Academy of One: Best Director 2015

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.

A good director is like a loving god. They shepherd viewers from frame to frame with an arm across the shoulders. They cradle us when things get hard and they laugh with us when things turn around. We give our faith to them and it is often rewarded.

Wow, this got off to a philosophical start. I don’t typically do that. I usually talk about the history of the category or some controversial topic that relates to the category that week. Oh, wait. I’ve got it.

The Director’s Branch of the Academy feels like an exclusive, monochromatic boy’s club. In the 88 year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only four women have been nominated in the Best Director category. Lina Wertmuller was the first in 1976, then we wait all the way to 1993 and Jane Campion, which leads to the ten year time jump for Sofia Coppola in 2003, then only a six year jump between that and Kathryn Bigelow’s historic win in 2009. Of course, then you get Bigelow’s snub in 2012 and we’re back to marking time until the next enlightened voting body.

People of color are not well off in the category either with only a handful of nominations. Although, a person of color has won each of the last four years starting with Ang Lee in 2012, Alfonso Cuaron in 2013, and Alejandro G. Inarritu in 2014 and 2015.

The directing category, more than any other category, needs a shake up. It needs new life and new talent. To breed the next generation of filmmakers, people need to see themselves represented in order to know it’s possible.

All right, let’s get down to business. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • Lenny Abrahamson - Room

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - The Revenant

  • Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

  • Adam McKay - The Big Short

  • George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road

I noticed almost immediately that this list is not about the established names. Of all of these men, Inarritu is the only one to have a previous nomination in this category. Missing are the big, established names. Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott are nowhere to be found.

And as much as I have a deep love for Spielberg (you will know my obsession as we make our way back through the past), I have four other outsiders that I think could make a great addition to this list. Here are my choices.

  • Ryan Coogler - Creed

  • Rick Famuyiwa - Dope

  • Cary Joji Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation

  • Todd Haynes - Carol

The movement Ryan Coogler’s camera makes throughout Creed really puts the audience into the action with immersive shots like extreme close-ups and shots that evoke the wideness of the city of Philadelphia itself. Then there’s that really gorgeous, ambitious one shot bout that if you’ve seen the movie you barely noticed because it’s so well put together and thought out.

The striking color palette in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope actively contrasts between our heroes hopefulness of getting out and the darkness that surrounds them at every turn. It’s an excellent stylistic choice in a movie full of beautiful stylistic choices.

Cary Joji Fukunaga is a guerrilla filmmaker in the truest sense. He serves as his own cinematographer on Beasts of No Nation and he crafted some incredible scenes as the camera follows Agu and Commandant on their campaign of terror.

I categorize Todd Haynes as a delicate filmmaker. His shots are composed with such care and the characters move with such fluidity and grace. The shots in Carol feel like they’re on the edge of too long, but on that edge, Haynes is able to find the perfect cut.

We’ll go back to that original list of nominees now I’ll and see if I can make any cuts of my own.

  • Lenny Abrahamson - Room

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - The Revenant

  • Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

  • Adam McKay - The Big Short

  • George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road

Boy, the past few weeks must have felt like I’ve been dumping on The Big Short, so why stop here? I believe Adam McKay is a good director, but I don’t like a lot of his choices to cut away from his main characters and the main narrative for gimmicky celebrity cameos that explain complex financial systems.

I get why he does it. This topic is not sexy, it’s aggravating, but I think it dilutes the point those cameos are trying to make because for the first few seconds of it, we’re like, “Hey, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, this beats Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell playing Jenga, wait, what did she say about money?”

The next cut I need to make is Lenny Abrahamson. This is a hard cut to make. There isn’t any thing inherently wrong with Abrahamson’s directing, but It’s also not challenging either. For a very unconventional film, the story is projected in a very conventional way.

I may change my mind if I ever choose to go back over this idea, but for right now Abrahamson is an omission of convenience. I’ve made these kinds of decisions twice now, but it’s my burden to carry.

So, now that I have two open spots, who am I adding?

  • Ryan Coogler - Creed

  • Cary Joji Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation

What does the field look like now with these two additions?

  • Ryan Coogler - Creed

  • Cary Joji Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu - The Revenant

  • Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

  • George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road

It would be very easy to appease the fandom out there and select George Miller for his frenetic, ambitious, bonkers masterwork.

It would also be very easy to embrace three modern titans of the immersive, steady camming, long-shooting, busy scene having filmmakers that made a wonderful triad of films about survival. Cary Joji Fukunaga with his claustrophobic war horror, Alejandro G. Inarritu with his expansive, deadly frontier, or Ryan Coogler with his physical and metaphorical boxing rings, but I choose to go with my gut. I choose the film that stands still.

Tom McCarthy’s film is about characters who stand in place because the church holds them there. So many scenes of Spotlight are about the reaction to having the worst facts a reporter can dig up confirmed by witnesses and victims.

The shots are held on victims as they tell their stories not as a shock, but because the audience needs to see that no matter how much time has passed or how much therapy they could have attempted, their innocence was stolen from them, was taken by someone they trusted. We need to develop empathy not for the characters we follow around, but for the people tortured by their past.

McCarthy’s work keeps the film from becoming an overwrought melodrama or a, excuse the pun, preachy film. The measured approach has a much more meaningful impact especially as we see how nearly powerless and overshadowed our characters are. It’s a far different approach than any of the other filmmakers in this field and it really pays off with the impact of every word.

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. Next week will be a little different as it’s going to be a recap of 2015 to give a little break in between years. Then in two weeks, I take a look at the Best Picture nominees of 2014.

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