The heated battle for the trending non-English language director slot just got hotter this week with the reveal of the first trailer for Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God from Netflix, which is set for a huge splash of a debut at the Venice Film Festival then hitting Telluride just days later.
A personal and semi-autobiographical film, The Hand of God details the story of a young man named Fabietto (played by Filippo Scotti in a breakthrough performance) and heartbreak and liberation in 1980s Naples, Italy. Fabietto is an awkward Italian teen whose life and vibrant, eccentric family are suddenly upended—first by the electrifying arrival of soccer legend Diego Maradona and then by a shocking accident from which Maradona inadvertently saves Fabietto, setting his future in motion.
The discussion in Best Director has kind of zeroed in on this non-English language trend of the last few years and this year looks like we have many more contenders than we usually do. That’s a good and a bad thing; as we’ve often seen with women directors in this category, if there isn’t a single person that the voting branch can essentially coalesce around, it dilutes everyone’s chances. It’s not how it should be but it is how it still is. A healthy festival run is crucial here and the contenders we have are all going to have that as we are on the cusp of the fall festival season now. With the exception of Cannes director winner Leos Carax, whose Annette is already out in theaters and on Amazon Prime Video today, former top 5 contender Asghar Farhadi will have A Hero (Amazon) at Telluride next month after his Cannes win, Joachim Trier’s Cannes winner The Worst Person in the World (NEON) will land in North America at Telluride and Toronto and Jonas Poher Rasmussen will go from his Sundance win for Flee (NEON) to Telluride, Toronto and New York. That’s not even including Cannes Palme winner Julia Ducournau for Titane (NEON), which truthfully is probably still too far outside the Academy’s wheelhouse, even the adventurous directing branch. Not to mention that three of these contenders are all from NEON, who spent money at Cannes like it was going out of style. They also have Pablo Larraín’s Spencer (a debut this month) so, just like the Academy itself, they’re going to have to make some tough choices about who they’re going to put out in front of voters.
What brings me around to Sorrentino this month is that he’s already and Oscar entity. His 2013 Italian entry The Great Beauty won the Academy Award for (the then called) Foreign Language Film and for now he usurps Farhadi, another Academy favorite, for that top 5 slot. Netflix will roll out all the red carpet stops for Sorrentino this season but they do also have Jane Campion, whose The Power of the Dog is getting an even more robust festival season than Sorrentino. Can the streamer get in both a non-English language director and a woman director in a year that will see the return of blockbuster studio fare?
Here are my ranked Best Director Oscar predictions for August 2021.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new/re-entry ♦ Black – no movement ↔
1. Guillermo del Toro – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ↔
2. Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog (Netflix) ↔
3. Joel Coen – The Tragedy of Macbeth (Apple/A24) ↔
4. Ridley Scott – House of Gucci (MGM/UA) ↔
5. Paolo Sorrentino – The Hand of God (Netflix) ↑
6. Denis Villeneuve – Dune (Warner Bros) ↔
7. Kenneth Branagh – Belfast (Focus Features) ↔
8. Asghar Farhadi – A Hero (Amazon Studios) ↓
9. Steven Spielberg – West Side Story (20th Century Studios) ↓
10. Jonas Poher Rasmussen – Flee (NEON) ↓
Other contenders: Sian Heder – CODA (Apple), Adam McKay – Don’t Look Up (Netflix), Wes Anderson – The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures), Ridley Scott – The Last Duel (20th Century Studios), Edgar Wright – Last Night in Soho ♦ (Focus Features), Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter ♦ (Netflix), Pedro Almodóvar – Parallel Mothers (Sony Pictures Classics), Rebecca Hall – Passing (Netflix), Pablo Larraín – Spencer ♦ (NEON), Paul Thomas Anderson – Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson aka Soggy Bottom (MGM/UA), Joachim Trier – The Worst Person in the World ↓ (NEON)
Photo: Gianni Fiorito