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 Alexander Payne (“Downsizing”), Steven Spielberg (“The Post”) and foreign-film winner Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), 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: Christopher Nolan (action epic “Dunkirk”), Joe Wright (biopic “Darkest Hour”), Patty Jenkins (blockbuster “Wonder Woman”), “Logan” director James Mangold (who directed Oscar-contenders “Girl, Interrupted” and “Walk the Line”), or lauded writer Aaron Sorkin, who makes his directorial debut with Jessica Chastain in the title role in “Molly’s Game.”
Two actress-writer-directors made a splash on the film festival circuit: Greta Gerwig (coming-of-age tale “Lady Bird”) and Angelina Jolie (Cambodian-language Khmer Rouge drama “First They Killed My Father”). The former is a hit in limited release, the latter is on Netflix and is most likely to score a foreign language nomination.
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Coming up on the outside is rookie director Jordan Peele, who will likely land a writing nomination for his brilliant Hitchcockian sleeper hit “Get Out.” But his direction will also be remembered by critics at year’s end. And “Arrival” Oscar-nominee Denis Villeneuve delivered the tour-de-force, critically hailed sequel “Blade Runner 2049,” which disappointed at the box office.
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”)
Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”)
Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”)
Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour”)
Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”)
Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”)
Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”)
Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Dee Rees (“Mudbound”)
Steven Spielberg (“The Post”)
Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)
Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”)
Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit”)
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (“Battle of the Sexes”)
Angelina Jolie (“First They Killed My Father”)
James Mangold (“Logan”)
Alexander Payne (“Downsizing”)
Jordan Peele (“Get Out”)
Aaron Sorkin (“Molly’s Game”)
Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”)
Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”)