Friday, February 7, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2009

The Contenders:

James Cameron: Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow: The Hurt Locker (winner)
Quentin Tarantino: Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels: Precious
Jason Reitman: Up in the Air

What’s Missing

I realize that I have to walk carefully for this award. The Oscar for Best Director 2009 is the only time that woman has won, and that’s something noteworthy. Regardless of this, there’s some improvements that can be made to the list of nominees. We can start with the foreign language movies that are so often ignored for non-foreign language awards. For 2009, these would include Rajkumar Hirai for Three Idiots and Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon. The directors of animated films have never gotten a Best Director nod, which leaves out Adam Elliot for Mary and Max. This was a rare year that got some nomination love for science fiction films, but we got nothing for Neill Blomkamp and Duncan Jones for District 9 and Moon respectively. A nomination for Scott Cooper for Crazy Heart would have been interesting, as would one for Oren Moverman for The Messenger. I would have loved to see a nomination for Armando Iannucci for In the Loop.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I liked Up in the Air a great deal, but I’m not sold on the nod for Jason Reitman for directing it. This is a performance-based movie, one that trades almost entirely on its stars rather than on how the story is told. It’s a case where I think Reitman put the cameras in the right place and let things happen in front of him. As I tend to say in such cases, when that’s the right choice, I give the director a lot of credit. But making that correct decision should not be enough for an Oscar nomination. I’d like to see more done here..

4. I liked Precious a lot more than I thought I would when I watched it, but looking back at it now, I buy it less and less. I can’t say that I hate the movie or even that I dislike it that much, but looking back at it, I do find it manipulative. Lee Daniels did a lot right with the movie, but a lot of what works seems to come from the screenplay more than anything else. This very much feels like a case where Oscar wanted to nominate the movie as much as possible for the movie’s sake rather than because it really earned those nominations..

3. Of these five movies, Avatar is by far my least favorite of them. The story was so telegraphed that I not only guessed what the last shot was going to be, I pinpointed the “surprise” moment almost precisely. I give a great deal of credit to the team for the overall look of the film. It really was gorgeous. But since this was the flavor of the month for a little bit, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it at all. For as much of a hit and cash cow as this was, it seems to have made almost no cultural impact, and for lack of a better person, I’m going to blame James Cameron.

2. I’ve had all sorts of things to say about Quentin Tarantino on this blog, a lot of them not very complimentary, but there’s a great deal that I like about Inglourious Basterds. My guess is that this is going to be a lot of people’s pick because everyone but me seems to love him. It’s a well-told story and an interesting one, but it also has the moment in it that makes me the angriest when it comes to his films. Even if I game him full marks for the film, he’d lose points for what he does at the very end.

My Choice

1. That means that I’m going with Oscar’s pick, and I have to say that it has nothing to do with this being the only woman to win this award. I like Kathryn Bigelow as a director and I have for a couple of decades. Many of her earlier films were genre pieces that would not get the attention of Oscar voters, but given a film that was going to be taken seriously, she created not only an exciting film, but one that has a unique and interesting take on the nature of addiction. I think it’s one of the better Best Picture winners of the last 20 years, and I like how she handles the story.

Final Analysis


  1. Wow. Complete agreement with you re: "Avatar."

    1. In a lot of ways, I feel about it as I did about The Artist. Everyone lost their collective shit over The Artist in 2011/2012 for about three months at exactly the right time for the movie. Tons of acclaim, Oscars, etc. And within nine months, no one was talking about it anymore. I haven't heard a serious conversation about that movie in more than seven years.

  2. I'm surprised to say that my favorite out of these is Inglorious Basterds. I'm not usually a big fan of Tarantino's direction and his very free reworking of history bugged me at times but he does style an enjoyable adventure in Basterds. I hated The Hurt Locker very much but Bigelow's direction was solid nonetheless so I can't quibble with her nomination but she wouldn't be my winner. Out of this thin soup of choices I'd go with Tarantino (probably the only time I'd say that) but in an open field he wouldn't come any closer than a possible third place finish.

    I'm not familiar with a few of your mentions, though I've been meaning to see The White Ribbon for years, as far as The Messenger and Crazy Heart they were beautifully acted but I didn't find them of any particular distinction directorially.

    I'd add Javier Fuentes-León for the Peruvian ghost love story Undertow for sure but my winner would be Duncan Jones for Moon.

    1. I don't think Tarantino is the wost choice here, clearly, but I stand by Bigelow's win. While I haven't seen her entire filmography, I have yet to see one that I haven't liked or (in the case of Zero Dark Thirty) at least respected. Her early genre work (Near Dark, Strange Days) is truly exceptional, and I love that she got some recognition at last.

  3. I'll give Avatar this. It was the inspiration for the best theme park ride on the planet at Disney's Animal Kingdom. (Haven't ridden Rise of the Resistance yet).

    1. Eh, give the prize to the theme park. For all that Avatar is pretty, it's such a dumb movie underneath.

      Lipstick on a pig and all of that...

  4. I have no problem with Kathryn Bigelow winning as The Hurt Locker is an awesome film. For me personally, I would've given it to Lars von Trier for Antichrist. A film that is so polarizing and so confrontational yet it does showcase that realistic depiction of grief and depression. My runner-up would've been Gaspar Noe for Enter the Void followed by QT for Inglourious Basterds, Andrea Arnold for Fish Tank, and Jacques Audiard for A Prophet with the following in consideration: Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon, Pedro Almodovar for Broken Embraces, Wes Anderson for Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bong Joon-Ho for Mother, Chan-wook Park for Thirst, Pete Docter for Up, Jane Campion for Bright Star, Yorgos Lanthimos for Dogtooth, Nicholas Winding Refn for Valhalla Rising, and Denis Villeneuve for Polytechnique.

    I would've also considered Duncan Jones, Armando Iannucci, and Oren Moverman as well as Xavier Dolan for I Killed My Mother and Tom Ford for A Single Man those are 5 filmmakers with great debut films.

    1. Naturally, I haven't seen a lot of these suggestions, as that seems to always be the case. It's what happens when someone spends the first 3-4 decades of life liking movies but never moving outside of a comfort zone. Lots to catch up on.

      I did not like Fish Tank, and yes, I know I'm in the minority there. Fantastic Mr. Fox is without question my least-favorite Wes Anderson film.