By John H. Foote
In the last eight years, the winner of Best Director did not go on to win Best Picture five times. Between 1970 and 2010, only seven times did the winning director not celebrate a Best Picture triumph. To say the times are a-changin’ is an understatement.
In many ways this has become the night’s most important award as the voting for Best Picture might not allow for the true Best Film to actually win.
This year two the cinema’s greatest will likely go toe to toe, with a gifted previous winner in the mix, with a mysterious, self-indulgent recluse who just might have given cinema his greatest work rounding out the front runners. This could be a historical year with two or more nominees for Best Director being women! About time.
MARTIN SCORSESE FOR THE IRISHMAN
It’s Scorsese. Is there anything else I need say? What is criminal is that he has just a single Best Director win. By my count, he should have won for Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2006) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and at least have been nominated for the stunning Silence (2016). If this is as good as I expect it to be, he is in and golden.
SAM MENDES FOR 1917
Not nominated since his win for American Beauty (1999) his debut, and let’s be clear, he surpassed it at least twice. Road to Perdition (2002) is a flat out masterpiece, Revolutionary Road (2008) was magnificent, Skyfall (2012) was the greatest Bond ever made, I mean this guy can direct. A WWI epic? There has not yet been a great one. Maybe.
QUENTIN TARANTINO FOR ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
The wunderkind is without a doubt in the mix for a win for his dazzling, hyperkinetic journey back to Hollywood in 1969. Using the Manso family killings as his backdrop he takes the audience on a magical mystery tour that is great Tarantino. Superb acting, direction, writing, and history bending that ends in a sea of blood and bodies. Twice before nominated in this category, twice winner for Original Screenplay, this could finally be his ticket to Best Director.
NOAH BAUMBACH FOR MARRIAGE STORY
Baumbach has long been one of the sharpest minds in movies, with a keen eye on behaviour and relationships. His The Squid and the Whale (2005) remains the greatest film about divorce I have seen. This new one features Adam Driver and Scarlett Johnsson as a young couple who find their marriage breaking down. Two gifted actors, a brilliant director-writer? Could be gold.
STEVEN SODERBERGH FOR THE LAUNDROMAT
The Oscar winner and nominee for Best Director, in the same year no less, is back with a searing film about the publication of the damning Pentagon Papers. With a cast headlined by Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman, this could land him among the final five. Bouncy, jaunty, darkly comic, if it hits the right tone, watch out!
TERENCE MALICK FOR A HIDDEN LIFE
Though I believe his work has become sadly self indulgent and hopelessly self-important, I cannot deny the trailer for this new film left me breathless. The story of a German husband and father who refuses to be a part of Nazism should stun audiences with its beauty and power. The recluse might finally win that Oscar, though what are the chances he shows up to get his award? I would guess…zilch.
TODD PHILLIPS FOR JOKER
Leaping into the race as a front runner after rave reviews out of Venice, Phillips might have pulled off a miracle. An origin story, Joaquin Phoenix is rumoured to be astounding as Joker, while Phillips pays homage to Taxi Driver (1976). A game-changer for comic book adaptations if as good as they are saying. I see it next week.
GRETA GERWIG FOR LITTLE WOMEN
Nominated in 2017 for the perfect Lady Bird, Gerwig is out to prove she is the real deal with what appears to be a confident, spot-on adaptation of Little Women. Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Timothee Chalamalet and Emma Watson are featured in a splendid cast. Oh, that more directors would adapt the classic works of literature.
LADJ LY FOR LES MISéRABLES
A blood-pumping, fast-paced, gritty French crime film, this was a sensation at Cannes and has earned strong reviews since. More and more the Academy nominates foreign-language filmmakers in one of the five spots, this it might be the director.
KASI LEMMONS FOR HARRIET
In bringing the powerful story of Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman, Lemmons could catapult herself into the front ranks of American directors. It almost happened with Eve’s Bayou (1997) but this being a true story about a great, heroic black woman could make it so. One of the most anticipated films of the season.
TAIKA WAITITI FOR JO JO RABBIT
This strange satirical comedy deals with a young boy, an outsider, who has an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler. Sounds downright blasphemous, and bold. Possibly brilliant, the film could make a Star Director out of WAITITI. Hitler? Seriously? But man, it looks great.
MARIELLE HELLER FOR A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
She was in the mix last year for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and will likely be among the top ten to fifteen this year depending on how good her film is. Most of the talk right now surrounds the Hanks performance, so her work will need to be profound.
JAMES MANGOLD FOR FORD VS. FERRARI
Never nominated for Best Director, this could be his year with his racing car biography knocking them out in Venice. When he is on, he is among the very best, but he is not always that sharp, which could work against him.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”