Tuesday, July 5, 2016

2016 First Half Oscars - Best Director

My favorite category at every Academy Awards is Best Director. Well, that and Best Cinematography. I'm a geek, I know, but it's the truth. There is something about the recognition of the craft of a film, the vision of the man or woman who was in charge of it all that thrills me. It feels right up there with Best Picture in terms of significance and while those two awards used to go hand in hand with each other on a consistent basis that just isn't the case anymore. Alfonso Cuaron was recognized for the spectacular achievement Gravity but Picture went to 12 Years a Slave. Ben Affleck's Argo won the top prize but he wasn't even nominated for the personal award. It went to Ang Lee for Life of Pi.

Thus far in 2016 there have been some incredibly well made films, and of my five nominees for the award two of them are first time feature directors, one is still new to the scene and unknown, another gets booed at the Cannes film festival every couple of years and the last has been making beloved cinema for decades...and yet he still is somehow underrated when it comes to mass appeal from audiences.

Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!!

Dazed and Confused. Before Sunrise. Before Sunset. Before Midnight. Boyhood. Just a sample of what Linklater has brought to the world and yet for most people, the name elicits a question back: "Who?". Well, if you loved the first film I mentioned, Dazed and Confused, you need to see Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual sequel to the former and you can feel the same delightful charm and essential grasp of adolescence during a specific era and the crucial moments of transition in a young person's life. Linklater just gets it and his movies are joyous. 

Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane

I really don't know much about Dan Trachtenberg except for two things, and they are pretty important: this is the first film he ever directed, and that means I need to keep an eye out for his next project because the man clearly has a terrific eye for entertaining and tension filled cinema. On separate lists I gave both my actor and actress top prizes to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman for 10 Cloverfield Lane, and behind those amazing performances is a director who knows exactly what he wants and is leading the way. 

Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon

I'm not the type of guy who likes to play the role of contrarian, so don't misunderstand me when it comes to Nicolas Winding Refn. Some may roll their eyes at me when I praise the man's work despite a mostly negative response to it otherwise, but I am just being honest. I fucking love his movies. I find them stylish, fascinating, meaningful and important, and while some see a vapid example of style over substance, I ask them to dig a little deeper and give the man more credit than that. His movies are absolutely swimming with substance, it's just not all right there for the world to see with ease. This very much applies to The Neon Demon and the screams of misogyny can be heard from every direction, but his statement on gender in society isn't criticizing women but rather the shameful expectations when it comes to appearance that the world of modeling has placed upon its victims. Refn should have actually been nominated for the Oscar for Drive, and while he was never going to get recognition for Only God Forgives I certainly wish he would have. The Neon Demon will go down a similar path but who cares? In my heart, Refn is a Best Director caliber filmmaker every single time out.

Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room

You may not believe it from looking at him, but Jeremy Saulnier directs some mean, vicious, bold cinema. Blue Ruin made the revenge thriller feel alive again and Green Room put a new spin on a survival story by utilizing a completely unique setting and terrifyingly brutal circumstances. The late great Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and other members of a strong cast give outstanding performances but the star of the show here is Saulnier. Every frame feels so moody, unsettling and real.

My winner for the 2016 First Half Oscar for Best Director is...

Robert Eggers, The Witch

As of the start of 2016, I couldn't even form a guess as to who Robert Eggers was. Now, I am eagerly checking on a regular basis to see what his next film will be. That's because The Witch is everything I want from a horror film and it all starts with Eggers. What a tremendous understanding of mood and pacing and lighting in order to build dread rather than cheap tricks to make an audience jump. Over the last few years I have been rejuvenated by the possibilities of the genre thanks to directors like James Wan, Jennifer Kent, David Robert Mitchell, but what Eggers achieved here is the best of the bunch. A horror masterpiece and his direction is pitch perfect.


  1. Interesting, this topic would be much harder for me. I think I'd put Jon Favrau for Jungle Book, and...I guess that's it haha. I think I'd pick Robert Eggers too. Not too many amazing films this year.

    1. Favreau would be a good choice as well, missed my top 5 but would be a close call to sneak into it.