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Taking a look at potential Best Director contenders

Yesterday was something, huh? Back to business though today. My movie loving friends, as you all know from years past, as well as in my return article a week or so ago, 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 awards season cheat sheet to have in your back pocket before the madness fully begins.

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 (or once again, technically the 11) filmmakers that I have in play for Best Director, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point:

1. Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) – Just look at the recent Trailer for If Beale Street Could Talk. Doesn’t Jenkins seem like an early frontrunner to you? Moonlight got him Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, so all he’s missing is Best Director. With no one clearly in the pole position, Jenkins makes as much sense as anyone. It’s not quite his to lose, but would it surprise you at all if he ended up with the statue when all was said and done?

2. Damien Chazelle (First Man) – After winning Best Director for La La Land, Chazelle looks for another win with First Man. There isn’t a long list of two time winners, and an even shorter list has filmmakers early in their career taking the prize twice, so the odds aren’t in his favor. At the same time, Chazelle has to be considered one of the likeliest winners at this point. Depending on how the film is, he might be hard to overtake…

3. Spike Lee (BlackKklansman) – Opening this weekend, Lee seeks to really get his first true embrace from Oscar with the crowd pleasing BlackKklansman. If the movie is as big a hit with all sections of the film community, as it very well could be, Lee should be in the thick of the race. Seeing him accepting the Director prize would really be something. You can bet on his speech being a memorable one, that’s for sure.

4. Adam McKay (Untitled Dick Cheney Biopic) – Whatever this ends up being called, it seems like McKay has the material to make a play for another Academy Award citation. Whether it’s Backseat or Cheney or whatever, McKay overachieved with The Big Short, so this could be just as successful. He’s an X factor in this race, as this subject could be touchy. Stay tuned!

5. Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) – Watch out for Cooper. As the resident actor turned filmmaker this year, he’ll have the backing of some extra segments of the Oscar community. A win might be a little hard to come by, unless A Star is Born is taking Best Picture, but a nomination seems like it could certainly be had. Cooper could have the best overall haul this year come Oscar morning.

6. Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) – If there’s a dark horse in the race right now, it’s Lanthimos. There’s a chance that this is his most accessible work yet, and if it is, oh boy. The Favourite may end up an across the board contender, one that gives Lanthimos his widest acceptance to date.

7. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) – Can you ever really count out the Coen Brothers? This anthology series turned film is a late entry into the season, with some high profile festival offerings on the docket. It doesn’t seem all that likely that they’ll win the category again for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but much like Meryl Streep, they could comfortably find another nomination at their doorstep…

8. Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) – Depending on how the year shakes out, Coogler will certainly remain in play. His movie got torpedoed this week with the new Oscar rules, so how that impacts Director is still to be determined. Coogler deserves some consideration for Black Panther, so one hopes that voters separate him from the oddity of popular films in 2018 at the Academy Awards.

9. Jason Reitman (The Front Runner) – Many are down on Reitman, but I think he’s about to surprise a lot of people. A timely tale in The Frontrunner could be his friend. Arguably, the filmmaker should already have an Academy Award, so if this becomes a player, voters may very well be inclined to think he’s due. There’s certainly a chance.

10. Josie Rourke (Mary Queen of Scots) – Rourke is the least known among all the filmmakers in this section, but don’t sleep on her chances here. This last spot could just as easily been Joel Edgerton for Boy Erased, Mimi Leder for On the Basis of Sex, or Julian Schnabel for At Eternity’s Gate. That being said, the slot goes to her for now. If Mary Queen of Scots is a player, so to will she be.

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

11. Joel Edgerton (Boy Erased)
12. Mimi Leder (On the Basis of Sex)
13. Julian Schnabel (At Eternity’s Gate)
14. Mike Leigh (Peterloo)
15. Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
16. Steve McQueen (Widows)
17. Robert Zemeckis (Welcome to Marwen)
18. David Lowery (The Old Man and the Gun)
19. Jacques Audiard (The Sisters Brothers)
20. Boots Riley (Sorry to Bother You)

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

21. Brett Haley (Hearts Beat Loud)
22. Felix Van Groeningen (Beautiful Boy)
23. Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
24. Yann Demange (White Boy Rick)
25. Sebastián Lelio (Disobedience)
26. Paul Dano (Wildlife)
27. Karyn Kusama (Destroyer)
28. Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns)
29. Justin Kelly (JT Leroy)
30. Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade)

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