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This year’s Oscar race for Best Director features an especially strong roster. The five nominees are Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, Alexander Payne for The Descendants and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. Four of them did magnificent work this year, one of them less so, but in the end there will only be one winner.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is not a love letter to nostalgia or a trite piece of idol worship. Instead, it’s a mature artist realizing his own folly. It’s a melancholy film, yet Allen’s direction is full of hope, with the final choice of the hero underlining the pointlessness of living in the past and the necessity of having to trudge on. Michel Hazanavicius’ supreme achievement in The Artist is making people talk about the silent era again and argue about whether the film accurately represents it. Terrence Malick’s canvas is as wide as they come in The Tree of Life, where he explores life, death, the universe and everything in a spasmodic stream-of-consciousness narrative. He finds the personal in the expansive. The theme of loss permeates the film. Malick arranges the beautiful movements with grandeur. The Descendants is perhaps Alexander Payne’s most conventional movie to date. Loss, once again, is prominent in this family drama deftly directed by Payne with a loving eye for the minute details in the grand scheme of life.
But this year’s Academy Award for Best Director should go to the master, Martin Scorsese. In Hugo, Scorsese shares with the audience his eternal love of movies through a magnificent palate of colors and exuberant motion made all the more fantastic by an exemplary use of 3D. But despite the added dimension, Hugo is the rare 3D film that works without it; the opening title sequence alone is a marvel of direction. Scorsese also displays a knack for physical comedy that one wouldn’t have expected. Generally, though, Scorsese’s direction manages to put a sense of wonder front and center. His love of films and filmmaking may be the hidden true subject of every film he has ever made. In a strange way, Hugo might be Scorsese’s most personal film to date.
Kevin B. Lee is editor in chief of Press Play. Ali Arikan is the chief film critic of Dipnot TV, a Turkish news portal and iPad magazine, and one of Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents. Ali is also a regular contributor to The House Next Door, Slant Magazine’s official blog.