For me, the director is the most important part of a movie. Many people will see movies for actors, I see movies for the directors. Certain directors, like Alejandro Iñárritu, Denis Villeneuve, and Edgar Wright, will automatically get me to buy a ticket. A movie can have the greatest cast ever, but if the director doesn’t know what they are doing the movie will still bomb. The director pulls the performance out of the actor, makes sure they get the best take. Most directors will frame the movie, meaning pick out the camera angles, the lighting, etc, though some will delegate that responsibility to others. Many will even write their own movies, like Quentin Tarintino, the Coen Brothers, or Paul Thomas Anderson. Directors have so many varying responsibilities, that I wonder how exactly the Academy measure what this award means? What makes someone the best director? Is it who makes the Best Movie? There is another award for that. There are already other awards for the best sound editing, sound mixing, best cinematography. Most of the things directors are in charge of, already have awards. So how do you measure it? I guess it is just by which director you think had the biggest impact on their movie being so good. Here are my rankings of this year’s nominees, along with the directors who were snubbed by the Academy.
Denis Villeneuve- “Blade Runner 2049”
How did Denis get left out? Take any aspect of a movie that a director may be in charge of, and it was great. The special effects were flawless. The acting was very well done. The cinematography was impressive. Everything worked. For as good as Arrival was, I think Blade Runner was even more impressive. The only problems I have with the movie, are story related. But he is not the writer. This is not the award for Best Screenplay, this is about directing. Again, I am not sure how they determine what Best Directing is, but by any metric you could judge it by, Denis killed it. Could they have kept him out because they wanted a certain director to win? Maybe. I think they felt pressured to nominate Greta Gerwig after the Golden Globes received backlash for not nominating any women. But even still, Denis deserved to be in over Christopher Nolan as well.
Edgar Wright- “Baby Driver”
Wright has been one of my favorite directors for a long time. The Cornetto Trilogy is possibly the best Comedy movie franchise out there. Baby Driver feels different than those movies. Whereas I believe his writing is better in those three movies. The Cornetto trilogy has some of the most clever and witty humor I have ever seen. But again, this award isn’t about writing, it is about directing. I was blown away by his directing in this movie. It is unappreciated the way he was able to get an entire movie to sync with the beat of the soundtrack. Every beat of the song playing is perfectly timed with the action in the movie. This movie is a shoe-in to win Best Sound Mixing, or at least it should be. The car chase scenes in this movie are among the most impressive I have ever seen. The camera work is masterful and original. Cool story. In order to get the ideal shot, Edgar apparently attached himself to the top of the stunt car with a camera. While I would say I enjoy a movie like Shaun of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz, over Baby Driver, this was Wright’s most impressive turn as a director.
Dee Rees- “Mudbound”
While Greta Gerwig became only the 5th woman to be nominated for Best Director, I think Dee’s direction was even more impressive. In Mudbound, she was able to flawlessly string together the many different stories in the movie, into a coherent movie. The Academy seems hesitant to acknowledge Netflix movies, and black female director has never been nominated for this award. But I would have had no problem with her getting a nod over Gerwig or Nolan.
5. Greta Gerwig- “Lady Bird”
Listen, were this an award for Best Screenplay, Best Writer, or whatever, I would be all for Greta Gerwig getting acknowledgment. Her writing in Lady Bird was fantastic, and it was a very inventive way to tell the coming of age tale. But the directing? It was nothing special. The camera work was very standard. Whereas the other films found inventive ways to frame the scenes, the way they shot each scene in Lady Bird felt standard. It was her first time in the director’s chair, so I am willing to beat her directing will get better in her next movie. She still made a very good movie. There was a push to get female representation into this award after all the nominees were male at the Golden Globes, but if that was the purpose, there were other female directors to choose from. Battle of the Sexes had more impressive direction, although it was inferior to Lady Bird as a movie. Wonder Woman had more impressive directing, though again, Lady Bird was a better movie. I would have nominated Dee Rees. Even though I like Lady Bird more than I like Mudbound, Rees did more as a director. The shots were more inventive, and the cinematography was better The Academy wanted to have a female nominee, so they gave it to the best movie directed by a woman. But instead of picking a movie that stood out because of its great writing, they should have picked a movie that stood out because of its great directing.
4. Christopher Nolan- “Dunkirk”
I am torn on this. On one hand, the things Nolan did well in this movie, were so impressive. The way he used sound and visuals to make a visceral experience in the theater, is crazy. But there are problems. Half of the dialogue is near impossible to hear. I talked about this in the Best Picture rankings, and it is worth bringing up because this falls squarely on the director. He had the same problem in Interstellar. Nolan combats this critique by saying that it would be hard to hear people talk in a war zone. Well then have them shout, or use subtitles. The noise level is an obstacle, but as director, it is your job to overcome it. Other directors have been able to do this in loud environments before. Also, while the experience is great in the theater, it is not the same at home. Nolan admits to this and pleaded for people to see the movie in the theater because that is where this movie belongs. But this fact makes it a slightly worse film. It needs that crutch. So while so much of his work was impressive, I can not say he was the Best Director because his direction has clear definable flaws.
3. Jordan Peele- “Get Out”
I don’t know if I have ever been so impressed by someone’s directorial debut. Was it perfect? No. Like I said in the Best Picture Rankings, he fell into the Horror Movie trap of ruining the tension in a couple scenes by adding artificial sound in post. But still, some of his direction in this film was Masterful. The scenes in “The Sunken Place” were so creative and beautifully shot. The acting was all great, probably thanks in part to him. In the scenes that took place at night time, he was able to up the atmosphere with keeping it dark, while still lit enough where we could see what is happening. This is usually a problem in horror movies. Directors will either have it so dark where we can not make out what is happening or ruin the atmosphere by flooding the shot with artificial light. The music keeps the mood tense, without being intrusive. Overall, he did a fantastic job. Will he win? Probably not. Nor do I think he should. I mean I would not complain for a second if he won, but I do believe the next two nominees did a slightly better job. But the next two nominees are both seasoned veterans with many films under their belt. I am thrilled to see what Peele does next.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson- “Phantom Thread”
I had such a hard time deciding between Anderson and Del Toro. Both delivered Masterful direction. I decided that Del Toro’s direction was a tiny bit more impressive, but it is very possible this was a bias decision made because I am such a big Del Toro fan and want him to win. Anderson’s Phantom Thread was darkly beautiful. It is the type of quality I have come to expect from Anderson. I am not yet sure if I think this is better than There Will be Blood, but it is close. The acting was flawless. So why do I rank The Shape of Water higher? Because it was a harder story to direct. Phantom Thread is also a lesser known film, and Anderson is not as well known as Del Toro. But were he to win, it would be deserved.
1. Guillermo Del Toro- “The Shape of Water”
Is the Shape of Water the best movie of 2017? Probably not, although it is up there. But this award isn’t what movie is the best. If that what it was, there would be no point in this category. Del Toro has long impressed with his masterful use of practical effects. He can create these beautiful creatures with little to no use of CGI. The creature in Shape of Water is a work of art. Del Toro took the time with his artists to design this creature, workshopping the design for over three years. But his great work doesn’t stop there. The Shape of Water is also nominated for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Production design, and basically every category a director would have a say in. The acting is great, the shots are great. I cannot find a single reason to critique the film’s direction. The story itself has some minor flaws, but his direction has few if any. Guillermo seems to be the heavy favorite to win. He already took a Golden Globe home, and chances are, he will grab the Oscar as well. A long deserved victory for an often overlooked director.