Academy of One: Best Director 2016

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 love to see personal stories played out on screen. I don’t mean biography, I mean more of an investment by the director where this is not just another job for them, but a passion. I think all of the nominees in this category are filmmakers that always throw themselves into their projects. Here’s the list of nominees as they stand.

  • Damien Chazelle - La La Land

  • Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge

  • Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

  • Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea

  • Denis Villeneuve - Arrival

This list is a very good mix of style and substance. I think there are a few others I would like to see take a couple of these spots for their own, though. Here are my possible candidates.

  • Yorgos Lanthimos - The Lobster

  • Mike Mills - 20th Century Women

  • Jeff Nichols - Loving

  • Chan-wook Park - The Handmaiden

  • Martin Scorsese - Silence

I tend not to think of a candidate I haven’t also ushered into the Best Picture category, but Yorgos Lanthimos’ work on The Lobster is a performance of its own. He takes his stark tale of a dystopian world and imbues it with his strange sense of humor and his bleak view of humanity. His hands are on every piece of the film and it’s all the better for it.

Talk about personal stories, Mike Mills is a director who has mined his own unique history for his films and is able to create worlds that leap off the screen and into our hearts.

I mentioned this in my justification in the Best Picture category, but the strength of Loving is in its willingness to breathe and to let its story take place rather than place it in too large of an anthem for any time period. I think that’s thanks to its great architect, Jeff Nichols.

Chan-wook Park doesn’t get enough credit for how funny his thrillers are, but that sensibility behind the camera allows for strange, physical humor that fits perfectly within the world he’s created. The Handmaiden is no exception and when you’re attempting to parse out who’s aligned with who at any moment, it’s nice to have someone trip over something or knock something down intentionally or unintentionally.

What’s left to be said about Martin Scorsese? He’s one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers and while this isn’t his best film, it’s one that’s deeply personal to him in a way that shows through in the work.

O.K., those are my guys. I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t pick a woman this time around, but I’m hoping I can make it up as the years go on.

So, I have two gentlemen I want in this category, which means two originals need to go. Here’s that original list again.

  • Damien Chazelle - La La Land

  • Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge

  • Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

  • Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea

  • Denis Villeneuve - Arrival

The first elimination should come as no surprise to you. It’s Mel Gibson. Mainly its for the choices to subvert the crux of the argument of pacifism with extreme gore and violence. It just doesn’t work. The other reasons, well he’s an ultra creep and we should stop rewarding men who have a well-documented history of abuse and racism.

The next elimination may come as a surprise. It’s Kenneth Lonergan. The reason i didn’t eliminate this film from the Best Picture list is because there are so many other elements within it that works so well including the acting and especially the editing, but I don’t think Lonergan has the goods behind the camera.

Some of his shots are overly long, which is a technique that can work well, but doesn’t work here. He also lives too long in certain scenes and it may be because he wanted to show something, but it just didn’t quite connect with me as a viewer.

All right, so I’ve taken out two. Here are the two I’m adding in.

  • Jeff Nichols - Loving

  • Chan-wook Park - The Handmaiden

Here’s what our field looks with my additions.

  • Damien Chazelle - La La Land

  • Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

  • Jeff Nichols - Loving

  • Chan-wook Park - The Handmaiden

  • Denis Villeneuve - Arrival

Now, the question is, will I break with my tradition of awarding Best Picture and Best Director to the same film? Short answer, no.

Damien Chazelle’s brilliant technical achievements with La La Land are spectacular and astounding, but they can’t compare with the work of Barry Jenkins.

Jenkins’ direction from one segment to the next is so smooth and seamless. He’s able to immediately use the visual language to tell us exactly where we are in time and reestablish our relationships early with just a few shots.

The intimacy he’s able to capture in moments is highlighted by his camera following characters so closely as they move, sticking with them like a guardian angel, moving around and behind, but always keeping them as the focus.

He does this so beautifully in the scene where Juan teaches Chiron to swim for the first time. The camera is with them in the waves as Chiron feels the safety of Juan’s gentle guidance, while the angel watches them bonding in the water, safe from the world, safe from their troubled minds.

This is the kind of film Moonlight is, with the outside world disappearing when two people are able to make a connection with each other and sit in it for a while. Barry Jenkins’ steady hands guide every aspect of that feeling with his assured and confident directing. It’s a beautiful film, made all the more beautiful by him.

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.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for a recap of 2016.

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