Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: Birdman (winner)
Richard Linklater: Boyhood
Bennett Miller: Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum: The Imitation Game
2014 was such a great year for movies, and while I like a lot of the movies and directors nominated here, there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of directors who deserved some recognition and love. As usual, I’ll drop out the ones unlikely to get a nomination even in the most favorable of circumstances. We can start with James Gunn and Guardians of the Galaxy, which was never going to be taken seriously in this sort of category. The same is true of David Robert Mitchell and It Follows, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for The LEGO Movie, and Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi for What We Do in the Shadows. It’s also true of Chad Stahelski for John Wick, despite this going a long way to rewriting the action movie style. Oscar doesn’t like horror, but artsy horror like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night could have earned some love for Ana Lily Amirpour. Another clear choice for a non-English language director is Andrey Zvyaginstsev for Leviathan. Science fiction is also an overlooked genre, but I was actually surprised at the lack of love for Alex Garland and Ex Machina in this category. I could argue for a lot of these directors to be nominated, but there are three that I still find surprising to be on the outside looking in. These are, in no order, David Fincher for Gone Girl, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, and Ava DuVernay for Selma.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. With all of the tremendous directorial performances in 2014, there are a couple who I think are here simply because of the overall acclaim for the films in question. The first of these, or the one I think deserves a directorial nomination the least, is Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. This is not to say anything particularly negative about the film itself (although it has problems), but it’s a case where the director seemed to do little more than just get out of the way of the film. Honestly, I think it’s focused in the wrong way, and Tyldum has to take some of the responsibility for that.
4. I can see the nomination for Bennett Miller and Foxcatcher just a touch more than that for Tyldum. The reason for that is the rather astonishing performances of the three male leads, particularly Steve Carrell. Who knew that performance was locked behind those eyes? So, I give Miller at least a little credit for helping that performance happen, but once again, it seems to be a case of just getting out of the way of what is happening in front of the cameras. It’s a good movie, a damn good one, in fact, and while it’s Miller telling the story, I think most of the credit goes to the screenplay and the cast.
3. The good thing about Wes Anderson is that you pretty much know what you’re going to get with a Wes Anderson film. The bad thing is that you pretty much know what you’re going to get from one of his films. I think Anderson has an Oscar in his future, but it’s more likely that he’ll win for Original Screenplay. It will have to be a very down year for directors in general for Anderson to walk away with a directorial Oscar. As much control as he takes over his narratives, there’s just no chance for him to surprise anyone, even with a film as good as The Grand Budapest Hotel.
2. I went back and forth a little on who I put second and who I put first, but ultimately decided that eventual winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu deserved to be here for Birdman but not in first. It’s a bold directorial choice, and the truth is that I like the way the film is directed a lot more than I like the film itself. It feels like a short trip into insanity, or into a completely disordered mind. Time seems to make no sense. There’s a lot to love here, but it’s also the sort of movie that hurts my head. In a lesser year, I could see going here, but this wasn’t a lesser year.
1. No, I’m giving this to Richard Linklater for Boyhood. Say what you will about Boyhood (and a lot of people have, ad nauseum), but this is one of the most impressive directorial achievements in film history. Keeping this narrative together over twelve years, filming this as an ongoing project for so long and maintaining the sort of narrative thrust, the involvement of the cast and crew, and the project as a whole is astonishing. It’s not the best movie of 2014, but it is the most impressive feat in storytelling, and Linklater should have been rewarded for that.