As with every year, the director’s branch of the Academy has an opportunity to both recognize great artists and make history. Last year saw a wealth of women directors in contention that all fell short with the branch in the end. This year also finds women directors with major films in play as well as non-English language film directors that could break in. They’ll be met by previous Oscar winners (including in this category), indie directors with major breakthroughs and even a married couple.
Quentin Tarantino has won two Oscars for his original screenplays but Best Director has eluded him twice now. His summer hit Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is just the type of film – a love letter to industry itself and his most compassionate film to date – that can clinch a director win even without Best Picture. He moves up to the #1 spot this month even against the onslaught of Venice, Telluride and Toronto contenders.
One of the biggest contenders is going to be Noah Baumbach. The Oscar-nominated writer (The Squid and the Whale) enters a whole new era of his filmmaking with Marriage Story. For all intents and purposes, this is also a Hollywood story and one that directors and voters at large will recognize and sympathize with. It’s the Hollywood drama that Hollywood doesn’t make any more and he’ll become one of many indie directors who chug along with their independently successful films to finally break through the Oscar threshold.
Sam Mendes has been away from the Academy Awards for a long time – ever since his debut film, 1999’s American Beauty, won him Best Director and Best Picture. He’s back with Universal’s WWI epic 1917 and I’m hearing such great things about it that I’ve vaulted him back into the top 5 (where he was a ‘good on paper’ early choice).
The biggest potential for the history-making mentioned above is going to happen if the branch, which often makes left-field choices, decides to nominate Palme d’Or winner Bong Joon-ho for his scathing and brilliant Parasite and Lulu Wang for her emotional A24 summer indie hit The Farewell. Ang Lee has cornered the market on Asian Best Director nominations and wins in the last few decades but the Academy, and its ever-expanding base, has a chance to shine a light on two of the most celebrated works of the year. Parasite will no doubt be a huge critics favorite come December/January awards announcements and has a great release date (October 11) and Neon backing it. The Farewell needs A24 to prioritize it (I think they will and you’ll see how in the near future) to keep the film, and Wang, in front of voters. Wang would be only the sixth female director nominated in 91 years and first ever Asian-American woman.
Greta Gerwig has the potential to make Oscar history as the only female director to be nominated twice. She earned her first Best Director nomination for 2017’s Lady Bird and this year has Sony’s Little Women. With no festival run (so far, look out for AFI) and a Christmas release, Gerwig might have trouble in this shortened season but wouldn’t it be a kick to have husband and wife Gerwig and Baumbach in the race together?
What to do with Taika Waititi. It seems crazy to have him as low as I do since his Jojo Rabbit (from Fox Searchlight) won the TIFF People’s Choice Award earlier this month. Only twice since 2008 has the director of this award missed out on a Best Director nomination, which includes Green Book‘s Peter Farrelly, which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar anyway.
Lots of drops this month including Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (Netflix’s The Irishman), Marielle Heller (Sony/TriStar’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Kasi Lemmons (Focus Features’ Harriet) and Edward Norton (Warner Bros Motherless Brooklyn).
The critical and financial success of Hustlers boosts director Lorene Scafaria onto the list this month as the sole debut.
Here are my 2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions in Best Director for September 20, 2019.
Green – moves up Red – moves down Blue – new/re-entry
1. Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)
2. Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story (Netflix)
3. Bong Joon-ho – Parasite (Neon)
4. Sam Mendes – 1917 (Universal)
5. Lulu Wang – The Farewell (A24)
NEXT UP (alphabetical by film)
Greta Gerwig – Little Women (Sony)
James Mangold – Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)
Terrence Malick – A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight)
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman (Netflix)
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)
WATCH OUT FOR (alphabetical by film)
Marielle Heller – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/TriStar)
Todd Haynes – Dark Waters (Focus Features)
Todd Phillips – Joker (Warner Bros)
Destin Daniel Cretton – Just Mercy (Warner Bros)
Fernando Meirelles – The Two Popes (Netflix)
OTHER CONTENDERS (alphabetical by film)
James Gray – Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)
Tom Harper – The Aeronauts (Amazon)
Jay Roach – Bombshell (Lionsgate)
Tom Hooper – Cats (Universal)
Kasi Lemmons – Harriet (Focus Features)
Lorene Scafaria – Hustlers (STX)
Edward Norton – Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros)
Pedro Almodóvar – Pain and Glory (Sony Classics)
Melina Matsoukas – Queen & Slim (Universal)
Jordan Peele – Us (Universal)
Trey Edward Shults – Waves (A24)