The best scripts and brightest performances can all go to waste if they aren’t edited properly. If the audio doesn’t sync up or the sound effects don’t make sense. If the costume designer puts Queen Anne in a Queen Elizabeth II outfit. Or the cinematographer forgets to put their contacts in. Our point is: movies are a team sport, and the director is the coach. Pulling all these elements together in a coherent movie is tough enough. Producing a masterpiece that touches someone’s soul is nearly impossible.
Unlike an actor, who usually does a few weeks of preparation and is on set for a few more weeks, the director spends months or a year in preproduction and a year or more working on the project after shooting wraps. To a director, the movie isn’t a project. It’s a child, to be concieved in the mind, raised in Hollywood and graduate at the commencement ceremony known as the Academy Awards.
So in this category when we say “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” we actually mean it!
And the nominees are..
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
For years, Paul has been turning out projects that would scare off other directors or studio producers. Or both. He’s just 47 years old and already has a resume most directors won’t achieve in a lifetime. In Phantom Thread, he beautifully demonstrates the chaos love can bring. He is an artist telling the story of an artist.
However there are two frontrunners and one potential spoiler in this category, and he is neither.
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Greta is only the fifth female nominated in this category and it is a well deserved honor. In Lady Bird she tells the story of a tortured relationship between a teenage daughter sprinting towards the future and a mom desperately clinging to the present. Both daughter (Saoirse Ronan) & mom (Laurie Metcalf) are nominated for Actress & Supporting Actress respectively. This a common story told with uncommon humanity, and that a woman leads the team brings an added feel of authenticity.
We believe Greta could someday win an Oscar, but that someday is not this Sunday.
Jordan Peele, Get Out
One half of Key & Peele is a triple nominee this year. He’s also up for Original Screenplay and as a producer in the Best Picture categories for Get Out. His storytelling is unique and threatens to reinvent any genre he tackles. This movie was so good it opened on Oscar weekend last year (one of the slowest weekends of the year), got buzz, kept buzz, and rode that buzz all the way to awards season. Unfortunately all that buzz has added up to a lot of nominations but not a lot of trophys. He could break through early in the night with an Original Screenplay win. But not as director.
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Guillermo puts the passion in passion project. A compelling story that is told primarily by two characters that can’t speak. The characters, aside from Michael Shannon’s two dimensional, stereotyped government thug, are rich and layered. The tension builds organically. Nothing about this feels forced. What you do feel is their pain. Their love. Their desire. Their disappointment. Their hope.
And speaking of hope, we truly hope del Toro wins this award. It is easily the best picture of the year and a masterpiece in every sense of the word. However, the winner will probably be..
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
The word “Epic” is said a lot in the same sentence as Christopher Nolan. From his Batman series ten years ago to Inception to Interstellar, Nolan routinely helms big, over-the-top masterpieces that engage the viewers. His works are often bloated but that wasn’t the case with Dunkirk, which tells the story of one massive event (saving hundreds of thousands of stranded soldiers from the Nazis) from three different perspectives along three different timelines which eventually intersect for about ten seconds. Each storyline (or at least two) could be their own stand alone mini-movie. You leave the theater feeling glad the boys got off the beach alive, but haven’t made any emotional connection with any one character. And none of the characters ever intersect with the others. This is why Shape of Water is better. But the epicness of Dunkirk will propel Nolan to the win.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A pint of cask ale (good luck finding it) and raise a glass to the boys of Dunkirk.