Monday, February 18, 2013

Academy Award Week (2013): Best Director (No Your Pick Can't be Ben Affleck)

This year one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting race is Best Director.  Over the years at the Academy Awards Best Picture and Best Director often match up.  Over the last twenty years (from 1992-2012) Best Picture and Best Director have matched up 16 times, which is an impressive statistic.  This year Argo's name is chiseled on the statue already, and unless if you have been living under a rock you know Ben Affleck was snubbed.  Affleck has won this award at the BFCA, Golden Globes, DGA, and BAFTA.  Without Affleck nominated this makes this race a lot more interesting than I can remember.

While I am not going to go on a rant about sexism within the film industry I am a bit baffled at why more people over cited Affleck's snub instead of Bigelow's snub.  I do believe that this will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in Oscar history.

How do you define great direction, and who was "snubbed?"  One way at looking at great direction is by using auteur theory.  Auteur theory "holds that a director's film reflects the director's personal creative vision, as if they were the primary "auteur" (the French word for "author"). In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur's creative voice is distinct enough to shine through all kinds of studio interference and through the collective process."  While this perspective is a bit more old school and looks at film as a one man show, many would attribute this vision to greats like Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock.  These men controlled the vision for their films.

If you look at this year's director race many would describe David O. Russell's direction using auteur theory.  O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is a passion project dedicated to his son.  O. Russell's film is about a bi-polar man returning home to his family.  O'Russell has talked openly about his son being bi-polar and what it meant for him to make this film.

Benh Zeitlin who directed Beasts of the Southern Wild directed the script and scored the film.  This was Zeitlin's first film and made on a shoe string budget.  Zeitlin's heart and soul went into this film, and his vision drives the heart of the film.

One of the reasons auteur theory is widely criticized is because it negates the contribution of other people who worked on the film stating the the director is the end all be all.  Zeitlin and O. Russell did not create their films out of thin air, no man is an island after all.  If you look at Steven Spielberg's work in Lincoln and here him talk about Tony Kushner's script, and every aspect of the film you feel this sense of teamwork.

This couldn't be more true with Ang Lee and his direction of Life of Pi.  Lee's work with his cinematographer, visual effects team, screenwriter, and son on created an beautiful experience from a book that was thought to be impossible to adapt to the big screen.  The use of 3D technology along with many other elements transcends most traditional aspects of film making, and made this an incredible achievement.

The nominees are 
Michael Haneke-Amour
Ang Lee-Life of Pi
David O. Russell-Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg-Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin-Beasts of the Southern Wild

Who will win?  Without a previous winner/front runner in the group this leads things wide open.  While many would probably say Spielberg I just do not think he is going to win.  My gut tells me this is a race between David O. Russell and Ang Lee.  In the past director's win in this category have won a good deal of the time because the film "feels important" or because it has an "epic" nature."  Think Ben-Hur, Lord of the Rings, Schindler's List, Out of Africa, The Sound of Music.  There are location shots, visual effects, and so on.  This could be Beasts, Pi, or Lincoln.  Zeitlin is in fifth leaving Lincoln and Pi to fit that category.  Pi and Lincoln are both well respected films, from respected directors.  Before I go on about those two films like Silver Linings Playbook rarely win director, Annie Hall fits within that category, but that rarely happens.  So I am going to go with my gut and say Ang Lee.

Will Win: Ang Lee-Life of Pi
Spoilers: Steven Spielberg and David O. Russell

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