Looking At Potential Best Director Contenders


My movie loving friends, as you all know from years past, as well as in my return article for this series 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 filmmakers that I have in play for Best Director, with the top five cracking the lineup at this point:

1. Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) – If the Academy Awards were held today, Tarantino would take home Best Director. The question is, can Once Upon a Time in Hollywood remain a top tier contender for wins, not just nominations? The season will have a lot to say, but at this very moment, he’s the prohibitive favorite. Whether he remains that way when votes are actually tabulated, that remains to be seen.

2. Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) – Looming large on the season is Scorsese, who will have Netflix looking to double down on their Roma wins last year and avenge their loss in Best Picture. To that end, getting the legendary filmmaker another Oscar in Best Director would be quite the feather in their cap. There’s no way they aren’t planning on going for the win, full stop. The Irishman is going to get a massive push at the end of the year, so expect this to be a race Scorsese is heavily involved in…

3. Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) – A huge X factor in the race, also due to Netflix, is Baumbach, who the streaming service is very high on. They love Marriage Story and expect it to be a big player, so sleep on him at your own risk. He could be the most likely of the first time nominees, at this stage in the game.

4. Sam Mendes (1917) – The recent Trailer for the war epic 1917 puts Mendes squarely into the field for Best Director. A former winner who hasn’t been invited back since then, this is the kind of citation that the Academy loves. If the film is as good as it looks, he might end up being a slam dunk nominee.

5. Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) – Representing one of the few feel good options, as well as the top tier right now of female filmmakers in the race, Heller has a real chance here. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood should make Oscar voters swoon, and when has that ever been a bad thing?

6. James Mangold (Ford v. Ferrari) – Mangold has yet to be nominated in Director, something he’s looking to rectify here. Ford v. Ferrari is definitely in the Academy’s wheelhouse, so if it becomes well regarded and a financial success, it could easily speed over to the Oscar race, no pun intended. Consider it a potential crowd pleaser in the lot.

7. Rian Johnson (Knives Out) – Depending on how much of a prestige flick as opposed to just popcorn entertainment this one turns out to be, Johnson may well be in the hunt. I’m slightly less optimistic about his chances than I was earlier in the year, but that has nothing to do with how good Knives Out looks, since it looks great. Just call it a hunch…

8. John Crowley (The Goldfinch) – There’s a chance this prestige adaptation of the literary sensation falls flat. If so, Crowley won’t even sniff Best Director. If that’s not the case, look for him to contend. It’s as simple as that. We just won’t know until The Goldfinch starts screening next month, so stay tuned!

9. James Gray (Ad Astra) – Ambitious science fiction has fared better with the Academy in recent times, so that gives Gray a leg up here. Ad Astra will be a tough sell, but not an impossible one, to be sure. Furthermore, Gray is well respected and has never truly been in the running before, so this massive project may be seen as his time to shine with voters. Perhaps we’re looking at a Lone Director type contender here?

10. Scott Z. Burns (The Report) – This last spot could have just as easily gone to someone like Noah Hawley for Lucy in the Sky or Edward Norton for Motherless Brooklyn, but Burns could certainly go all the way from Sundance to the Oscar lineup here. The Report may not be the sexiest choice, but it’s the sort of rock solid throwback picture that voters may flock to. We shall see…

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

11. Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn)
12. Noah Hawley (Lucy in the Sky)
13. Kasi Lemmons (Harriet)
14. Todd Haynes (Untitled Todd Haynes Project)
15. Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life)
16. Steven Soderbergh (The Laundromat)
17. Jay Roach (Untitled Roger Ailes Project)
18. Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
19. Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)
20. Craig Brewer (Dolemite is My Name)

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

21. Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
22. Pedro Almodovar (Pain and Glory)
23. Todd Phillips (Joker)
24. Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
25. Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes)
26. Dexter Fletcher (Rocketman)
27. David Michod (The King)
28. Tom Hooper (Cats)
29. Gurinder Chadha (Blinded by the Light)
30. J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

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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