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Four-Time Best Director
(Most of Any Director)
The second of a seven part retrospective on this year's Academy Awards. Today, I focus on the Best Director nominees.
The nominees for 2016's Best Director Are:
Damien Chazelle: La La Land
Mel Gibson: Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins: Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan: Manchester By the Sea
Denis Villeneuve: Arrival
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
I loved Chazelle's work in Whiplash, a bold, thrilling debut. La La Land, his ode to the Hollywood musical of yesteryear mixed with his Millennial sensibilities, has made him the man of the hour. At 32, he will be the youngest Best Director winner should he win, tying Norman Taurog, who was also 32 when he won for directing Skippy (though given Chazelle was born in January and Taurog in February, I think Taurog would still be the youngest if perhaps you go by days and months). Personally, I was not overwhelmed with his directing of La La Land. Again, the hyperventilating the film has caused among my fellow critics pushes me to almost mark down my original view of the film, but now that I ponder things, I wonder whether I can say he directed people versus moving characters around. With Whiplash, the characters were real, motivated by their emotions. With La La Land, they were cute but not real, particularly Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling, who always struck me as being too forced in his performance.
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Haven't seen Hacksaw Ridge, won't see Hacksaw Ridge. I'm still personally reviled by Gibson's anti-Semitism and homophobia and cannot bring myself to support him in any way. His nomination shows that he has come back into the good graces of at least certain members of the Hollywood community, but I find it most curious that all these actors, who bemoan American xenophobia/homophobia/Islamophobia et al. of the President can turn around and laud someone like Gibson. Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is a great film. However, I reserve the right not to watch it. Curiously, Gibson is the only person nominated who has been a nominee and winner before for Braveheart.
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
There has been a dearth of African-American Best Director nominees. Think on it: in the history of the Academy Awards, there have been only four black directors nominated: John Singleton (the youngest nominee ever at 24), Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and now Jenkins (McQueen, being British, makes it hard to call him 'African-American'). Best Director has already gone to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), but it's in directing that the glass ceiling has yet to be broken when it comes to black directors (Chinese director Ang Lee already having won two). Could Jenkins be the one to do it? I certainly think so. Moonlight was a hypnotically filmed picture, and Jenkins got his cast (a mixture of trained and untrained performers, most of them unknown) to give moving performances, to keep the story going, and to create a mesmerizing film experience.
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
First, I should say that I was not impressed with You Can Count on Me, well, apart from Laura Linney (but then I pretty much love her in anything). Manchester By the Sea, this portrait of a grief observed, had excellent performances all around and was as real as anything I've seen this year. These were real people in intense sadness, with no pat answers at the end. A moving experience, albeit one that will not leave people leaving the theater in a jolly state of mind.
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
I skipped Arrival, though hope to see it before the actual ceremony. I didn't boycott it like I did with Hacksaw Ridge. I just didn't get around to it. Going strictly by reputation, I figure this is an intelligent science-fiction film, a rarity in the genre.
Damn La La Land.
This incessant push to declare it a hallmark in cinema is endangering the chance for two better directors to win. I simply won't consider Gibson: not only does he have a Best Director Oscar already, but there's that whole 'he's either insane or a vicious human being' business. Villeneuve will have to content himself with the nomination, as the Academy has been fiercely resistant to science-fiction, even intelligent sci-fi (this is the same group that denied Stanley Kubrick a nomination for 2001: A Space Odyssey).
That leaves three men with a realistic chance, or at least two, since I see Lonergan's chances fading. Chazelle seems to be the odds-on favorite for the trifle that is the celebratory La La Land, but I would not discount Jenkins for Moonlight. The Academy tends to prefer drama over trifles, so Jenkins isn't completely out of the running. However, La La Land's excessively rhapsodic acceptance in Hollywood is hard to overcome. Youth, I fear, will win out, and when it comes to Best Director, it's still #OscarsSoWhite.
My Prediction: Damien Chazelle
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