There’s a bit of déjà vu happening in Best Director right now. Go back with me, if you will, all the way back to the fall of 2018 where we had a (relatively) deep bench of women directors of critical hits, any of which seemed able to break into the Best Director boys club. Or even, gasp, two for the first time ever. But alas, it was not to be. We had Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here) and Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). It was only Heller’s film that managed any Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay – it lost them all) but one that didn’t materialize was for Heller herself.
This year it’s an even deeper bench of women directors and from the outset a far less niche set of films: Lulu Wang’s The Farewell from A24, Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet from Focus Features, Heller once again, this time with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Columbia/TriStar) and the most recent female nominated for Best Director, Greta Gerwig with her adaptation of Little Women. Wang’s The Farewell is already an indie success at the box office and a critical smash. It’s also the only film seen so far. Harriet and ABDITN are both set to world premiere at Toronto next month. Little Women just dropped its first trailer but has showed up in any festival announcements. The Christmas Day release might find a home at AFI or it might simply cash in on the awareness of the classic source material. There are three other possibilities, but a ways down the list, with Dee Rees’ The Last Thing He Wanted from Netflix (if it even comes out this year), Melina Matsoukas with Queen & Slim from Universal and Marjane Satrapi with Radioactive from Amazon.
I was probably too quick to drop Quentin Tarantino (Sony/Columbia’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) down and he vaults back up into the top 5 this month (thanks, Kyle Buchanan for getting my head right on this). His film is only a superficial success right now, having just crossed the $100M mark, but with a $90M price tag before marketing, it’s going to take more than that to turn a profit. It might not matter for the two-time Oscar winner (both for Original Screenplay) and two-time Best Director nominee with his penultimate film. Tarantino might end up being a consensus choice in his retelling of one of Tinseltown’s most lasting tragedies.
Noah Baumbach also makes a big move into the top 5 this month with his semi-autobiographical Marriage Story from Netflix. The film is the only fall/winter release to hit all four major festivals so it and he will be everywhere and unavoidable.
You know who takes a big tumble this month? Sam Mendes for his WWI epic 1917. Months ago he felt like one of those ‘on paper’ locks and hitting right at the meat and potatoes dad voters. With The Irishman, OUATIH and Ford v Ferrari, among others, that voting block is looking pretty full. But now it feels more like a potential War Horse. Respected enough to earn a host of below the line nominations (and even a BP nom) but no director, acting or screenplay mentions. A lot of folks want to call it this year’s Dunkirk but that was a summer release that earned over half a billion dollars worldwide. With the exception of maybe Avatar, late breaking films that show up in director are often actor-driven (and nominated) vehicles and 1917 doesn’t look like it will be that. With zero chance of a festival run and a race to finish by all of this year’s moved up awards deadlines (it’s a Christmas Day release), he’s probably going to be left out in the cold.
Here are my 2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions in Best Director for August 16, 2019.
Green – moves up Red – moves down Blue – new/re-entry
1. Martin Scorsese – The Irishman (Netflix)
2. Marielle Heller – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/TriStar)
3. Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story (Netflix)
4. Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)
5. Lulu Wang – The Farewell (A24)
NEXT UP (alphabetical by film)
Sam Mendes – 1917 (Universal)
Kasi Lemmons – Harriet (Focus Features)
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)
Greta Gerwig – Little Women (Sony)
Joon-ho Bong – Parasite (Neon)
WATCH OUT FOR (alphabetical by film)
Tom Harper – The Aeronauts (Amazon)
James Mangold – Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
Destin Daniel Cretton – Just Mercy (Warner Bros)
Edward Norton – Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros)
Pedro Almodóvar – Pain and Glory (Sony Classics)
OTHER CONTENDERS (alphabetical by film)
James Gray – Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)
Tom Hooper – Cats (Universal)
John Crowley – The Goldfinch (Amazon/Warner Bros)
Bill Condon – The Good Liar (Warner Bros)
Terrence Malick – A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight)
Todd Phillips – Joker (Warner Bros)
Dee Rees – The Last Thing He Wanted (Netflix)
Steven Soderbergh – The Laundromat (Netflix)
Armando Iannucci – The Personal History of David Copperfield (TBD)
Fernando Meirelles – The Two Popes (Netflix)
Melina Matsoukas – Queen & Slim (Universal)
Marjane Satrapi – Radioactive (Amazon)
Scott Z. Burns – The Report (Amazon)
Jay Roach – Untitled Roger Ailes Project aka Fair and Balanced (Lionsgate))
The Safdie Brothers – Uncut Gems (A24)
Todd Haynes – Untitled Todd Haynes aka Dry Run or Dark Water (Focus Features)
Jordan Peele – Us (Universal)
Trey Edward Shults – Waves (A24)