Christopher Nolan is an Oscar nominee for Best Director for the first time thanks to “Dunkirk,” which is also nominated for Best Picture and a handful of crafts prizes, and he made it clear at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (via Collider) that he has brushed up on the competition. Nolan watched the movies directed by his four competitors—Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”)—and he has nothing but praise for every single one.
“How often do you get the experience of seeing something that you have no idea where it’s going to go, and then it goes somewhere far more interesting than you ever imagined?” Nolan asked when raving about “Get Out.”
Nolan remembered watching “The Shape of Water” and knowing instantly that it “came straight from [Guillermo del Toro’s] heart.” He said that despite not knowing much about del Toro’s personal experiences, he could tell how sincere he was just by watching his 13-time Oscar nominee. As for “Lady Bird,” Nolan compared the experience of watching Gerwig’s coming-of-age film to reliving a memory.
“It felt comfortable,” Nolan said of “Lady Bird.” “It felt like a part of life that I knew and had experienced. It felt like memory. And then, in talking to my wife about it, I realized that that’s not a relationship you ever see in films, but it feels like you’ve seen it before. It’s so complete, in the telling. It taps into things, particularly those of us who have 16-year-old daughters, as I do, who are into theater. It’s very precise.”
Perhaps the movie Nolan will most remember is “Phantom Thread,” mainly because his children won’t let him forget it. Nolan and his wife, producer Emma Thomas, made the mistake of bringing their young children to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie, and now they call their father “Woodcock” anytime they feel he’s asking too “dictatorial.” “Phantom Thread” has also made it impossible to cook with mushrooms in the Nolan household.
“My wife and I made the strange decision to take our kids to go see it and, ever since, every time I do anything vaguely what they would call dictatorial, it’s, ‘Oh, Mr. Woodcock, are you a spy? Get out your gun. Do you have a gun?'” Nolan said. “I’ve been hearing that for weeks. And every time Emma cooks mushrooms now, there are huge hysterics.”
Nolan and Anderson befriended each other over the years as both men fought to preserve celluloid. Nolan called the experience of watching “Phantom Thread” in 70mm a “pleasure.”
“The thing I found out about it, as it opened up on its photo-chemical version, is that I was suddenly very aware of how the use of sound in the film is extraordinary,” Nolan said. “It’s simple and gritty, and then extremely loud, like with the spreading of the butter on the toast. You feel it, up and down your spine. It’s amazing.”
“All of the films are just incredible work,” he concluded about the Best Director race at large. “I’m very proud to be amongst these guys.”
Head over to Collider to read Nolan’s interview in its entirety.