2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Director (Sept. 16)
It’s amazing how little we still know about the 2014 Oscar race in the post-Telluride/Venice/Toronto landscape. Sure, films like Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ made strong showings on the fall film festival circuit. But with so many films yet to screen – from ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ — the overall picture remains murky, at best.
Here’s where I think we stand at this early stage in the race. We’ll have more movement as the New York Film Festival ramps up on Sept. 27. And movies like ‘Rush’ and ‘Prisoners’ have a chance to screen for mainstream audiences. Large box-office openings can only help their causes. For the moment, here are the leaders in the Best Director category:
Alfonso Cuaron, ‘Gravity’
Cuaron’s a brilliant director, whose credits include the mesmerizing ‘Children of Men,’ the scintillating ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ and the best ‘Harry Potter’ installment, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban.’ And yet, his three Oscar nominations have been for editing and screenplay (twice). This year, he seems poised to break into the Director category with ‘Gravity,’ a game-changing exercise in tension and execution that left jaws on the floor at Telluride, Venice and Toronto. ‘Gravity’ is a magic trick of a film, an unprecedented trip to outer space that will have audiences floating. If he doesn’t earn a nomination, the entire system is broken.
Steve McQueen, ’12 Years a Slave’
Masterful direction on the part of McQueen makes the harrowing, brutal ’12 Years a Slave’ a can’t-miss proposition … even though I’m in no rush to watch his drama again any time soon. It’s just a lot to handle, this story of a free man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) having his existence stripped by deceitful slave traders. But it’s impossible not to appreciate McQueen’s calculated decisions as he brings this true story to the screen. ‘Slave’ earned a healthy amount of awards heat in recent weeks, and I believe he is locked into a Best Director slot.
Joel and Ethan Coen, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
The Coens are no strangers to the Academy, scoring multiple nominations for recent pictures like ‘True Grit,’ ‘A Serious Man,’ and ‘No Country for Old Men,’ which took home multiple Oscars. If ‘Llewyn Davis’ has the same effect on Academy voters as it did on Cannes critics earlier this year, the siblings could be back in contention early next year.
Bennett Miller, ‘Foxcatcher’
Here, I’m betting on Miller’s track record. He has directed two films. He was nominated for Best Director for ‘Capote,’ and coached ‘Moneyball’ to multiple Oscar noms including Best Picture, Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Screenplay. The dark, demeted story of ‘Foxcatcher’ sounds tailor-made for Miller, and I think it will be a serious Oscar player, but we’ll know when it starts to screen.
John Lee Hancock, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
Weeks ago, I thought that ‘August: Osage County’ director John Wells would be the filmmaker who rides his movie’s Best Picture momentum to a Best Director nom. Then I saw ‘August,’ and realized Wells did little to earn such a nomination. So I’m applying the same logic to ‘Banks,’ sight unseen. I think that the movie has the potential to earn Oscar nominations in several categories. If it hits home runs across the board, Hancock could get this coveted fifth slot … or it could easily go to Scorsese, Greengrass, Russell, Scott, Stiller (and on and on).