Friday, March 13, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 2017

The Contenders:

Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk
Jordan Peele: Get Out
Greta Gerwig: Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson: Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water (winner)

What’s Missing

As much as I love to say I’m always a few years behind, the truth is that I do watch a lot of movies from the last couple of years, and 2017 was a damn good year for movies. That being the case, there are a lot of places we could go with nominations for Best Director here. We can start with the films where the director managed to pull out career performances, even from actors who have had tremendous careers. This would include Bjorn Runge for The Wife, Craig Gillespie for I, Tonya, and David Lowery for A Ghost Story. I really like what Michael Showalter did with The Big Sick, since it could have been very maudlin and was instead both funny and real. Armando Iannucci is very good with humor, especially in political settings, and The Death of Stalin is evidence of this. Naturally, there are those films that are in genres Oscar tends not to like. Sure, we got a horror movie and a fantasy movie in the mix here, but that’s going to preclude nominations for Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and James Mangold (Logan). The #MeToo movement might have caused the Kevin Spacey-containing Baby Driver to be skipped, leaving out Edgar Wright. Action movies are rarely Oscar darlings, especially woman-driven ones like David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde. I think we could bring in Ridley Scott for All the Money in the World as well as Sean Baker for The Florida Project. The big miss? Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m happy to stand up for the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in general, but with Phantom Thread, it feels to me like the nomination happened because he’s Paul Thomas Anderson and not specifically because the movie deserved it. This is hardly rare for Oscar in general, of course. Anderson is the sort of director who has genuinely earned an Oscar for his direction given his career as a whole. I just don’t think this is the right movie for it. Given what films and directors were ignored this year, Anderson doesn’t really belong in the mix.

4. I’m genuinely torn about who to put where for the top four positions, and labelling them all as potential winners feels like a terrible cop out. So who to put fourth? I said in my review of it that it wouldn’t have surprised me if Christopher Nolan walked away with Best Director for Dunkirk, and I still think it’s a little surprising he didn’t. The reason I have him this low, though, is that the whole film feels so impersonal. There should be an emotional connection here, and there never is, despite the story. That has to fall on Nolan, doesn’t it?

3. Oh, it is a terrible thing to feel like I am taking an Oscar for direction out of the hands of my favorite working director, but I have to in this case. I love the work of Guillermo del Toro and I love the fantasy of The Shape of Water, but there is a huge problem here. That problem is the fact that, long before we got to it, I knew exactly how the movie was going to end. You can say that’s the fault of the screenplay, but when the screenplay author and the director are the same person, where do we draw the line? I could be argued out of this, but it’s where I stand right now.

2. If Guillermo del Toro is my favorite working director, I think Greta Gerwig might well be in second place. She has a very deft touch with her screenplays and translates them beautifully to the screen. Lady Bird is such a delicate and wonderful script and Gerwig, young as she is, knows exactly where she needs to show more as a director and when to pull back. It’s a performance-driven film, to be sure, but Gerwig is so fully versed in the story she is telling that there’s nary a flaw in the way it is presented. I could see her winning, but she’s not my choice.

My Choice

1. Argue all you want that I’m handing this to Jordan Peele for Get Out because I’m a horror fan, but please realize that I took this Oscar out of the hands of my favorite director to give it to him. Peele’s directorial debut is a wonder, and while I do think that the story (good as it is) is standing on the shoulders of a lot of giants, Peele’s direction is so much more mature than a first-time director should be. This looks like someone who is working on his fifth or sixth feature and knows exactly what and how he wants to say things with confidence. I still can’t believe it’s his first movie.

Final Analysis


  1. This is tough because all 5 of those nominees did incredible work though there's still so many great films that came out year and anyone could've been best director including Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok. You Were Never Really Here is the one film from 2017 that I'm eager to see as I hope to do see it for my Cannes marathon (regardless whether or not the festival will happen this year).

    1. It's a surprisingly good year for films. Who knew? Putting these in an order was genuinely difficult. I mean, I put del Toro in third, but I don't hate that he won, and had Nolan won, I wouldn't have been torn up by that.

  2. My easy choice is Martin McDonagh, for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

    1. I didn't love Three Billboards. I didn't hate it, either, but I wasn't as enamored of it as many people were.

  3. Taika Waititi resurrected a thoroughly moribund phoenix to rise from the ashes of a dead and buried franchise and reinvigorated a lackluster Chris Hemsworth in the process. What he accomplished is beyond Oscar caliber.

    1. Fair enough. I'll admit it's a miss on my end.