated in the directing category only once before, for 1998’s The Thin Red Line — Malick’s long-awaited existential epic The Tree Of Life is the kind of personal, uncompromised filmmaking directors love. Although it was a modest performer ($13.3 million domestic box office.) and has divided audiences, it did win Cannes’ Palme d’Or and could nab the reclusive Malick his second nomination for best director based on prestige factors alone.
Eastwood is a four-time nominee and two-time winner in the category, so that’s a pretty good track record. Working again in the biographical genre with this portrait of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the icon proves he still has style and stamina even at age 81. Directors just might want to reward the oldest contender this year for hanging in there and still turning out challenging movie dramas that go against the grain of what major studios normally traffic in these days.
Many thought Fincher’s time for his first best director Oscar had come with 2008’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, but he ran into the Slumdog Millionaire juggernaut. Then he became a frontrunner last year for The Social Network until he was derailed by a certain king with speech problems. Could this finally be his year? Although his remake of the Swedish book and film phenomenon is said to be intensely violent, it is right in line with Fincher’s gritty fare. It may be that working in his comfort zone will finally bring him that Oscar.
Although this acclaimed stage and film director has only made three movies – Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader — each one brought him an Oscar nomination as best director, the best movie-to-nomination record in the category. It’s expected that this highly emotional post-9/11 drama starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock could make it 4 for 4. The directors branch clearly loves this guy. and this kind of material (the script is from Oscar winner Eric Roth) usually spells Oscar anyway.
Clooney is quickly becoming a renaissance man in show business and was previously nominated in the directing category for 2005’s Good Night, And Good Luck. An Oscar winner already for his supporting performance in the same year’s Syriana, Clooney continues to take on challenging material and bringing this highly charged political thriller to the screen as a writer, producer, director and co-star is something fellow directors may well admire. That’s especially true since having a sex scandal as part of its plot makes it seem even more relevant and prescient since its opening.
With three major movies under his belt, Reitman managed two best director nominations already for Juno and Up In The Air. This dark comedy about a woman in her 30s (played by Charlize Theron) who refuses to grow up is gaining early raves after surprisingly skipping the film festival circuit this fall. Paramount is hoping to spring it as a late-inning surprise in December, and the timing could bode well for Reitman’s chances of landing a third directing nod, although most pundits see this as a long-shot possibility. They said the same thing about his chances for Juno. Don’t count him out.
Could the one candidate among the frontrunners who has never had a nomination — or even been in the awards conversation — take it all? Hazanavicius, previously best known for the OSS 117 French James Bond spoofs, has been dutifully working the festival circuit since Cannes with this black-and-white silent charmer, and it may pay off in his first Oscar nomination. Wherever it has been shown, audiences have stood up and cheered; could the same reaction happen within the much more insular and exclusive directors branch? A movie like Scorsese’s Hugo that deals with Hollywood’s beginnings, The Artist also has the benefit of Harvey Weinstein’s awards-season savvy, and with this unusual entry he smells Oscar.
TATE TAYLOR, THE HELP
Actor-turned-director Taylor is riding a hot hand with the summer smash hit ($168 million domestic box office), and while the film seems more and more a sure thing in the best picture race, his very assured direction is in danger of getting overlooked. He stands a better shot in the adapted screenplay category.
This festival favorite and controversial NC-17 drama is an acquired taste and may be seen as too indie and indulgent by some. But don’t count it out, even if it is a long shot for the directing prize. Michael Fassbender’s lead performance may be its best bet.
This very intense and important Bosnian-set story marks superstar Jolie’s directorial debut, and the fact that she took on such challenging material may impress the directors branch. Plus it is also being released in its native language, which gives her points for authenticity. Angie’s the real deal but not really a member of this club yet, so her chances are iffy, but late December momentum and good reviews could help.
This seems more like a slam dunk for its star Meryl Streep than anything else, but The Weinstein Company is quietly starting to boost its chances across the board. Lloyd, previously known for Streep’s Mamma Mia!, may not be able to ride the wave.
Fox has not put Crowe’s latest front and center as a major Oscar-type picture so far, and not many have seen it yet. The studio seems more intent on selling it as a feel-good family film for the holidays (it opens December 23). Crowe’s early directorial credits including Say Anything, Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous (for which he won a best original screenplay Oscar) made him a force, but Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown were not as well received. Could this be a box office and artistic comeback?
Although it was passed over for prizes after its official competition screening in Cannes, many critics thought Almodovar’s first foray into the horror genre was worthy of Hitchcock at this sinister best. Too complex and creepy for some, the Almodovar directorial touches are evident everywhere, and his long-awaited cinematic reunion with muse Antonio Banderas is another plus. The two-time Oscar winner has only one nomination in this category, for 2002’s Talk To Her, so count this one as a long shot.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.