Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions: BEST DIRECTOR (May)

Kasi Lemmons, Harriet (photo credit: Edwin Tse/The Atlantic)

Two previous Best Director winners, Martin Scorsese and Sam Mendes, feel like safe bets at this early stage of the race. With The Irishman (Netflix) and 1917 (Universal), respectively, the pair are diving into two tried and true subjects that Oscar loves – gangsters and war.

For Scorsese, The Irishman will be his most expensive film to date (estimated at $125M+ and counting) and his first with the streaming giant. He finally won the Best Director Oscar for 2006’s The Departed (after five BD noms) and has been nominated two more times since then (for 2011’s Hugo and 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street). 20 years ago Mendes went from theater to film and was nominated and won for his first feature, 1999’s American Beauty, which also won Best Picture. It remains his first and only Oscar nomination. Can he return with 1917?

Kasi Lemmons was a workhorse actress in television and film, with supporting roles in Candyman and Best Picture winner Silence of the Lambs, before breaking into directing with 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, a huge critical hit (it was Roger Ebert’s #1 film that year) that launched the career of a young Jurnee Smollett. She struggled for follow-ups (as most women of color in the industry do) but is primed for a huge comeback with Harriet, the story of the American political activist and slave abolitionist Harriet Tubman for Focus Features and starring Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner Cynthia Erivo.

The Internet’s Boyfriend, the ribald and raucous Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) is ready to set screens on fire with his “anti-hate satire” flick Jojo Rabbit about Adolf Hitler befriending a young boy and his family. The film just secured a prime October 18th release date, which tells me that Fox Searchlight is making the film their #1 choice.

Marielle Heller was in contention here last year with Can You Ever Forgive Me? which ended up with three Oscar nominations. Heller was in early contention but even with a larger than usual selection of female directors none of them made it in. There is a strong selection again this year and with a Mr. Rogers-based slice of life bio A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, this could be Heller’s ticket.

I don’t have Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) in my top 5. A mistake? Probably. The world is waiting with baited breath as the film is set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next week and those reviews will dictate the two-time Oscar winner’s future for this awards season and where Sony/Columbia wants to put their strength behind.

Digging down more and you’ll find previous Best Director winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) with The Laundromat from Netflix and nominee Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) with her version of Little Women for Sony/Columbia alongside hopeful first-timers like Lulu Wang with A24’s The Farewell and James Mangold with 20th Century Fox/Disney’s fall release Ford v Ferrari.

Here are my 2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions in Best Director for May 16, 2019.

1. Martin Scorsese – The Irishman (Netflix)
2. Kasi Lemmons – Harriet (Focus Features)
3. Sam Mendes – 1917 (Universal)
4. Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)
5. Marielle Heller – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/Columbia)
NEXT UP (alphabetical)
Lulu Wang – The Farewell (A24)
James Mangold – Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
Steven Soderbergh – The Laundromat (Netflix)
Greta Gerwig – Little Women (Sony/Columbia)
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)
OTHER CONTENDERS (alphabetical)
James Gray – Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)
Tom Hooper – Cats (Universal)
Wes Anderson – The French Dispatch (TBD)
John Crowley – The Goldfinch (Amazon/Warner Bros)
Bill Condon – The Good Liar (Warner Bros)
Terrence Malick – A Hidden Life (TBD)
Destin Daniel Cretton – Just Mercy (Warner Bros)
Dee Rees – The Last Thing He Wanted (Netflix)
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Fox Searchlight)
Pedro Almodóvar – Pain and Glory
Armando Iannucci – The Personal History of David Copperfield (TBD)
Fernando Meirelles – The Pope (Netflix)
Melina Matsoukas – Queen & Slim (Universal)
Scott Z. Burns – The Report (Amazon)
Todd Haynes – Untitled Todd Hayes aka Dry Run (Focus Features)
Jay Roach – Untitled Roger Ailes aka Fair and Balanced (Lionsgate)
Jordan Peele – Us (Universal)
Trey Edward Shults – Waves (A24)
Behn Zeitlin – Wendy (Fox Searchlight)
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