The directing category is often the most difficult to evaluate. How much credit does the director get for what goes on the screen? How much is their vision and how much is the talent of the actors, writers, cinematographers, editors, and so on and so on. How much credit does a coach get for the plays his team makes on the field? And while it’s tricky to measure the impact of a director it’s easy to appreciate the work of these five men. But only one will take home Oscar gold.
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
What is most spectacular about Chazelle’s work on La La Land is how different the written script is from the final product on the screen. If you read La La Land you’ll see the seeds of what it would become but not a fully formed reality. But Chazelle had unshakable vision for the film and the wisdom to adapt to bring it into being. Making a modern movie musical with the heart and soul of 1940s Hollywood is a massive undertaking. But Chazelle’s steady (albeit young) hand masterfully put it all together. It reminds me of Frank Capra’s work on It Happened One Night. He knew what he had in mind even if others around him couldn’t see it. What he created was movie magic. Chazelle has done the same.
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Mel sure knows how to make a war picture. But Hacksaw Ridge is so much more than that. Some of the best direction takes place off the battlefield, especially between Andrew Garfield and Hugo Weaving. Mel expertly weaves the relationship between Desmond Doss and his father Tom through the story, especially in the first two acts. He knew it was crucial in giving meaning to Desmond’s faith and his decision to be a conscientious objector, making his heroics on the battlefield much more meaningful.
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
The most impressive element of Lonergan’s direction is his use of Michelle Williams as Randi, Lee Chandler’s (Casey Affleck) ex-wife. A lesser director might be tempted to want her on-screen as much as possible. She’s a marvelous talent. But he understood if he oversaturated the film with her presence it would turn it into a story about Randi and Lee. Picking his moments heightened the impact of her presence and kept the focus on Lee’s self-imposed isolation. Smart move from a smart director.
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Ambitious but personal. That’s how I’d describe Barry Jenkins’ vision for Moonlight. It’s ambitious in that it tells the heartbreaking story of Little/Chiron/Black across three stages that young man’s life. It’s personal in the way he tells the story. He leads the audience effortlessly on a journey that is at times sweet and others quite sad. To achieve that balance between the ambitious and the personal is truly remarkable.
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
I have a little bit of an issue with this nomination. I didn’t think the direction was anything extraordinary. I suspect it is the technical achievement of this film that led to Villeneuve’s nomination. The visual experience of Arrival is remarkable without going over the top. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker give good performances so all-in-all it’s a good effort. But for my money instead of an Oscar nomination I’d give Villeneuve a crisp high-five. I’d have gone with Scorsese in this spot for Silence.
SELBY PICK: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
PREDICTION: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
It’s a tight race but La La Land is just too good and too unique to not honor its director. When Chazelle’s name is announced on Sunday night he’ll become the youngest best director winner in Oscar history, claiming a record that has stood for 85 years.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know here: