Nominees for Best Director, 53rd Oscars:
(Amour) Michael Haneke
(Life of Pi) Ang Lee (Winner)
(Lincoln) Steven Spielberg
My Choice for Best Director
1st Place: Michael Haneke (Amour)
2nd Place: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
3rd Place: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
4th Place: Benh Zeitlin (Beats of the Southern Wild)
5th Place: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Last year, we had four exceptionally honored and highly talented men competing for the Best Director spot at the 53rd Academy Awards. Along with these four, there was another very talented newcomer who vied for the coveted spot. The five names include Spielberg, Lee, Russell, Haneke and Zeitlin; Spielberg’s a world-famous director so no problem recognizing him, Haneke is more popular among festival goers yet a highly familiar name because of the Oscars (his last picture ‘The White Ribbon’ was nominated for Best Foreign film), Russell is well known for his high-octane movies with quirky and high-octane characters and for his on-set arguments (read filthy fights), Lee holds a high prestige in the industry for his works of art which are also commercially successful, Zeitlin is the guy whom very few know because he’s an fresh face. All five directors deserve to be a contendor for this spot (I’m not considering other directors who also deserve to be here for e.g. Kathryn Bigelow), so here’s how they rank in my opinion:
In the fifth place is David O. Russell. He shouldn’t have cast Bradley Cooper as the lead in Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley acting with a different rhythm from that of his co-stars; he took his character too seriously and turned it less quirky. The other cast was quirky and likeable in a light-hearted way so we could laugh at the ludicrousness of their character’s situations. Cooper however made me pity his Pat a tad too much, and so I couldn’t take his situation jokingly. Whenever he turned up, the screwball comedy turned into a dark comedy. Hence, Russell is my last choice.
In the fourth place I would place Benh Zeitlin. This is not because his film has faults – in fact the decision to case actors with absolutely no acting experience helped the film achieve the almost documentary-like realism from its characters. You see this community he depicts in his film celebrating together and supporting each other in difficulties, and you are to look more at their unity than the moral question of whether what they did was right or not. Some critics argue unnecessarily that the character of the father was too abusive or that the characters shouldn’t have left the help offered to them, but they fail to notice that the film is from the viewpoint of the community and not outsiders. Benh Zeitlin uses handheld camera and 16mm film to capture their lifestyle as it is: dirty and uncouth for us but home for them. I need to see Benh’s future films before I can note how his directorial style is, but for a first film, I can say it’s pretty damn impressive; no wonder he came runners-up at the prestigious New York Film Critics’ Society for Best First film.
In the third place comes Spielberg’s Lincoln. Spielberg cast Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, which is a major plus for him; then he cast Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones for the roles
of Lincoln’s wife Mary and Lincoln’s Conservative ally Thadeus respectively which are a double bonus for him. Spielberg’s only mistake was to include Josh Gordon Levitt, the only weak link in the film. Yes, his Lincoln’s beginning is a bit theatrical but everything gets fine once he finds the right foot: note how Spielberg captures Lincoln’s swooping authority every time: he circles the camera around Lincoln and his addresses till he pans the camera on Lincoln and slowly closes in and in till Lincoln finishes, and each time this technique works in capturing the spell that Lincoln’s monologues have over others. The camera is low lit but not even so low that you can’t see what’s happening (Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar had way less lighting), but as the Bill for Slavery abolishment gets passed and things turn positively for the film’s protagonists, you do see the scenes infused with more light. Plus, I was very pleased with how Spielberg filmed some scenes, such as the Voting segment where Lincoln was shown in his office playing with his youngest son as his party fought for him in the House; I also loved the way they treated the assassination sequence by not showing the actual assassination taking place but only the news being announced on stage and a close up shot of Lincoln’s youngest son screaming in terror is seen. So Spielberg is the second runner-up for me in the Best Director Category.
I was initially going to place Michael Haneke in the third position but then I thought I’d place him in the second position. But now I’ve changed my mind again: it is Ang Lee who’s in my runners-up position for Best Director for his film Life of Pi. His film is truly wonderful with one of the best opening credits sequence you can get in film; there are beatific shots of different zoo animals and birds resting peacefully or gamboling playfully as the melodious score by Mychael Danna hums mellifluously till the opening credits end. Almost all the scenes are beautifully shot and Ang Lee is totally invested in making his film look as magically majestic as possible; you can’t believe just how realistic the animals in his film look (they’re all CGI!). Some of the scenes are so profound you find almost plunging into the depth of the film’s oceanic themes; take for instance the moment where Pi looks into the ocean and we are taken way below the depths of the waters, below the aquatic creatures till we see images of his past, images of people whom he has lost forever. Then the camera brings us back to the surface and pans straight into the tiger’s face looking at Pi. I can never forget the impact this shot had on me: it was way beyond wonderful. My only gripe with this film is that Suraj Sharma is no Quvenzale Wallis (she’s the lead in Beasts of the Southern Wild); he cannot say a line without concealing the hint of artificiality in his tone. He’s probably the only reason why I place Ang Lee in the second position; a director is to be held responsible for his casting choice, especially when they are big directors and get complete freedom in choosing their cast.
The winner, in my opinion is Michael Haneke for the film Amour. It’s a poignant film which has the director’s signature style all over it. You see the director’s touch especially when he decides to include shots of landscape paintings and empty rooms in two separate montage sequences to capture a sense of loneliness and dismalness. Haneke splendidly keeps us engrossed for over two hours, allowing us to watch the couple’s final journey without cutting unnecessarily or allowing any theatrically to seep in the film. The greatest part is how is modulates the pace of the film through the camera (while I know it’s the DOP who operates the camera, it’s mostly the director who chooses the right shots. In fact DOP Darius Khondji’s digital photography was rejected by Haneke, who worked more than a year to get the film done in his way): in the beginning, while a shot tracks the fireman as he looks around the couple’s empty home to only find the dead body of the woman, the next flashback shot of the couple leaving the theater, going home and having breakfast the next morning is all shown in middle-to-long shots, which only changes to close up shots when the husband realizes that his wife is acting unresponsive and strange. The best decision by Haneke was to restrain the music only to certain scenes to let it act as a motif in the film.
So there you have my choice for the Best Director of 2012 in film. Although it’s been long since the last Academy Awards, India has yet not been able to get a number of these films and hence my verdict comes a bit late.
- Oscars Live Stream – Watch The 2013 Academy Awards Online (hollywoodlife.com)
- Review of Oscar Nominated ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ A Benh Zeitlin Film Starring Quvenzane Wallis and Dwight Henry (also includes a criticism of Cole Smithey’s review of the film) (sashankkini.wordpress.com)
- Oscars: Best Director Nominees – The Lowdown (martymcfly88.wordpress.com)
- And the Oscar Goes To… (rutgers.uloop.com)
- The Oscars 2013: Complete Winners List (doodledandy.net)
- Ang Lee wins best director Oscar for ‘Life of Pi’ (thehindu.com)
- Oscars 2013 Winners List and Best Dressed (dearjanedoe.com)
- Casting Our Oscar Ballot for Best Director (theatlanticwire.com)
- Oscars Spitedown 2013: TECHIE FLAG (studiohive.typepad.com)
- Good Film Picks for the 2013 Academy Awards (goodfilmhunting.com)