The best director race has been one of the more surprising categories to watch. Two of the frontrunners are relative newcomers and some directing veterans have had a harder time building momentum. After the last couple of years of Oscars, it’s good to see fresh perspectives in one of the hardest categories to break into.
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Pablo Larain – Jackie
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
This year’s frontrunners are the 31 year-old Chazelle and 37 year-old Barry Jenkins. They have made films that seemingly have nothing in common, but use some of the same techniques. Both were shot in widescreen CinemaScope in order to, in Chazelle’s case, fully capture the head to toe action of the choreography during the musical numbers and recreate the feeling of traditional musicals that he is so lovingly paying tribute to. Jenkin’s has used the same technique to avoid a documentary feel and give his film a more cinematic look. They both pay close attention to color with Chazelle choosing to work in rich and glamorous jewel tones and Jenkins working in a more muted palette of blues and greens, saturating the already rich Miami landscape. The musical La La Land is Chazelle’s third film, preceded by Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, originally intended to be his senior thesis film at Harvard, and Whiplash which scored Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Supporting Actor win for JK Simmons as the film’s charismatic and harsh jazz instructor. Moonlight is Jenkin’s second film following the small but well-received Medicine for Melancholy. Both of these directors are much younger than the average nominee and both have presented masterful work this year. My money is on Jenkins. If the Academy follows the current precedent set by the critics awards, they will award Jenkins with the Best Director trophy and La La Land will walk away with Best Picture. Lonergan is likely to land a nomination for his work on Manchester by the Sea, but that film is far less showy and will have a tougher time being judged next to its flashy competition. Chilean director Pablo Larain, in his first English language film, tells one of the most quintessentially American stories in Jackie, following first lady Jackie Kennedy in the days after her husband’s assassination. Jackie has been met with more mixed reviews than the others in its category and the Academy could see Natalie Portman’s nomination in the Best Actress category as enough recognition and Larain could lose his spot to someone with more clout, like Martin Scorsese for Silence, Denzel Washington for Fences, or Clint Eastwood for Sully. The same could be said for Villeneuve for Arrival. It doesn’t have the hype around it that other films in this category do, but he is more of a known entity than Larain. His previous credits include Prisoners and Sicario and he is also directing the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. This coupled with solid performances from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and direction of aliens that avoids teetering into camp, makes him seem like more of a lock than Larain.
Check back next week when I’ll be taking a look at the Best Picture race.
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Chandler Ferrebee is an aspiring filmmaker and program support intern at Light House Studio.