The good news: last year’s Oscar season is over. The bad news? This year’s Oscar season has begun. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have weeks of Q&As and gaudy pull-quote ads to process, but by this time last year, “Whiplash,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood,” three of this year’s big winners, had already premiered. And you can bet that publicists and executives have already started planning their campaigns for the next season, even when the films are only just entering production.
And as we’ve done for the past few years, we’re exorcising our demons and spending the week running down some of the premature possibilities for films that have been released so far that seem at a distance like they could have the right stuff for Oscar gold.
This week, we’ve examined the races for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Best Supporting Actress, and now we’re tackling Best Director. The contests as such have been pretty close race in the last few years: Tom Hooper vs. David Fincher, Michel Hazavanicius vs. Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee vs. David O. Russell, Alfonso Cuaron vs. Steve McQueen, and this year Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu vs. Richard Linklater, which went right down to the wire before the “Birdman” helmer was triumphant. Who will be in the mix this year? Take a look below, and let us know your predictions in the comments.
Steven Spielberg – “Bridge Of Spies”
He’s received fourteen Oscar nominations across his career, but it’s not like Spielberg gets a Best Director nomination every time he’s in awards movie mode: films like “Empire Of The Sun,” “Amistad” and “War Horse” saw him coming up empty. But any new serious Spielberg movie is worth paying attention to, and his upcoming the Cold War espionage drama “Bridge Of Spies” seems like it has some real potential. Based on a true story and seemingly hewing closer to “Munich,” which he received a nomination for, it sounds like there should much opportunity for some classically Spielberg suspense set-pieces, but with some historical weight as well. If the film resembles “War Horse” rather than a “Saving Private Ryan,” we could see it getting a Best Picture nod, but not for Best Director one (or not even the former). For now, there’s every reason to think Spielberg will be one of the five.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – “The Revenant”
Given that it takes a long-ass time to make a movie, it’s very rare for a filmmaker to receive two nominations as such in a row, and even rarer for one to win two in a row: David O. Russell pulled off the former, but was the first to do since Clint Eastwood nearly a decade earlier, and no one’s managed the latter feat since John Ford in 1940/1941. Could Inarritu be the first in seventy years to match Ford? Having picked up his first Oscar for “Birdman,” he’s going to be back in the mix rightaway with the revenge flick “The Revenant” and will reunite with much of his creative team, most notably DP Emmanuel Lubezki, in the process. The film will have to be superb to make people want to award Inarritu over someone else, but it does sound hugely different to “Birdman,” which’ll no doubt help.
Quentin Tarantino – “The Hateful Eight”
Though he now has two screenwriting Oscars, the bigger prize has heretofore escaped Tarantino, something the filmmaker and Harvey Weinstein will be hoping to fix in 2016 with “The Hateful Eight.” His widescreen 70mm Western isn’t just a new film from a director who’s become increasingly Academy-friendly in his old age, but in its (likely) big-screen grandeur could be the closest thing to a bravura visual showcase in a year that so far doesn’t appear to have a “Life Of Pi,” a “Gravity” or a “Birdman.” Could this finally be Tarantino’s year? It’s worth noting that he didn’t get a nomination for “Django Unchained,” and there’s a certain portion of the Academy membership who aren’t on board with him, but the stars could well be aligning this time.
David O Russell – “Joy”
Then again, Russell could be the potential spoiler for Tarantino. The idea of the filmmaker being an Oscar nominee once seemed kind of crazy, but his mellower, Academy-friendly second act resulted in three nominations in four years, two of them back-to-back, and there’s now an increasing sense that it’s not if Russell eventually wins, but when. It remains to be seen if “Joy” is the film to do it: a script by “Bridesmaids” writer Annie Mumulo suggests it’s more on the comedic side, hardly a popular genre for the Best Director winner, and the film’s focus on Jennifer Lawrence might make it feel like more of a performance showcase. If the film’s up to his usual standard, this could be the one to push him over the edge.
Danny Boyle – “Steve Jobs”
It’s almost worth giving Boyle another Oscar just to see him do the Tigger jumps again, but it’s also worth noting that the great British filmmaker only has one directing nomination, resulting in his win for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Could he return to the stage, or at least the audience, for helming the Aaron Sorkin penned “Steve Jobs” biopic? We all know that the helmer has the talent, and this is certainly the baitiest material he’s had in a while. Will the film be seen as more of a writer’s movie? Perhaps (it’s something of a chamber piece in some respects), but that didn’t prevent David Fincher getting an Oscar nomination for “The Social Network,” which was also penned by Sorkin. Will Boyle be seen as more of a director-for-fire here, having stepped in after Fincher flirted with and then discarded the project? Yeah, possibly. But unless the film’s as dull as the iTunes terms of service, he’ll likely be in the discussion.
The Next 5:
David Gordon Green – “Our Brand Is Crisis”
After Richard Linklater broke out of the indie ghetto and won the respect of his Hollywood peers with a nomination for “Boyhood” last year, could Gordon Green be the next longtime indie helmer to follow? The helmer’s had one of the most diverse and prolific careers out there, from artsy breakthrough “George Washington” to dumb big-budget stoner comedy with “Your Highness,” but “Our Brand Is Crisis” falls right in the middle of mainstream and respectability, with a major studio, big stars, and a ton of Oscar potential. It’s unlikely to be the showiest of the nominees, and Gordon Green’s a lot younger than Linklater, so probably isn’t seen as “due” in the same way, but if people love the movie enough, it might be enough to pull him into the final five.
Cary Fukunaga – “Beasts Of No Nation”
The smart cookies had their eyes on Fukunaga since his debut “Sin Nombre,” but unusually, it was a TV show, in the shape of “True Detective,” that convinced many that he was one of the most talented young filmmakers out there. Fukunaga has some some serious chops, and subject matter of “Beasts Of No Nation,” regarding African child soldiers, should give him a chance to pull off the visceral kind of filmmaking that he made his name with. It seems likely that the film will be controversial, and for reasons nothing to do with the film, rather with how people are seeing it. Netflix plans to roll it out theatrically and on their service simultaneously, and major theater chains are already refusing to screen the movie as a result. Will this affect Academy voting?
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”
The slot for the bold Sundance helmer early in their feature career hasn’t always come to pass in the last few years — Damien Chazelle missed for “Whiplash” this time, for instance— but Benh Zeitlin’s success with “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” proved that there’s definitely a desire to recognize fresher blood. This time, it could go to Gomez-Rejon. A former PA to Martin Scorsese, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Nora Ephron, among others, Gomez-Rejon made his name in TV (he was Emmy-nominated for “American Horror Story: Coven”), but his breakthrough feature came at Sundance this year with “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl,” which saw praise specifically for the direction, both in its assured juggling of tone and showy, poppy filmmaking compared to the likes of Wes Anderson (as our review says, he “directs the hell out of every scene”). The film will need to last into awards season for him to stand a chance, but the ingredients are certainly there for a nomination.
Tom Hooper – “The Danish Girl”
Somewhat of a surprise and not an entirely popular Oscar winner over Fincher for “The King’s Speech,” Hooper missed out on a nod for “Les Miserables,” but could be back in the game come the start of 2016 for his latest, “The Danish Girl.” The film’s likely to be driven by its performances by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, but Hooper’s distinctive style rarely takes a backseat either, and should the film pack an emotional punch and land with voters, he could be in the game.
Todd Haynes – “Carol”
It feels somewhat outrageous that Haynes has never been Oscar nominated, but he’s always been something of an outsider. Beginning in the punkish landscape of New Queer Cinema with “Superstar” and “Poison,” Haynes has always been a hugely distinctive and provocative filmmaker whose tastes don’t necessarily align with the Academy’s. But when he’s in period melodrama mode, as with “Far From Heaven” (which saw him pick up a Screenplay nod), or “Mildred Pierce,” which won a record number of Emmy nominations, Haynes is more palatable to AMPAS voters, and Patricia Highsmith adaptation “Carol” seems like it has the potential to be his mainstream breakthrough. After all, filmmakers like Gus Van Sant were eventually welcomed by the Academy, and here Haynes has a lush period setting, a big name cast, and the backing of The Weinstein Company. He will likely need all the support he can get, but if the film takes off with critics, that overdue nomination might not be far away.
Also In Contention: In a category that’s become increasingly unpredictable over the years, there’s still a huge range of options at this time. Gus Van Sant “Sea of Trees” and Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Demolition” might seem performance-driven, but again, if they pick up enough steam, their helmers could get nods. Baltasar Kormakur and Robert Zemeckis both have “Gravity” style 3D adventures with “Everest” and “The Walk,” while Ridley Scott’s also venturing into space with “The Martian.”
Linklater might have another chance to win with “That’s What I’m Talking About,” while John Crowley’s Sundance favorite “Brooklyn” will certainly be in the conversation. Jodie Foster’s grown as a director thanks to her TV work recently, so “Money Monster” is viable, while Don Cheadle’s making his debut with the promising “Miles Ahead.” Jonathan Demme could be back on form with “Ricki & The Flash”; Stephen Frears has a chance to return to nominations with “Icon”; Warren Beatty is back with his as-yet-untitled Howard Hughes movie, and foreign-language filmmakers Luca Guadgnigno and Paolo Sorrentino are working in English with “A Bigger Splash” and “The Early Years.”
Tom McCarthy could redeem himself for “The Cobbler” with “Spotlight”; Sean Penn’s back to directing with “The Last Face”; Scott Cooper’s going gangster with “Black Mass”; Cameron Crowe’s saying “Aloha”; Brad Bird’s going to “Tomorrowland”; Woody Allen’s dealing with an “Irrational Man”; Denis Villeneuve’s going south of the border for “Sicario”; Guillermo Del Toro’s heading to “Crimson Peak”; Jeff Nichols has a “Midnight Special”; Justin Kurzel’s telling the tale of “Macbeth”; Terrence Malick’s showing off his “Knight Of Cups”; Justin Chadwick has “Tulip Fever”; Oliver Stone’s holed up with “Snowden”; and Ryan Coogler’s in the corner for “Creed.”
Anyone else you think’s worth betting on? Let us know in the comments.