Sam Mendes: 1917
Martin Scorsese: The Irishman
Todd Phillips: Joker
Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho: Parasite (winner)
So many interesting possibilities for Best Director for 2019. Directors like Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s work on Swallow is very much a longshot, of course, but in a perfect world, I’d put some consideration there. The same is true for Jordan Peele and Us and Robert Eggers for The Lighthouse, both of which would be longshots for an actual nomination, even though I like both films a great deal. Ari Aster’s work on Midsommar deserves a look even though Oscar hates horror, something that could equally be said of Mike Flanagan and Doctor Sleep. The foreign language entry is taken by Bong Joon Ho, which will leave out Pedro Almodovar and Pain and Glory. There’s a part of me that would love to consider Greta Gerwig for Little Women. I love Gerwig’s work even if I didn’t love that movie. Lulu Wang’s work on The Farewell would be much more likely to get my attention. Taika Waititi and Jojo Rabbit I think should be here. Finally, I’d very much want to consider Rian Johnson and Knives Out.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I said in my review of Joker that I think there are two ways to interpret this movie. One is to see it as an elaborate fantasy where almost all of the events that occur actually happen only in Arthur’s head. I think that’s how Joaquin Phoenix sees it. There’s also the version where everything is actually happening and Arthur is actually at the center of everything. That makes the movie far worse than it should be. Sadly, I feel like this is the version of the film in Todd Phillips’s mind, and that’s pretty sad.
4. I thought for a long time about whether I wanted to put Scorsese or Tarantino here. Both of them produced films that are arguably too long for the stories they tell. But I ultimately am going with Tarantino here in fourth because, despite the fact that his movie is considerably shorter than Scorsese’s, it’s also a movie that has proportionally more fat in it than it needs. Tarantino, as good as his stories often are, has a tendency to be incredibly self-indulgent. That’s absolutely true of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, which has a lot of trimmable fat.
3. Based on the previous entry, it’s not a shock that I’m putting Martin Scorsese and The Irishman here. I don’t think there’s a great deal of fat in The Irishman. Still, at a skosh under 3 ½ hours, sitting down with this one is quite the commitment. I liked this movie a lot, but it’s also not one that I’m likely to watch again any time soon. Part of that is the length, but not all of it is. As with The Godfather, it’s just not something that I find myself wanting to watch again, like I don’t know I’ll ever be in the mood for it again.
2. I don’t mind that Bong Joon Ho won this Oscar, and anyone who wants to give it to him will get no argument from me. Parasite is a hell of a movie, and a lot of that comes from the top. This is a movie that very much trades on the story, and while Bong Joon Ho’s work is certainly responsible for a lot of why this film works, he’s not responsible for all of it. That’s literally the only thing that keeps him off the dais for me. Like I said, if he’s your pick I don’t have any complaints and I won’t even really disagree with you that much.
1. So, ultimately, my choice is Sam Mendes and 1917. His work here is as good as that of Bong Joon Ho for one thing. There’s so much less plot here, though, and it’s ultimately so much more about the storytelling than it is the story itself. I’ve long maintained on this blog that Best Picture is about the best story and movie of the year, but Best Director is about the best storytelling of the year. Bong Joon Ho had the best story in 2019, but it was Sam Mendes who did the best work telling the story he had. He’s my winner.