Academy of One: Best Director 2014

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’ve realized through doing these posts that I find it harder to justify a film as a “best picture” without also awarding the prize of “best director” to the one who helmed it.

Is this a spoiler for later in the post? Possibly. What’s interesting though is that the Academy or at least the Academy of three of the last four years has not had a problem spreading the awards love around. That may be the crux of the argument.

Lately it seems that the winners for Best Director have been the more technically minded of the craftspeople. The people who take leaps into the great technological unknown.

Alejandro G. Inarritu, who has won the last two years, dealt with long tracking shots in the close quarters of the back stage at a Broadway play and then took that technique out into the wild, wide expanses.

Inarritu’s colleague and friend Alfonso Cuaron won for his long takes of the terror that is being stranded in outer space which with a lot of movie magic, he filmed entirely on the ground.

Before them, Ang Lee took home the prize for creating a synthetic CGI world that looked like we could touch it and it could leap off the screen and into reality.

It’s interesting to see the movies that don’t have a new or astounding technique get nominated, but immediately dismissed for these spectacles. Is it a trend that will continue in the future? Will the films that are more “traditional” and “practical” not receive acclaim in favor of boldness? Only time will tell really.

For now, though let’s take a look at the men (sigh) nominated in this category as it stands now.

  • Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman

  • Richard Linklater - Boyhood

  • Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher

  • Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

This group is interesting. While all of these men are veterans of the director’s chair, they’re still freshman when it comes to directing nominations, with the exception of Alejandro G. Inarritu and Bennett Miller, who at this point, each had one nomination previously.

Yet, while I like all of these guys, I feel there are others just as deserving of a place on the list. Here are some possibilities who could usurp some of these spots.

  • Gina Prince-Bythewood - Beyond the Lights

  • Damien Chazelle - Whiplash

  • Ava DuVernay - Selma

  • David Fincher - Gone Girl

  • Bong Joon Ho - Snowpiercer

Gina Prince-Bythewood is equally comfortable shooting the genuine nature of people in the false world of Hollywood as she is shooting people becoming themselves on a secluded beach. She hits every emotional note just perfectly.

Damien Chazelle’s frenetic rhythm, mixed with his tense one on one scenes reminds us we’re in the head of a jazz drummer, who has to hold back just long enough to get the signal to let loose again.

Ava DuVernay’s camera is so much a fly on the wall capturing moments for us to interpret while also leading us to faces that are important who we may not even know yet. Every shot is important and leads us through the emotional journey we’re meant to be on without forcing emotions on us.

When I think of the thriller genre a few names come to mind, but David Fincher is nearly at the top. He’s able to build these dark, disturbing landscapes that prowl the unlit corners of our minds and bring to fruition things we didn’t even know we feared like a partner who is not who they seem to be.

It’s difficult to direct a film that relies heavily on several action set pieces, but a film that needs those pieces and also takes place in the cramped quarters of train cars is quite an achievement Bong Joon Ho pulls of masterfully while also achieving an emotional heft that’s believable and affecting.

So, can any of these fine directors break into the race? I believe two can fit in quite nicely, but that also means I need to eliminate two from our list as it stands. Here’s that list again.

  • Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman

  • Richard Linklater - Boyhood

  • Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher

  • Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

For the first elimination, I’ll choose Bennett Miller. There are some really great shots in Foxcatcher. It has grand vistas and an opulent estate to play with. There’s that great action sequence at the end, which is the only exciting thing in the film.

As I mentioned when I dissected Steve Carell’s performance, there are shots that take far too long to develop into anything. There are chunks of time in this film that aren’t filled with story, but with establishments of themes or ideas we already know. It’s long without needing to be and I think it’s just that Miller kept in more than he had to to tell the story his way.

The next elimination is Morten Tyldum. Tyldum is a very conventional filmmaker when it comes to the unconventional story that is The Imitation Game. I think that’s why it’s easy to dismiss him as he’s in a field and in a year of such unconventional and truly dynamic filmmaking. His style just doesn’t seem to fit the new mold. It’s an elimination for doing well, but not exceeding expectations.

All right, with those two out of the way, I can reveal my picks for their replacements.

  • Damien Chazelle - Whiplash

  • Ava DuVernay - Selma

Here’s what the field looks like with my additions.

  • Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • Damien Chazelle - Whiplash

  • Ava DuVernay - Selma

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman

  • Richard Linklater - Boyhood

O.K. with my new list all typed out, is the statement I gave at the top of this post going to reign true? Yes, emphatically yes.

For me, at least for now, Best Picture should be synonymous with Best Director and in this case it is well deserved. Ava DuVernay is able to build a snapshot of a time of radical change in the United States.

I can point to several scenes that prove DuVernay’s deft hand at the helm, but none more than that first bridge crossing as the non-violent protestors stand and wait because in front of them is a phalanx of Alabama State Troopers, press, and counter protestors there to enjoy the chaos they hope breaks out.

In a flash that chaos and confusion erupts as tear gas is deployed and men on horse back rush through the fog and confusion and begin attacking the non-violent protestors.

It’s like a scene out of a war film as people lay bleeding on the pavement and are beaten indiscriminately. DuVernay has us in a fog as well as we can only watch in horror. She even shows the reactions, our audience surrogates, as they witness the one-sided melee and are as helpless as we are.

It’s an incredibly powerful and well-crafted scene in a film of incredibly powerful scenes. The barbarity of American history is on full display. DuVernay never shies from showing the audience what other filmmakers have left out.

Yet, the savagery is something that while potent can never diminish the hope. The numbers on the next two journeys to the bridge show that the power of hate cannot trump justice or stem the flood of change. The tone is so perfectly balanced in that way. Much of this film depends on that balance so it doesn’t ever sink into despair or into schmaltz. DuVernay handles it all expertly.

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 the Friday after next with the Best Picture nominees of 2013. Next week will be a recap of the year 2014.

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