Academy of One: Best Director 2011

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

This could be the post I break with tradition. I may be wavering in my commitment that a Best Picture win and a Best Director need to go hand in hand. You’ll just have to read on to find out.

Here are the nominees as they currently stand.

  • Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris

  • Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist

  • Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life

  • Alexander Payne - The Descendants

  • Martin Scorsese - Hugo

I don’t have much to say about this particular group here, but I have quite a bit to discuss about the directors I think could take the place of a few of these guys. Here’s my list of hopefuls.

  • Asghar Farhadi - A Separation

  • David Fincher - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Dee Rees - Pariah

  • Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive

Asghar Farhadi has a wonderful intimacy in every scene of A Separation. He corrals his players into tight spaces and is able to capture fireworks that erupt and fizzle within them, never letting us out of the cage with these fierce tigers.

I feel like I’m already a broken record about how great David Fincher is and this is only the second time I’ve written about him. It definitely won’t be the last. For the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher seeps his own style into the frozen tundra of modern Sweden and makes it seem even icier than it actually is. It’s stark and grim and it fits the story so very well.

Dee Rees is another director who’s able to focus her attention solely on the characters in front of us. She has an intimacy even in the medium shots of two characters speaking with one another or at a family dinner, we’re reminded that the only thing that matters is these characters, their lives and problems.

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director who’s able to find the beauty in the mundane, whether it’s the driver going to the grocery store and seeing someone he likes or it’s taking a night drive because he can’t sleep, there’s a lot of things that can be said without words in those moments and Refn builds all of them so splendidly.

O.K., now that I have my list. It’s time to see if any of the original nominees can be removed to make room. Here’s that original list again.

  • Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris

  • Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist

  • Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life

  • Alexander Payne - The Descendants

  • Martin Scorsese - Hugo

I have two directors in mind. First to go is the easiest choice, Woody Allen. I say he’s the easiest choice because even in the lush scenery of Paris, he still finds a way to be unadventurous in his filmmaking. It’s a more than competent job with a lot of lovely scenery, but it’s not one of the best of 2011.

Next, I’ll go with Martin Scorsese. He’s a filmmaker of the highest order and is able to make people watching movies be enticing, but I think the unevenness of the story really takes me out of the masterful things he can do behind the camera.

All right, now that I’ve made two slots, I can add two from my list. Here’s who I will add.

  • David Fincher - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive

Here’s what the list looks like with these two additions.

  • David Fincher - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist

  • Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life

  • Alexander Payne - The Descendants

  • Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive

The moment of truth is upon us. Will I split my vote for the first time on the blog and have a different Best Picture and Best Director? Short answer, no.

I hold firm to my belief that the title Best Picture can’t be claimed without acknowledging the director of that film as the Best Director.

So, as you may have guessed, my pick is Terrence Malick for his film The Tree of Life.

As much as the film can seem chaotic or haphazard at times, it really is built upon a solid through line. Jack fights with his father about the remembrance of his brother R.L.’s death and spends that day thinking about the way he grew up, the personalities of his parents and how it shaped him at puberty into the man he is and how he comes to terms with the grand scheme of the insignificance of his life and the life of his brother to the grandiose universe.

This description is pretty reductive and only my own interpretation of the film, but Malick lays the groundwork very well. He’s able to show clues in unique ways and grapple with big ideas in scenes that take place on Earth.

That’s the beauty of the film. It can be interpreted in many ways, but the strength of the core concept shines through like a beacon in every scene.

One of my favorite sequences in the film is Jack’s discovery of the overwhelming hormones he has. The impetus is, he sees a gorgeous woman putting laundry out on a line. When he knows she and her family have left their house, he enters. Jack goes room to room, constantly looking to see if the family has returned. He makes it up to the woman’s bedroom and digs through her drawers to find a dressing gown. He looks at it and admires it, but in his shame, he takes it. He runs to the creek and thinks about burying it, but tosses it into the running water instead.

This sequence has no dialogue, minimal voice over, and a fantastic score. It’s a scene that resonates with me perfectly as I had the same overwhelming desires and the same shame at them and the same fear that I would be caught attempting to understand what was happening to me.

This film is filled with universal truths and situations and it’s Terrence Malick who guides us through them with beautiful imagery and thought provoking sequences. The film is all about what the audience can bring to the lovely feast Malick has set before us.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the recap for the year 2011.

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