Academy of One: Best Director 2018

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.

The director's branch of the Academy can nominate an intriguing mishmash of films to be their representation of the year's best. Especially, as they only have slots for five nominees when the Best Picture race could be up to ten. They tend to take more chances or highlight an achievement one wouldn't suspect. I'm sure I've pointed out this madness before, but here it is again.

It's here again because yet again in a year where women have made superior and worthy films, the director's branch has failed to nominate a single woman. I know I'm a broken record on this, but there have been only five women nominated out of the 450 nominations of this category that there have ever been. That's roughly 1.1% of the total nominations (I did the math). It sucks that in 90 years, the boys can't seem to play nice with others.

We can't change these systems over night, but at least with this blog I've felt I can wrest my own powers toward highlighting the work of great directors who are forgotten or overlooked. It has the added benefit of taking those I feel are overrated down quite a few pegs. I'll get us started off with the current list of nominees.

  • Alfonso Cuaron - Roma

  • Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite

  • Spike Lee - BlackKklansman

  • Adam McKay - Vice

  • Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War

All right, I think, based on all of the previous posts, you know I have one I'm going to remove, but after I write about these fabulous talents left off, there may be another one or two I think about removing as well. Here's my list of possibilities.

  • Bo Burnham - Eighth Grade

  • Ryan Coogler - Black Panther

  • Debra Granik - Leave No Trace

  • Marielle Heller - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Barry Jenkins - If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Steve McQueen - Widows

  • Lynne Ramsay - You Were Never Really Here

Comedy is subjective, but great comedy directing is an art. Bo Burnham is able to find those visual cues and make them work for just the right laugh in the right spot or when to linger in a character's awkward uncomfortableness. He's got an excellent eye and this is a great debut.

Superhero films are behemoths of corporate synergy and branding, but what Ryan Coogler was able to do was singular in his elevation of bigger ideas into the narrative. Black Panther is a hero unlike any other and Coogler took that opportunity and built an incredible film around it.

Quiet, meditative stories are often overlooked, but Debra Granik's ability to breathe so much life onto the screen is loud and it is palpable. With her caring hands, she guides us into a world that exists on the fringes of where we live, but we never look at too closely. She asks us to take care and she does it so beautifully.

Marielle Heller's craft is as careful and thought out as her protagonist's. She deftly develops the story without falling into the traps of other biopics or stories based on real life events. Heller wields her camera in ways that keeps us from all that we need to know, but draws us into the story she's willing to present.

If Beale Street Could Talk oozes with a gorgeous color palette and the beautiful faces of its cast. Barry Jenkins revels in this intimacy of a story with universal themes. He builds us a world filled with love and the forces trying to take it down.

Visual artistry is not just effects, it's the mood, the setting and the lightning captured in a scene. Steve McQueen is that kind of artist. He brings together so many incredible elements to build a full world that seems like one we could live in, like it could reach out and grab us by the lapels. Widows is a heist film that's a whole world apart from anything else in the genre.

Lynne Ramsay works in the dark. She plumbs the depths of humanity for her work and while she works in this darkness, she can find the corners of quiet, of reflection and of humor. It's astounding to watch You Were Never Really Here as she has crafted the rare hitman film that doesn't revel in violence, but attempts to find the humanity of the character at the center of it.

O.K., that's a solid group that I feel I could have added a half dozen more names to. I will put up that original list of nominees. There are two of them that I will eliminate to make room for two choices of my own.

  • Alfonso Cuaron - Roma

  • Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite

  • Spike Lee - BlackKklansman

  • Adam McKay - Vice

  • Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War

Just like in past posts it's going to be one you suspect and one you may not have thought of, so I'll start with the easy one first. Are you tired of me referring to Vice as a mess? Too bad. It's a mess. Adam McKay has not learned from his previous social commentary heightened, hybrid dramedy, but he's doubled down on what made that one tedious. He has no clear vision for what this film is supposed to be and it's to the film's great detriment.

Now, the one you least suspect, and I suspect is the one you are least familiar with, Pawel Pawlikowski. It's not a question of his competency at the helm or his storytelling method, but I feel he loses focus on how he chooses to shoot his subjects. He will have them in the corner of a frame or lost in a crowd scene. I get that there is a purpose to that and maybe I'm not understanding his meaning, but it doesn't always work for me like his quick cuts and awkward time leaps. It can be a little jarring to watch in a feature.

So, with the two eliminations, I have two available spots and two filmmakers in mind. Here are my nominees.

  • Ryan Coogler - Black Panther

  • Marielle Heller - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

With those two additions, here's what the field looks like now.

  • Ryan Coogler - Black Panther

  • Alfonso Cuaron - Roma

  • Marielle Heller - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite

  • Spike Lee - BlackKklansman

Well, with my additional possibilities in place, will this be the first year I split between picture and director for a certain deserving filmmaker and his wonderful "joint?" Short answer, no.

I love a personal film, a film that transcends beyond the pages of a diary and expresses an artist's take on the world. Alfonso Cuaron is able to craft a film around someone he cared about, some one he knew, but could never fully know. He wrote and crafted a love letter.

The humanity, the sheer scope of everything surrounding the story, is so vivid like even as we get this small amount of the character's life, we know life continues around her. There are 1000s of stories taking place around this small personal story Cuaron has written.

Wrangling and corralling this explosion of life in such a masterful way is utterly transfixing. I could watch this film a dozen more times and likely see a new story playing out in the background that I've never seen before.

Cuaron has built a world in Roma and it's a feat many have aspired to, but none have accomplished so deftly. He is a master filmmaker and this film may be his most impressive masterpiece so far.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this edition. So, between now and next time you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit the links on this site to where you can buy my self-published works.

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