Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we look at Best Director, which doesn’t feel like a done deal yet.
Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! We’re back and ready for some football? Oscar nominee Rihanna will take center stage at the Super Bowl this weekend, perhaps ready and able to get the campaign boost Jennifer Lopez was so cruelly denied in 2020. But rather than talk about Super Bowl halftime show or the Big Game (™) itself — go… Chiefs? I don’t know! — let’s discuss what should and could be a fairly competitive category for the first time since “Hustlers” was unjustly snubbed: Best Director. After two consecutive years where this category was locked up in the fall — Chloe Zhao and Jane Campion absolutely crushed those fields — it feels pleasantly unsettled, even if Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are absolutely the favorites among most pundits and experts. It’s possible they could steamroll to a victory: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the favorite for Best Picture and it could just be that the academy goes for it in five top categories: Pic, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay. But I’m also not totally convinced. Maybe that’s my general attitude toward the movie itself clouding my judgment, but there’s something about this year that reminds me of 2013. It’s not a perfect comp, of course — comps never are! — but “Everything Everywhere” has the momentum and enthusiasm of an “Argo” to me, but I’m not sure that enthusiasm extends to the Daniels as directors. Now, of course, Ben Affleck was snubbed that year and it made a picture-director split necessary. But even if he were nominated, I don’t think Affleck would’ve ultimately won — it’s hard to imagine a better director choice that year than Ang Lee. So what I’m saying is that this feels like a year when the popular movie wins Best Picture and the auteur filmmaker takes home Best Director. Which brings me to Todd Field. We’ve talked about this for a bit — it seems like we were ahead of the curve — but I do think there’s a very clear path to Field winning this at the Oscars. “TÁR” over-performed as we’ve discussed and of all the nominees this year, Field seems like the most Director-y. I’m not ready to predict him — I do still have the Daniels in first place — but were he to win at BAFTA next weekend, I have a feeling my pick will change. But what about you, Joyce? Do you think Field can pull off an upset here — or am I just overthinking a race that has long been decided?
joyceeng: Chiefs all the way! Funny you should mention J.Lo, currently the lead campaign manager for “AIR,” since at this time in 2020, the Oscars were over and we were all basking in “Parasite’s” wins. Bong Joon Ho won Best Director without the Golden Globe, DGA or BAFTA (Critics Choice had a classic tie between him and Sam Mendes), and that’s basically what Field would have to do if he doesn’t take DGA or BAFTA. And he’s in a worse position since he didn’t win Critics Choice and wasn’t even nominated at the Globes. The last time the Oscar went to a Globe snubbee was… Roman Polanski for “The Pianist” 20 years ago. But we’ve seen a handful of stats get torpedoed in recent years, and as I said earlier this week, I can see Field winning the Oscar with no major precursor wins, though I do think he’s a dark horse at BAFTA. One of my favorite developments this season has been watching “TÁR” reveal itself to be a guild fave. I had set my expectations low, so it’s been delightful to see its industry support and those two “surprising” Oscar noms for cinematography and editing. Field has also crafted “TÁR” with such assured vision and clarity that would appeal to the highbrow sector of the academy, and this category has been leaning “prestige auteur” as of late. Nevertheless, he’s currently fourth in the Oscar odds. Like you said, your “Argo” comp does not work perfectly — but that’s also because I believe Affleck would’ve won had he been nominated. That was a truly chaotic year for Best Director, and honestly, we need more of those, please. He was cruising until the directing branch said HARD PASS and he still won DGA and BAFTA after the snub. Lee won with the biggest technical achievement, but if you recall, the initial thinking was that Steven Spielberg would prevail with Affleck AWOL on the heels of “Lincoln’s” leading 12 noms. It feels like it was just yesterday we were talking about Spielberg winning for “The Fabelmans,” but now you haven’t even mentioned him! Pause to flash back to when you said you couldn’t see Spielberg losing no matter what happens to “The Fabelmans” in Best Picture. Good times. He has the Globe, but I don’t think that means much. Do you still believe in Steve?
Christopher Rosen: I don’t, sadly, because one thing I’ve learned from watching the Oscars for decades now is that you shouldn’t expect them to ever pick the best choice. It rarely happens! That’s why I never really get pressed about snubs and wins or losses. The academy picks winners based on a moment in time. I loved “CODA,” but I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find an academy member five years from now who would say it was the best movie of 2021. But it won because of momentum and narrative, and hey, it was also just a really good watch. So with regard to Spielberg, I think he’s the Best Director of the year — he took a really personal story and made a movie about movies that isn’t just someone sitting in a theater looking wide-eyed in awe at the silver screen. Spielberg used “The Fabelmans” to interrogate what a director does and why filmmaking is such an important art. That he was able to do all that in a movie that’s also so entertaining and funny and emotionally rewarding is all the more reason to celebrate this masterwork — one I can only assume will age like fine wine. So, yeah, I’m out on Spielberg. Like you have said, even if he wins at the DGA Awards, I still won’t be convinced he can win on Oscar night. But if he does, hell yeah, I’ll be thrilled! But let’s circle back to the Daniels before we leave. It’s not fun to make arguments for why the frontrunner should win, but do you think we’re kind of just avoiding the obvious: They’re going to win?
joyceeng: I also have the Daniels winning at the moment, but — and I mean no shade at all — it feels like they’re the frontrunner in the absence of an actual frontrunner and because “Everything Everywhere” is the Best Picture frontrunner. How many times can I say “frontrunner”? But you know what I mean? The Daniels are way ahead on Metacritic’s scorecard, but a majority of their wins were from minor regional critics groups. Their biggest award so far is Critics Choice. Field nabbed one of the Big Three critics’ prizes, Los Angeles Film Critics Association (Oscar snubbees S.S. Rajamouli and Charlotte Wells won the other two), and Spielberg, of course, has the Globe. It’s been pretty split without a runaway force like Zhao or Campion cleaning house. The Daniels could totally win DGA and BAFTA, and that’ll be all she wrote, but right now, I would not say they’re locked (™ Frances Fisher). The other thing is, there doesn’t appear to be a strong alternative to them. It could be Field, maybe. Spielberg was the frontrunner, but we saw signs he was weak before the Globes because there’s not a lot of passion for “The Fabelmans.” I also would love to see him win for the reasons you’ve stated — as I’ve said previously, I think people take Spielberg for granted now — but I also am always prepared to be disappointed by the Oscars. They are so much about momentum, timing and luck. And the Daniels might have a perfect storm of all three. Or Field? I dunno. We’ll have a better picture after next weekend. I’d be remiss not to mention the other nominees. Congrats to Ruben Östlund on his nomination! Martin McDonagh made the cut this time, but as we’ve discussed before, no one really seems to be interested in giving him wins for his direction, which is very underrated, on “The Banshees of Inisherin.” He feels like this year’s Kenneth Lonergan, who also didn’t snag a ton of Best Director prizes for “Manchester by the Sea,” another top three film, and got his Oscar in Best Original Screenplay, which McDonagh can replicate. Can you at least see McDonagh taking BAFTA?
Christopher Rosen: Honestly, no! I still think Field could emerge from BAFTA, but it seems like the Daniels are the pick. But if McDonagh winning BAFTA throws this race into further disarray, you know I’m here for it. But let’s end here with the Super Bowl? We’re both in on the Chiefs, but how would you rank the Oscar-winning “Fast X” actresses and why is Helen Mirren No. 1?
joyceeng: Helen Mirren is always No. 1 in my heart, but every time she boards a franchise — the Fast Saga, DC
Extended Universe, Yellowstone Universe — is just a painful reminder that she has yet to fulfill my dream of her joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Really hope Brie Larson and Charlize Theron did some lobbying on set. And to Rita Moreno too. Typing proposal for another day: All signs are pointing to our first Oscar-winning performance in the MCU. When will we have our first Oscar-winning performance in the Fast Saga?
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