The past few years of Best Director winners have proven that cinema stylists who can deliver scale and scope often get rewarded: see Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and A.G. Inarritu’s “The Revenant,” not to mention Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land.”
But the Academy directors branch also recognizes breakout talent (Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and great international directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Michael Haneke and Mike Leigh. And they appreciate films featuring a showcase performance or two.
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Sundance standouts “Mudbound” (Netflix) and “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics) boast sprawling ensemble casts and lush rural settings in the American South and Italy, respectively. Will the Academy directors welcome Dee Rees and Luca Guadagnino into their ranks, or “My Name is Doris” director Michael Showalter, who delivered a small-scale heart-tugger of a true romance, “The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)?
They may welcome back Steven Spielberg (“The Post”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), Denis Villeneuve (“The Arrival”) or Ridley Scott (“All the Money in the World”) among the familiar Oscar players who have 2017 projects bursting with impressive casts.
The field is also open for directors to land their first directing Oscar nomination: DGA nominees include Martin McDonagh (angry dramedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Guillermo del Toro (romantic fantasy “The Shape of Water”), Christopher Nolan (action epic “Dunkirk”), rookie writer-director Jordan Peele (Hitchcockian thriller “Get Out”), and actress-writer-director Greta Gerwig, who made a splash on the film festival circuit with “Lady Bird” and could become the fifth woman to land an Oscar nomination.
Long shots include would-be first-time nominees Joe Wright (biopic “Darkest Hour”), Patty Jenkins (blockbuster “Wonder Woman”), “Logan” director James Mangold (who directed Oscar-contenders “Girl, Interrupted” and “Walk the Line”), and lauded writer Aaron Sorkin, who made his directorial debut with Jessica Chastain in the title role in “Molly’s Game.”
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A list of possibilities is below. No film will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it.
Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”)
Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”)
Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”)
Jordan Peele (“Get Out”)
Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”)
Steven Spielberg (“The Post”)
Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”)
Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”)
Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”)
James Mangold (“Logan”)
Dee Rees (“Mudbound”)
Aaron Sorkin (“Molly’s Game”)
Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour”)