Friday, December 9, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2007

The Contenders:

Julian Schnabel: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman: Juno
Tony Gilroy: Michael Clayton
Joel and Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men (winners)
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood

What’s Missing

With 2007, we’ve got a case where I at least like all of the movies that were nominated, and there are a couple that I like a hell of a lot. That bodes well. Of course, there’s almost always room for improvement here, even if the movies that I would want to bring in aren’t the sort that get nominations (or are directors who don’t get nominations). Heading that list for me is David Cronenberg for Eastern Promises, a film that manages to have the most depressing happy ending I’ve ever seen. Films like Hot Fuzz and The Mist are typically overlooked, but Edgar Wright and Frank Darabont (respectively) deserve a look here. The same is true with a film like The Orphanage, and J.A. Bayona had the additional hurdle of the film being in Spanish—but it would definitely be on my list. There were some interesting choices in Into the Wild (Sean Penn) and La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan), too. Based on reputation (since I haven’t seen them), David Fincher for Zodiac and Ben Affleck for Gone Baby Gone may be worth a mention as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The nomination for Michael Clayton seems more about the story than it does about the direction. I said in my original review of the film that it feels like a case where Tony Gilroy simply got out of the way of the story and filmed the actors playing the characters. That’s a great decision when the cast is really clicking and the story doesn’t need to be sexed up by the direction. But is it the sort of thing that deserves a nomination? I like the movie just fine, but I especially like the performances, and Gilroy’s work seems unimpressive to me.

4. Juno was probably the biggest surprise nomination for director, and again, I think it’s the movie and not the director that earned this nomination. I think a lot of people were enchanted by Juno, and I get that even if I was less charmed by it than just about everybody else. But again, I think it’s the story and the characters and particularly the work of Ellen Page that earned the nomination for Jason Reitman here. It’s Page who makes the movie, and while Reitman’s wok is good, I’m not convinced that it’s nomination-worthy. I’d rather see Cronenberg or Bayona here.

3. I had a very difficult time watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly because that film hits very close to a phobia for me. While I’ll probably never watch it again, it’s a film that contains surprising beauty. This is the first of the five nominations I actually like, because a lot of what makes the film work is the efforts of Julian Schnabel to make a character who literally can’t move compelling to us. Much of this goes to Mathieu Amalric’s performance as Jean-Dominique Bauby, but I give a great deal of credit to Schnabel as well. This is work that deserved to be recognized.

2. From what I know of the opinions of the readers of this site, There Will Be Blood is probably the consensus pick. Had it won, this would be an “Oscar Did Okay” situation, since I think a very strong case can be made for Paul Thomas Anderson. If he had won, I’d disagree, but only a little, and I’d be satisfied that Oscar made a solid pick. It’s a hell of a movie, one that is unrelenting and brutal, and much of that comes from the way that Anderson films what we see. If this is your pick, I won’t argue with you, because it would have been a choice I could live with easily.

My Choice

1. For me, though, the year didn’t get a lot better than No Country for Old Men. Much of that naturally comes from the performances of the three main actors, but a great deal of it comes from the choices that were made by the Coens. It’s fascinating to me that the film works as well as it does when those three main characters never appear on screen at the same time. How the hell did that work? I’m stunned that I didn’t even realize that was the case when watching the film, since everything is so seamless. That’s good storytelling, and that (to me) is what Best Director is all about. Good choice, Oscar. You did well.

Final Analysis


  1. This award should have been Joseph Wright's in a WALK. I'm still so sore over his ridiculous snub.

    1. I almost put Atonement on the list, but pulled it at the last minute. It's a film I really need to see again.

  2. Of what was nominated I agree that this is the proper winner, it would be the only one of the five I'd retain, but I'm with Fisti my choice for winner would be Joe Wright for Atonement.

    Of what you mentioned I'd include Finchner for Zodiac and add James Mangold for 3:10 to Yuma and Frank Oz for Death at a Funeral along with Atonement and No Country.

    1. I didn't love (or hate, really) the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, so it didn't play for me.

      If you haven't seen The Orphanage, I recommend it completely. There's not a frame of it I'd change, and much of that comes from Bayona. It's genuinely scary in places, and doesn't rely on gore or jump scares to get there.

  3. As much as it would be the unpopular opinion, if even only slightly, I'm with you on the order of your top two. I love both films unequivocally, but No Country for Old Men just edges out There Will Be Blood for me, for both Director and Picture; both films are the best work of their respective directors, but to me, that's why the Coens are the rightful winners over P.T. Anderson, again, only by a nose.

    1. I'm actually a little surprised there's not more love for There Will Be Blood at this point. Generally, it's one that I hear about a lot every time I mention No Country, which is my favorite of the Coens' work. Since I consider myself a Coen fan, that's saying something.

  4. Definitely agree with your top 2, and yes, either one would be deserving winner. I have seen 4 out of the 5 nominees (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is my miss). Some other non-nominees definitely worth a look are American Gangster (Ridley Scott), Charlie Wilson's War (Mike Nichols), Rendition (Gavin Hood) and as you mentioned, Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck). From what I've seen so far, my Best Director rankings would likely be:

    5. Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton
    4. Jason Reitman for Juno
    3. Gavin Hood for Rendition
    2. P.T. Anderson for There Will Be Blood
    1. The Coens for No Country For Old Men

    1. I'm not familiar with Rendition, so I can't comment on it. Naturally, I agree with the other four positions, though.