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Hollywood Contenders: Looking at potential Best Director contenders

5th Annual Rome International Film Festival - "La Dolce Vita" Photocall

As you fine folks all know from last year as well as my return article late last week, it’s one thing to read early Academy Award predictions at this point in the year in order to see what folks like myself think will happen six or so months from now, but it’s another thing entirely to actually know something about what will be in contention. To help out in that regard, I’m once again running down some of the major contenders in each Oscar category in order to prep you all for the season to come. Basically, the format will have me saying a few words about what/who I feel are the top tier contenders right now in said categories, along with a longer list afterwards of many of the other hopefuls that the Academy might take a shine to. Consider this a sort of before the awards season cheat sheet to have in your back pocket.

Today I’m continuing with what’s almost undeniably the second biggest one that’s out there…the Best Director category.

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

1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – Continuing on with my hunch that this might be a huge Oscar juggernaut, it makes sense to have Chazzelle this high up. He nearly scored a nomination here for Whiplash, so he’s potentially ready to take the next step. If the movie is a thing in Picture, I fully expect him to be a big threat in Director. It just makes too much sense not to consider him a frontrunner.

2. Martin Scorsese (Silence) – Would anyone argue with Scorsese potentially winning a second Academy Award? I didn’t think so, and with this long brewing passion project of his, he has perhaps a more appropriate vehicle for a victory than some of his more commercial outings. He’s a legend regardless, so if this is good, expect him to be a large part of the conversation.

3. Ang Lee (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) – On the flip side, it would certainly be something if Lee won a third time. I have to believe that if he does win again, it’ll be with his film actually not being the runner up in Picture, though I suppose anything is possible. This high profile adaptation of the novel of the same name is a whole new direction for the filmmaker, which is very promising. Sleep on him at your own risk folks!

4. Ben Affleck (Live By Night) *Possible 2016 release – I’m toying with the idea of Affleck’s crime epic being in play this year, as the rumors suggest. My next predictions update will try to make sense of that, but for now, he’s here, finally getting his first citation in Director. It’ll all depend on the movie, but there’s no reason not to at least tinker with him here, provided there’s an Oscar qualifying run, of course.

5. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) – Perhaps too small a choice to majorly be in contention, I still remain bullish on Lonergan here in Best Director. Other options below make just as much sense (in particular Jeff Nichols and Nate Parker, as you’ll see shortly), but I believe this Sundance hit will be remembered come the awards season. If so, expect to see the man’s name come up more than once…

6. Jeff Nichols (Loving) – A very safe upper echelon pick, Nichols got plenty of praise for this biopic at the Cannes Film Festival. I don’t think it’s likely to be noticeable enough work to win, but you have to think he’ll be right here on the cusp of a nod for plenty of the season. It’ll just be a matter of whether he gets over the hump or not. Frankly, the amount separating him from Lonergan above is miniscule.

7. Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation) – The Sundance Film Festival launched Parker pretty high up on this list when his passion project was met with acclaim. Actors making their directorial debuts can sometimes be catnip for voters, so you have to watch out for him here. I’d be shocked if we don’t see this multi hyphenate in the conversation right up until the end, whether he ultimate scores a nom or just misses out. Stay tuned there…

8. Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals) – The sophomore outing from Ford, plenty of eyes will be on this one. A Single Man announced the designers filmmaking talents in a big way, so as long as this is on par with that, there will be room for him in the race. He’s a step down from the top seven in my estimation, but could easily score a nomination with the right campaign. We shall see!

9. Garth Davis (Lion) – The unknown director of the top tier, Davis certainly has a path to a nomination before him. After all, he has The Weinstein Company and Harvey Weinstein in his corner. If their magic works once again on the Academy, they’ll have this much more in play than some might initially think. Will it be enough to get into Picture and Director? Time will tell…

10. Derek Cianfrance (The Light Between Oceans) – Much like in Picture last week, I have Cianfrance remaining here in Director once again this year. This seems like such a prestige laden project that you have to expect Oscar voters to at least slightly fall in love with it. If that happens, perhaps we’ll see them embrace this criminally underrated filmmaker at last?

BEN AFFLECK at HFAs 600x377

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

11. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
12. David Michod (War Machine)
13. Morton Tyldum (Passengers)
14. Denzel Washington (Fences)
15. Woody Allen (Cafe Society)
16. David Frankel (Collateral Beauty)
17. Ben Younger (Bleed for This)
18. Robert Zemeckis (Allied)
19. Clint Eastwood (Sully)
20. James Grey (The Lost City of Z)

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

21. John Lee Hancock (The Founder)
22. Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
23. Warren Beatty (Rules Don’t Apply)
24. Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some)
25. Matt Ross (Captain Fantastic)
26. James Ponsoldt (The Circle)
27. Terry George (The Promise)
28. Oliver Stone (Snowden)
29. Jonathan Jakubowicz (Hands of Stone)
30. David Ayer (Suicide Squad)


That’s what the Best Director race could very well be made up of this year folks. Stay tuned sometime during the next week for my 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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