I didn't want to kick off the first batch of 2013 Oscar predictions with Best Picture. I felt it would dominate the conversation moving forward for the rest of the week and wanted to make sure we built toward Picture instead. However, I didn't want to go straight to acting either, figuring that would diminish a focus on the films themselves to start off the week (not to mention I'm seeing Won't Back Down tonight and I'd rather wait and see that before commenting on the actress races). That said, what better way to begin the Oscar conversation than with Best Director?
Looking at the field of directors we can not only discuss their work, but also the picture and the performances they were able to get out of their actors, which will hopefully set us up for a busy week of early dissection and continued anticipation for films seen, unseen and many to be watched again.
At this moment, I have 21 directors (technically 23 considering Cloud Atlas has three) on my predictions list. Of the 21 films they directed I have seen 12 of them with the likes of Django Unchained, Flight, Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Promised Land and Zero Dark Thirty still to be seen.
Inside those nine films we see Quentin Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis, Sacha Gervasi, Peter Jackson, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Sant and Kathryn Bigelow. These nine directors account for 17 Best Director nominations and seven Best Director wins. Among them six have won Best Director with Tarantino and Van Sant both nominated twice but never winning and Gervasi being the only one without a nom or win. I think we'll give Gervasi a pass as Hitchcock is only his second directorial outing and his first (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) was a documentary.
So, yes, it's still very early in the game and there is still a lot left to see from major talents, but you have to start somewhere and they wouldn't be called "predictions" if the end result was already known.
As of now, my top five contains three directors whose work I've seen and three I have yet to see. I feel relatively confident in my top three, which currently places Ben Affleck (Argo) as my front-runner. With Argo, Affleck shows incredible control of a tight narrative that grows in intensity over its duration as he continues to prove he isn't a fluke filmmaker. He's yet to be recognized for Best Director after Gone Baby Gone and The Town, but that will certainly end this year. The only question now is just how much steam Argo gains after it hits theaters on October 12 and if it can maintain that buzz through December once all the heavy-hitters have been released.
Just below Affleck, and a name I almost moved into #1 at the last second, is the Oscar-winning director of The King's Speech, Tom Hooper. Hooper's win over David Fincher (The Social Network) in 2011 set the Internet on fire and it seemed like a win that would probably be his first and last, but in what seems like a scripted decision, Hooper goes and chooses to direct a musical as his follow-up and he decides to make that musical Les Miserables. On top of that, the pitch here is that the actors are singing live during filming rather than pre-recording, lip-synching and dubbing. What we have here, is a hook.
Of course, Slate's Aisha Harris has already taken the idea that this is a ground-breaking tactic to task, wondering if what Anne Hathaway said in the video you see embedded here is true. Hathaway says, "This is the first time anyone's ever tried it like this." Not true says Harris, citing films from 1932's Love Me Tonight up to Meryl Streep's Mamma Mia! only a few years ago. Granted, Mamma Mia! attempted this feat only to later have very little of the live recording used in the film, something Harris speculates will happen with Les Mis, but has the pitch already been sold?
In third position I have Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master, a film that inspired a lot of conversation on this site over the weekend and one that will almost certainly earn Anderson a nomination, but I don't see him having much of a chance at a win. Once everything has been seen, he could become one of the directors that gets a nod because the Academy will feel the pressure to give him one, but won't likely end up handing him the trophy.
The Master, for that matter, poses an interesting question as to which film and filmmaker will The Weinstein Co. put most of their attention behind? Three major films from the Weinsteins are arriving in theaters in the coming months -- Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell), Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik) and Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino) -- and of those three where will they decide to make the greatest Oscar push? Will they divide their attention, perhaps pushing Silver Lingings for Picture and another name for director? Harvey Weinstein is the king of Oscar, and his strategy here will be interesting.
Speaking of Weinstein, in fourth I'm going with David O. Russell whose Silver Linings Playbook wowed Toronto audiences and captured the attention of film critics. It's a film that will likely make big waves once it hits theaters on November 21 and with Harvey behind it, he won't pass up the opportunity to take full advantage of the early buzz.
Finally, in fifth I have Ang Lee for Life of Pi, a film that looks extraordinary and earned plenty of buzz when it was teased at CinemaCon earlier this year. Lee has been nominated for Best Director twice before and won in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain. He's no stranger to Oscar and Life of Pi will have its coming out party very soon as it will open the New York Film Festival on September 28 before hitting theaters almost two months later on November 21. What will the early reactions tell us?
When it comes to those below the bubble line, I am really looking hard at Robert Zemeckis and Flight. I feel there is still a film out there left to surprise us and this seems to be the only one that has earned a strong reaction from its trailer and one that seems to be positioned to blow the doors off. Not since Cast Away in 2000 has Zemeckis directed a live-action film and now his latest, starring Denzel Washington, will serve as the closing night film at the New York Film Festival on October 14 and was named the closing night film at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 25 before it hits theaters on November 2. I feel Paramount has something up their sleeve with this one and we could see a surprise trifecta of Picture, Director and Actor.
I'm also currently unsure of what to do with Michael Haneke (Amour). Directors of foreign language features aren't strangers to the Best Director category, but I'm not sure Amour will be looked at the same as films such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, City of God or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's a film that could end up with multiple above the line nominations or could simply be relegated to Foreign Language Feature. Early kudos and reaction in December will help decide where it lands.
Other names that could easily climb the list as films fall by the wayside include Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). I feel Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) may be on the outs should Les Mis end up the success many are thinking it will be and I'm not sure what will come of Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) as both return to territory they've already explored in Oscar-winning efforts.
Everything said, I have listed my top five below, but you can click here to check out the ranking of my full field of 21 picks as the 2013 Oscar predictions are now underway and will continue throughout the week and the rest of the year and into the next.
I will begin updating and revealing categories as the week goes by and throughout the month of October and you can keep up-to-date with the full list of categories right here. This is just the beginning and there is much more to come.
- Ben Affleck (Argo)
- Tom Hooper (Les Miserables)
- Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
- David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
- Ang Lee (Life of Pi)