TWO MORE DAYS! I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.
- Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln“
- Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty“
- Ben Affleck, “Argo“
- Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables“
- David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook“
In case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations. If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”
It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.
Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in. I don’t think anyone will debate that. Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place. Heck, I think any of these three could win. Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!
Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture. Could a similar surprise be in store this year?
Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again. She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture. Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?
And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director. I don’t think he would benefit from a split.
Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier. If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.” That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.
Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race. This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids. That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all. And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize. Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.
Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split. If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”
While many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure. I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture. It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes. It could also win the ensemble award at SAG. And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts. A nomination feels pretty secure to me.
“Life of Pi” support is fading. Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going. Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter. And the DGA nod certainly helps.
But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me. I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason). While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.
I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay. Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?
However, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use. So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee. But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.
The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations. But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.” I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.” As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.
They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages. In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.” For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.” It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.
Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.” They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994′s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009′s “Inglourious Basterds.” Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations. The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.
But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away. His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.” I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups. The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.
I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee. With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.
Academy voters are creatures of habit. If something works for them once, it often works again. Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born? Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time. ”Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff. The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama. (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)
So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here. I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever. But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.