2017 Oscars Preview - Best Director
Best Director is perhaps the most exclusive club at the Oscars. In the 88 year history of the award, 69 individuals or teams have won. It is usually closely tied with the eventual Best Picture winner, with 63 films winning both awards over the years. Alejandro G Iñárritu has won the award the past two years (Birdman, The Revenant), but since he does not have a film due out this year, we are guaranteed a new winner. However, new doesn't necessarily mean first-time winner, with several previous winners in the mix this year. A lot can change over the coming months, but at this point, here are the names generating the most buzz:
Martin Scorsese - Silence
Widely praised as one of the greatest directors to ever live, "Marty" is always in the mix if he has a movie due out in a given year. His films have been nominated for a total of 80 Academy Awards over the years and include such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and more recently, The Wolf of Wall Street. His lone win in this category came for 2006's The Departed. Silence is the story of two seventeenth-century Jesuit priests facing violence and persecution as they travel to Japan to propagate Christianity. Marty's efforts are almost always solid, so expect to see him in the mix at the very worst.
Ang Lee - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Ang Lee is a visionary filmmaker who has won this award twice (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi). He also directed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to much acclaim and Oscar success, so it is fair to call him an Oscar darling. He was the first person of Asian descent to win this category and would join a very exclusive club (John Ford, Frank Capra and William Wyler) if he managed to win a third Best Director Oscar this year. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is based on a book about a soldier returning from war and participating in a halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys football game. The cast is star-studded, including Steve Martin and Kristen Stewart, but it is Lee's shooting choices that have grabbed headlines recently. The film is shot in 4K and 3D at 120fps, which is supposed to simulate the affects of PTSD. Early word is that it may be just the kind of breakthrough film that could make its director undeniable.
Jeff Nichols - Loving
Jeff Nichols is a relative newcomer compared to most in this group, with Loving being his fifth feature film. Loving deals with the story of the couple at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case that made gay marriage legal in the United States. Nichols already had one generally well-received (even if it was not a hit with TastFilm) movie this year with Midnight Special. Loving premieres at Cannes next month and many are expecting it to be a breakthrough work in an already promising career.
Niki Caro - The Zookeeper's Wife
Unfortunately, women have had very little success in this category. Only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director and only one has ever won (Kathryn Bigelow). Niki Caro looks to join their ranks with The Zookeeper's Wife, the true story of the Warsaw Zoo and a couple who saved many lives hiding people in animal cages during World War II. The film stars Jessica Chastain and is based on a beloved book by the same name. If the movie delivers, hopefully Caro gets the attention she deserves.
Nate Parker - The Birth of A Nation
This promises to be one of the more talked about entries on this list. It is the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 19th Century Virginia. Between the weighty subject matter and last year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy, expect to see lots written and said about this film. Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the film out of Sundance for a record $17.5M after it received rapturous praise at the festival. It remains to be seen how big of a hit it will be with critics and audiences, but it will definitely be a big part of the awards season. The Birth Of A Nation is due out October 7, 2016 and you can see the trailer HERE.
Damien Chazelle - La La Land
La La Land is one of the bigger question marks of the year. It is an original musical, which is a pretty rare thing. It stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and early word is that it is going to be very good. Chazelle is a very young director at just 31 years old, but he has already found success with the Academy with one of my favorite films of the last few years, Whiplash. It is hard to say whether Whiplash's success was an anomaly or the start of a really promising career, but everyone has high hopes for this one.
Denzel Washington - Fences
Denzel Washington may be the person on this list who has had the most Oscar success. He is a six-time nominee and a two time winner (Glory, Training Day), but all of that success has so far been in acting categories. His directorial efforts thus far, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, have been respectable, but have not risen to the level many hope Fences will. He will star in and direct this adaptation from the famous August Wilson play (which he also starred in on Broadway). All the elements are there, with co-star Viola Davis also set to reprise her stage role. Washington's efforts will be make or break for the film.
Morten Tyldum - Passengers
Morten Tyldum's last film was The Imitation Game, which garnered him his first Oscar nomination for Best Director. Passengers is a sci-fi drama starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, who are both very popular actors. The film deals with a 120-year manned space mission where the people are supposed to hibernate to live out the journey. While on the way, two of the 'passengers' wake up 90 years too soon. This one could certainly go either way, but the names involved put it on the radar for now.
Others to keep an eye on include Warren Beatty for his untitled Howard Hughes biopic, Clint Eastwood for Sully, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, David Frankel for Collateral Beauty and Woody Allen for Café Society. As always, we'll see how well these hold up, but stay tuned. It should be an interesting season.
For now, be sure to check out our other previews of the acting categories linked below:
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