Michael Haneke: Amour
Benh Zeitlin: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee: Life of Pi (winner)
Steven Spielberg: Lincoln
David O. Russell: Silver Linings Playbook
We’re in an uncomfortable situation with the nominees for Best Director 2012: I genuinely don’t like two of the nominated films. That means there’s going to be some room for improvement here. We can start with Ben Affleck and Argo, where the lack of nomination was egregious enough that it was specifically called out at the ceremony. While I didn’t love Les Miserables, I can make a case for Tom Hooper. I also find it strange that Wes Anderson seems to get his screenplays nominated regularly but rarely gets the nod for director. Moonrise Kingdom certainly deserved some love for him. I’m not surprised that Drew Goddard was ignored for The Cabin in the Woods, but I think I can make a case for him. Big budget-y tentpoles don’t get director nominations, but Joss Whedon may have deserved some love for The Avengers. Skyfall rewrote the James Bond franchise in many ways, and Sam Mendes deserves some of the credit for that. Killer Joe was too far out there for William Friedkin to get much consideration. The same is probably true with Pete Travis and Dredd. The biggest miss in my opinion is for the movie that apparently only I really like: Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis for Cloud Atlas.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I didn’t like Beasts of the Southern Wild at all, aside from Quvenzhane Wallis. It’s always interesting to see some new blood in the Best Director race, but not in a case where it’s not really deserved, and Benh Zeitlin didn’t deserve to be here. Zeitlin got an amazing performance out of his diminutive star, but he also attempted to balance the entire teetering project on her shoulders. She’s game for this and does her best, but as good as she is, she simply can’t support the ponderous weight of a film that seems to be interesting ideas in search of a point.
4. I like Ang Lee and I like a lot of his movies, but aside from the CGI work, I was completely unimpressed with Life of Pi. The digital work is truly stunning, and while there are always constant advances in movies, it still looks great. That doesn’t help with the fact that the movie itself seems to be very little beyond the CGI. I’m uninterested in the characters and uninterested in the plot. A good directorial performance needs to be more than giving the audience something pretty to look at, and I don’t see a lot else here. Sorry if you have a problem with that.
3. And now we come to the difficult position of not knowing which film deserves third place the most. This is because I pretty much think all three of the remaining films deserve to be in this position. I’m putting Spielberg and Lincoln in third for one important and specific reason: he muffs the ending. The real ending of Lincoln is the shot of Abe walking down a hallway at the end of the American Civil War. We don’t need the assassination, which means we don’t really need the last ten minutes. Spielberg, after gamely resisting his constant desire to ramp up the emotional content of his film, gave in at the end and he shouldn’t have.
2. I stared at the last two movies/directors for a couple of minutes before I decided to put Silver Linings Playbook and David O. Russell in second place. If this is the performance you’d like in first, I can see your point and I don’t completely disagree with you. One of the best things about the film is that it plays things straight in terms of the mental illness of the characters. It doesn’t sugar coat or make the characters “wacky” and “fun,” giving us a much more real depiction of actual mental illness. Russell also managed to get a performance out of Chris Tucker that didn’t make me want to strangle him. That’s gotta be worth something, doesn’t it?
1. Putting Amour and Michael Haneke at the top may well be a vote for the movie on my part rather than the actual directorial performance. Haneke manages to create a film that fits in perfectly with his oeuvre but also manages to be his most tender and heartfelt movie at the same time. He gets Oscar-caliber performances out of all three members of his main cast, although only Emmanuelle Riva was nominated. It’s a beautiful film and one that is beautifully made.
The truth is that I don’t think any of the nominated directors really deserve the top prize. I’d be a lot happier giving this to Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom or to Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis for Cloud Atlas. Ben Affleck for Argo, Sam Mendes for Skyfall and even Tom Hooper for Les Miserables would warrant more attention as well. Oscar didn’t nominate that well this year.