Academy of One: Best Director 2013

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 year marks only the third time a black man has been nominated for Best Director. The second was Lee Daniels and the first was John Singleton. Only a handful of directors of color have ever won. I highlighted a few of those statistics in my last few posts about Best Director.

I mention this only to keep harping on the point that the farther back I go the less diverse the field will get and I’ll do my damndest to highlight great directors who were never given a chance.

Let’s get into this category now and see if I can’t shake the walls a little bit. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity

  • Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave

  • Alexander Payne - Nebraska

  • David O. Russell - American Hustle

  • Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street

I have three directors and one team I know can easily contend with this list of nominees. Here’s my list of contenders.

  • Joel and Ethan Coen - Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station

  • Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips

  • Spike Jonze - Her

The Coen brothers are great auteur filmmakers who know how to set the perfect balance in every shot and it’s no different with Inside Llewyn Davis as they employ a nearly sepia toned color palette to their shots making it warm, while also reflecting the coldness of the weather and Davis’ career.

Ryan Coogler is a filmmaker I will never stop praising. His work on Fruitvale Station is like the cell phone video that brought Oscar Grant’s story to the world. It’s a verite type of portrait, which is beautiful in its subtlety and intimacy.

Speaking of verite, a pioneer of the new verite style himself, Paul Greengrass is a filmmaker who puts us all within the action. His tight zooms and steadicams capture moments other filmmakers could have lingered on too long as they worry about frame. It’s a kind of excellent and beautiful confusion.

Spike Jonze is a filmmaker who likes to take us on an emotional journey. With Her, he makes us fall in love with an artificial intelligence and uses the bright, hopeful color palette to tell us it’s O.K. to love who we love no matter what they are.

So, now that I’ve gotten a few more names into the mix, I have to see if there are any I can remove from the original list in order to make room. I can think of one weak link.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is shot in beautiful black and white, my guess to remind the audience of the blandness that defines the Great Plains states of the U.S. where the story takes place, but it really does another thing for me. It heightens the tediousness of the narrative.

I’ve mentioned this in the other posts about the film. The story doesn’t benefit from Payne’s direction as he leaves nothing for us to look at to hold our attention. The shots are perfunctory and the movement is nearly non-existent. It’s not Payne’s best work.

Now that I’ve eliminated one of the nominees, I have one of my contenders that can take his place.

  • Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station

O.K. with my addition, here’s what the field looks like now.

  • Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station

  • Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity

  • Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave

  • David O. Russell - American Hustle

  • Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street

The last question is, will I continue my tradition of pairing Best Director with its Best Picture counter part? Short answer, yes.

Steve McQueen’s direction of 12 Years a Slave is marvelous. His background as a visual artist serves him well adapting this story. He’s able to create scenes that are visually vibrant and stunning while showing the horrors of slavery.

The way his camera moves, or stands still, conveys as much emotion as any of the actors on screen. It’s part of the performance. It’s true visual story telling giving us the necessities of the plot only when we need it.

I’ve written a lot about this film so there’s not much more to write except that McQueen’s brilliance lies in the holding of shots past what one would consider the logical end and surprising us with a spurt of violence that takes us to the next scene.

In my praise of Michael Fassbender’s performance, I highlighted the scene in which his character, Epps, threatens Solomon in the dark. The power of that scene is of course in the acting, but it’s also in the fact that McQueen doesn’t break from his position. He doesn’t break from his actors, almost as a signal for the dread that’s hidden. The weapon yet to show itself.

It’s masterful visual storytelling. McQueen knows what his audience expects and wants to turn that on its head. He does so with grace and tenacity. He’s a superior filmmaker in a superior year for film.

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 a recap for 2013 and a special note about the upcoming hiatus.

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