Academy of One: Best Director 2012

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.

I was going to write an introduction about how strange it is to have several directors left out of the race for films very much in contention for Best Picture, but I realized it happens a lot.

Especially now that there are up to ten films in the race for Best Picture, there are at most five, not counting any contender outside of the Best Picture race, that are left out. It’s not uncommon any more to have the two categories split as it has for the last four years including 2012 (and now 2016).

The director’s branch of the Academy has historically gone its own way when selecting the nominees for its category and often they throw in a curve ball whose film isn’t among the honorees for Best Picture.

Recent examples include Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Paul Greengrass for United 93, and Mike Leigh for Vera Drake.

I mention all of this because I have read several pundits mark that recently, since the switch to up to ten Best Picture nominees, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher being the outlier, that the five director nominees are for the five films that the Academy would have chosen for Best Picture nominees had the limits stayed the same.

I doubt this is true, but it makes one wonder about several of the nominees I’ll discuss today as these films were barely breaking into frontrunner status for the top prize.

Let’s get into it. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • Michael Haneke - Amour

  • Ang Lee - Life of Pi

  • David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Steven Spielberg - Lincoln

  • Behn Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild

I have a few contenders that were left off this list that absolutely could have been included. Here’s my list.

  • Ben Affleck - Argo

  • Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master

  • Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty

  • Rian Johnson - Looper

Ben Affleck has proven himself as a director and for his third feature, he’s the most assured he’s been. He’s able to weave thrills into a story history already has the ending to while building tension to make us think that maybe our heroes won’t make it onto that plane after all.

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most intriguing directors of the modern era. He works so well with the background that you almost forget there’s a foreground of interesting things happening as well and vice versa. He’s able to immerse us in the world of The Master without the need for 3D glasses.

Kathryn Bigelow is now as inextricably linked with the War on Terror as Oliver Stone is to the Vietnam War. She’s able to handle a deep bench of character actors and the expansive scope of the Muslim world with ease and confidence.

Rian Johnson is a filmmaker who can make big scenes with the small movements of his camera. He’s able to play his characters like pieces on a chess board and he’s always seven steps ahead of where we guess he might be going.

O.K., I think two of my candidates can easily fit on the list of nominees, so I need to remove two to fit them on my list. Here’s that original list again.

  • Michael Haneke - Amour

  • Ang Lee - Life of Pi

  • David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Steven Spielberg - Lincoln

  • Behn Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild

All right, I have the two I think could be removed. The first, should not be a surprise if you’ve been following along for the past few weeks. That’s right, Michael Haneke gets the axe first.

I feel I’ve written enough about Amour that I don’t have anything else to say except perhaps I may rewatch the film in a few years and come back to you, groveling on my knees singing its praises, but right now, right here, it’s not for me.

Next one, well, this was a tough one and I don’t know if I made the right decision, but I have made one. I choose to let Behn Zeitlin off the list. I think he’s a good director and Beasts of the Southern Wild is an incredible film, but I don’t see his influence on it as strongly as I see the other directors on this list. It’s my perception that often the cinematographer took the brunt of the vision off Zeitlin’s shoulders. I may regret this one, too, in time, but again, we’re here and now.

Well, with two knocked off, here are the two to put on.

  • Ben Affleck - Argo

  • Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty

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

  • Ben Affleck - Argo

  • Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty

  • Ang Lee - Life of Pi

  • David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Steven Spielberg - Lincoln

Now that I have a new list, does Ang Lee keep his second Oscar for his effects extravaganza Life of Pi? Short answer, no.

As I have for the previous three years, I remain steadfast in my belief that Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand, so I will be praising Kathryn Bigelow for her work on Zero Dark Thirty.

To highlight her sprawling epic, I’ll center on one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, of which there are many.

It’s when Jessica, Maya’s friend in her CIA group, is set to meet her contact for a big break in their case. We see her pep talk and hear her fatal mistake in the apprehension of the soldier standing next to her. She’s eschewed procedure to try and make her contact more comfortable.

This is when we know what may happen and it’s when Bigelow builds the tension. The car is approaching. Others are expressing concerns. Jessica bats the concerns away. The car’s through the gate. Jessica makes her team stand at attention, ready to greet their guest. The tension builds more as the car stops and nothing happens. The soldiers are on edge and some others sense something’s off. Jessica still doesn’t realize her mistake. The contact steps from the car and it all becomes chaotic as the full gravity of what’s about to happen hits all of them.

Soldiers shout and point their weapons, the contact’s calm, Jessica’s face falls, and one of her team members runs as fast as she can in the opposite direction and just as we think it might not go off, the bomb explodes.

There are no scenes of carnage on the ground or first responders. There’s just the news report that makes its way back to Pakistan and Maya.

Kathryn Bigelow knows how to make us uncomfortable without making us squeamish. She builds and holds tension like no one else. Edge of your seat doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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 when I give you a recap of my choices for the best of 2012.

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