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Re-ranking the contenders in Best Director

David Fincher PR
As I mentioned last week, with the festival season well underway and a good portion of the major contenders for the Academy Awards having screened or about to screen, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at the big eight categories and see what’s what in an updated and more expanded fashion. I did this with the major categories a few months back, but that was when almost everything was still speculation. We have some facts to go on now, so while much of this is still just an educated guess, I’m not completely relying on overt hunches this time around. It’s more of an even mix, depending on the film/director in question, of course. Today I’m turning my attention once again to the Best Director field, which will certainly match up somewhat with Best Picture, but perhaps not necessarily in a total form. Read on to see what I mean…

Here are the ten filmmakers that I have in play for Best Director currently, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point and time:

1. David Fincher (Gone Girl) – Considering I have Gone Girl winning Best Picture right now, it makes sense that I have Fincher winning Best Director here. The very first reviews for the movie dropped last night and they heavily praise his work, even if some do wish he’d tackle less “pulpy” subject matter. That seems like a film critic’s complaint to me (even if I’ve made that same statement about other filmmakers), so that might not bother the Academy too much. I’ll know more once I see it at the New York Film Festival on Friday, but for now…it’s in the top spot. This could be in flux though.

2. Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) – Despite the slight reduction in buzz for this one, I’m expecting a surge again once Miller’s film plays at NYFF in a few weeks time. He’s slowly becoming an overdue director as well, so it’s possible voters might just decide that now is the time. As long as he can build back up some buzz, you have to still consider him a major threat to win. Don’t sleep on Miller’s chances, as he’s always found a way in the past.

3. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Some have Iñárritu as the one to beat right now, but I’m not sure I see it just yet. His film seems unlikely to beat more traditionally appealing fair in Best Picture, so unless we’re in line for a Picture/Director split, he seems like a runner up for now. This is another title I’m going to be seeing at NYFF, so perhaps I’ll be singing a different tune come October. Iñárritu is capable of winning, but he doesn’t strike me as the frontrunner by any stretch.

4. Richard Linklater (Boyhood) – Those top three are more or less the accepted top players currently, though depending on who you ask, Linklater is right there with them as well. It seems hard to believe that the Academy won’t recognize this achievement somewhere, so the question is just where they’ll opt to do it. If he doesn’t just wind up with a token Best Original Screenplay nod, then this could certainly be a possibility. Stay tuned to see if Boyhood holds steady or falls off in the final bend.

5. Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) – The other often mention contender is Jolie, partially due to just how baity her movie is. Unnbroken screams “Oscar!” in every way, even if it’s still an unknown commodity on the whole. A nom would be historical enough for her, but a win would be even more so. That makes me think she’s not in the top three like many think, but if the movie proves to be a likely Best Picture winner, then I could be singing a different tune. Oscar does love when their A-listers direct, after all.

6. James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) – A new addition to my list is Marsh, who apparently has taken a potentially manipulative biopic and crafted something beautiful out of it. That doesn’t always translate into a nomination in this category, but it surely puts him in play. He’ll need one of the five listed above to fall flat in some way (hardly an impossibility), but he could be hovering right there all season, waiting for his opportunity to strike.

7. Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) – Plenty of Nolan fans are hoping that this is finally going to be the year for him in this category, and while it’s certainly possible, the unknown nature of his flick is keeping him from really challenging for a top five spot right now. He’s been snubbed before, so one should keep expectations in check, but if the quality is there, I could see him heavily challenging for that fifth slot, but sadly little more than that. I make no guarantees though, so sit tight for more on this one in the coming months.

9. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) – A few months ago, no one had Tyldum on this kind of a list, but now he’s very much in play for a nomination. The movie is really looking good for a Best Picture nomination, so that keeps him hanging around in the top ten, pretty much permanently. If his flick emerges as the Best Picture frontrunner some think it’s going to ultimately be, he’ll move up this list in a big hurry.

10. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) – Similarly, Chazelle is a new addition, despite only growing buzz for Whiplash since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. I’ll be seeing this one also on Friday, courtesy of NYFF, so I’ll know before too long if I’m on to something with this hunch of mine. Maybe I’m nuts, but maybe not. Be on the lookout for something of more substance on this one pretty soon.

Next in line I’d have these ten contenders (just sans commentary here) for Best Director:

11. Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)
12. Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner)
13. Jason Reitman (Men, Women & Children)
14. Ava DuVernay (Selma)
15. Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild)
16. Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)
17. Jon Stewart (Rosewater)
18. Rob Marshall (Into the Woods)
19. David Ayer (Fury)
20. J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year)

Finally, here are ten more to give us a top 30 overall to cull from, just sans commentary as well:

21. Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings)
22. Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger)
23. Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)
24. Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
25. Stephen Daldry (Trash)
26. Tim Burton (Big Eyes)
27. Rupert Wyatt (The Gambler)
28. John Carney (Begin Again)
29. Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman)
30. Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars)

Stay tuned next week for my updated look at the Best Actor race!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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