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Oscars 2023: Best Director Predictions

The fall festivals will help weed out a long early list of director Oscar hopefuls.

Ruben Östlund kissed every member of the Cannes jury after winning the Palme d'Or for "Triangle of Sadness"

Ruben Östlund kissed every member of the Cannes jury after winning the Palme d’Or for “Triangle of Sadness.”

We will update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting is from January 12 to January 17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 24, 2023. The final voting is March 2 through 7, 2023.  And finally, the 94th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT.

The State of the Race

Again this year, the usual five-slot Best Director category is half as big as Best Picture’s ten. That means, inevitably, that deserving contenders get left out — and surprises can sneak in. For Oscars 2022, the directors branch included Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, who was also nominated for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, even though “Drive My Car” was destined to take home the Oscar for International Feature Film. His Best Director slot took the place of French Canadian Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”).

As usual, festivals supply the early list of Oscar directing hopefuls. In 2020, Sundance yielded Oscar contender Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), while Cannes 2021 boosted Hamaguchi into contention. The 2022 Sundance breakout most likely to factor in Best Director is South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus’ tearjerker “Living” (Sony Pictures Classics), elegantly adapted by novelist-screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro from Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic “Ikiru.” The film stars master thespian Bill Nighy as a proper Englishman who wakes up and sees the people around him in a new way when he learns he has months to live.

Another festival breakout, directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s SXSW premiere “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (March 22) is a crowdpleaser, the first A24 release to pass $100-million worldwide. The question is whether the tony directors branch voters will reward a scruffy action-comedy adored by younger filmgoers — they did it with Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), who secured a Best Director nomination after his film won Sundance in 2012. The time, Oscar campaigners will seek to convince Academy directors to take the Daniels seriously.

Given this branch’s penchant for naming international directors (see Michael Haneke, Pawel Pawlikowski, Bong Joon Ho, Alfonso Cuaron), expect someone like two-time directing Oscar-winner A.G. Inarritu to make the cut for likely Mexican Oscar submission”Bardo,” which Netflix is debuting at Venice, or Cannes Palme d’Or-winner Ruben Ostlund’s first English-language film, the class satire “Triangle of Sadness” (Neon). Korean auteur Park Chan-wook also took home a Cannes prize, for Best Director, for his stylish film noir, “Decision to Leave” (Mubi).

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg

Getty Images

A-listers Rule

As always, A-list directors enter the Oscar race with an advantage over their competitors, especially with big-scale productions that command millions in studio marketing. Besides two-time Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg (Universal’s “The Fabelmans”), who has been nominated eight times over six decades for directing (most recently for “West Side Story”), another returning Oscar veteran with visual big-screen panache is “Moulin Rouge” Best-Picture nominee Baz Luhrmann, whose dazzling musical biopic “Elvis” (Warner Bros.) launched at Cannes and fared well at the summer box office (more than $210 million worldwide). A directing nomination for “Elvis” would be his first.

Meanwhile, another summer movie from a respected auteur has won raves in recent months. Original Screenplay Oscar-winner and directing nominee Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) wowed critics with his brilliantly reflexive third feature “Nope” (Universal), which could return him, despite its horror tropes, to the Oscar fray.

Also vying for directing nominations are two year-end blockbuster sequels, from “Titanic” Oscar-winner James Cameron (“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Twentieth Century), and multi-hyphenate Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Marvel), although they will have to surpass sky-high expectations created by the originals. While Coogler landed a Best Picture nomination for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and “Black Panther” won three craft Oscars, he has never landed in the Oscar directors circle.

“Empire of Light”

Searchlight Pictures

Several other Oscar season regulars are expected to make a strong showing on the fall circuit. These include two-time directing nominee Sam Mendes with his original romance “Empire of Light” (Searchlight), about an 80s movie palace on the South coast of England; it co-stars Oscar-winners Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) and Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”). There’s also “Black Swan” directing nominee Darren Aronofsky’s film of playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play “The Whale” (Venice, A24), which stars Brendan Fraser as an obese man trying to connect with his son. And year-end limited release “Babylon” (Paramount) from Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie (no festival plans have been announced yet).

Three filmmakers who have proved alluring to the directors branch in the past include playwright-filmmaker Martin McDonagh, whose “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight) brings back “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson; David O. Russell, whose latest ensemble, “Amsterdam” (Disney/Twentieth Century) stars Russell regular and Oscar-winner Christian Bale (“The Fighter”), Robbie, and John David Washington; and Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”). A test of his enduring popularity: whether animated “Pinocchio” (December, Netflix) starring voice actor Ewan McGregor as narrator Sebastian J. Cricket, is strictly consigned to the animation category.

The Eddy Netflix Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle directs an episode of “The Eddy”

Roger Do Minh / Netflix

Several writer-directors will be vying for their first directing Oscar. Noah Baumbach reunites with wife Greta Gerwig and “Marriage Story” star Adam Driver on “White Noise” (Netflix), adapted from the Don DeLillo novel, which is the first film to open both the Venice and New York film festivals; he’s been nominated twice for writing (“The Squid and the Whale” and “Marriage Story”). Also nominated for writing but never directing is “Little Children” director Todd Field, who returns to filmmaking after 16 years with “TÁR” (Focus Features), starring Cate Blanchett as renowned musician Lydia Tár. Adapted Screenplay Oscar-winner Florian Zeller (“The Father”) adapts another family drama, “The Son” (Sony Pictures Classics) starring Hugh Jackman, Vanessa Kirby and Laura Dern.

Straying from the mainstream, Luca Guadagnino rejoins “Call Me by Your Name” stars Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg with cannibal road trip movie “Bones & All” (Amazon/MGM/UA), which may prove more palatable to Gotham and Indie Spirits awards voters.

NEW YORK, NY- August 17: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan on the set of She Said on August 17, 2021 in New York City. Credit: RW/MediaPunch /IPX

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan on the set of “She Said”

RW/MediaPunch/MediaPunch/IPx

Beyond the Boys’ Club

Hitting theaters ahead of “Wakanda Forever” is another African-set movie centered on mighty women warriors: Gina Prince-Bythewood’s TIFF gala “The Woman King” (Sony), starring Oscar-winner Viola Davis (“Fences”) and John Boyega. The one woman to make the director competition last year took home the win: “The Power of the Dog” auteur Jane Campion (also nominated for “The Piano”), who became the third woman to win in this category after Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.”

None of the possible suspects has been nominated in this category before. Lauded films directed by women include the movie that was overlooked by France last year, Audrey Diwan’s timely abortion drama “Happening” (IFC), and two possible 2023 French Oscar submissions, Claire Denis’ Berlin director-winner “Both Sides of the Blade” (IFC) starring Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon, and Mia Hansen-Love’s Cannes entry “One Fine Morning” (SPC) starring Lea Seydoux. They would need support from year-end critics groups to become must-sees, along with Marie Kreutzer’s possible Austrian submission “Corsage” (IFC), starring Un Certain Regard Best Actress winner Vicky Krieps.

More likely contenders come from the fall festivals, which may give a boost to German auteur Maria Schrader’s New York Times true story “She Said” (Universal), starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan; Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (Plan B, UA Releasing) which boasts a starry ensemble including Oscar-winner Frances McDormand and nominees Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley; and New York Film Festival premiere “Till” (Amazon/UA Releasing), from writer-director Chinonye Chukwu (“Clemency”), which tells the heart-rending story of how educator-activist Mamie Till-Mobley (HBO Max’s “Station Eleven” star Danielle Deadwyler) pursued justice after the 1955 lynching of her 14-year-old son, Emmett Louis Till (Jalyn Hall).

Oscar contenders are listed in alphabetical order. Only films I have seen will be deemed frontrunners.

Frontrunners:
Oliver Hermanus (“Living”)
Baz Luhrmann (“Elvis”)
Ruben Ostlund (“Triangle of Sadness”)
Park Chan-wook (“Decision to Leave”)
Jordan Peele (“Nope”)

Contenders
Darren Aronofsky (“The Whale”)
Noah Baumbach (“White Noise”)
James Cameron (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)
Damien Chazelle (“Babylon”)
Chinonye Chukwu (“Till”)
Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”)
Todd Field (“TAR”)
A.G. Inarritu (“Bardo”)
Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
Sam Mendes (“Empire of Light”)
Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”)
Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King”)
David O. Russell (“Amsterdam”)
Maria Schrader (“She Said”)
Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”)
Florian Zeller (“The Son”)

Long Shots
Guillermo del Toro (“Pinocchio”)
Claire Denis (“Both Sides of the Blade”)
Audrey Diwan (“Happening”)
James Gray (“Armageddon Time”)
Luca Guadagnino (“Bones & All”)
Mia Hansen-Love (“One Fine Morning”)
Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick”)
Marie Kreutzer (“Corsage”)
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

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