Usually Best Picture and Best Director are linked in such a way, that the Academy had to expand the rooster of Best Picture in order to be fair with the directors. Well, I would think that they had to open the Best Director instead, so that you could have filmmakers whose films are not included but who display some of the most impressive directing work in the business. But it is what it is.
This year’s five Oscar nominees include a legend who is already an Oscar winner, two who were previously nominated, and two first timers.
According to the way award season has leaned and reviewing the prognosticators, the Oscar statuette should already be engraved with Cuarón’s name on it, but don’t count out the impressive work of McQueen and the popularity of O’Russell’s ‘American Hustle’.
And now, let’s go a little bit deeper into their nominations and body of work.
The technical difficulty and how Cuarón solved each problem in order to erase all the seams and make a fantastic film in outer space to compete in grandeur and breath taking vistas with Kubrick’s ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, is what has impressed critics and audiences around the world. As important as all the technical issues are, he was able to concentrate on his two stars’ performances to make more human the visual spectacle. ‘Gravity’ brings pack the idea of a filmmaker as a master magician, like some sort of new age Méliès.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and editor who was first discovered by American audiences when his film ‘A Little Princess’ (1995) was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography. After helming an extraordinary version of Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ he jumped to universal fame with ‘Y Tu Mamá También’, a sort of Spanish road film that brought to the spotlight the career of actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. This lead him to be hired for the 3rd film in the Harry Potter franchise (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) always referred to as the best of the series.
In 2006 he wrote and directed his best film to date, the dystopian ‘Children of Men’, with a very strong perception of the future. His 2013 film ‘Gravity’ made him the recipient of the Golden Globe and the Directors Guild of America awards, which have put him in the fast track to the podium, come Oscar night.
He has continued working as producer of films like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘Crónicas’, ‘The Assassination of Richard Nixon’ and ‘Rudo y Cursi’.
’12 Years A Slave’s impact is in the way McQueen depict atrocious acts while the south languishes into a quiet and beautiful sunset. With this he doesn’t want to embellish slavery, but clearly express this social injustice was so common it was a part of life. Famous for his long takes, McQueen has two pivotal moments in this film to make the audience watch in silence: as Solomon hangs a whole day from a tree, not dying because his toes can touch the ground. As he tries to survive, the rest of the slaves do their daily chores, as if he didn’t exist. The level of submission and the powerful will to survive another day underline this scene. The other hard-to-watch sequence is the lashing of young Patsey by fellow slave Solomon, in front of her master/lover Edwin Epps and his wife Misses Epps. With no editing, but just unspeakable pain, the scene goes on until the audience cringes. It works like the Ludovico Experiment in Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, where the audience stops taking a cerebral approach and is left with a visceral response. The rest of the film is a perfect telling of the capture of a free man and how his spirit is tortured beyond any physical pain. This is McQueen’s most academic film, following the arc of a storyline instead of making it follow a character, as it happened in his two previous films.
For a review of '12 Years a Slave' click on the following link:
British director, screenwriter and video artist, McQueen received the Camera D’Or for his first film ‘Hunger’, centered on the 1981 Irish hunger strike led by Bobby Sands. The film was also awarded at the Sydney Film Festival for “its controlled clarity of vision, its extraordinary detail and bravery, the dedication of its cast and the power and resonance of its humanity" Famous is the scene in which Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) discusses with a local priest topics of political, social and religious resonance, while McQueen’s camera rolls for more than 17 uninterrupted minutes, describing a character arc that gives the film its power. Director and actor would work together again in ‘Shame’ a film about a sex addict descending into despair.
For a review of 'Hunger' click on the following link:
When Bruce Dern won his award as Best Actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, ‘Nebraska’ was the Oscar’s frontrunner. No other film had opened with enough qualities for multi nominations, and here was Payne’s latest film, made in black and white, with not much dialogue, no big stars and in desolate locations, which nevertheless becomes a very funny and charming study of aging. Being the only of Payne’s films that he was not directly involved in the screenwriting, it was nevertheless a project that fell on his lap before ‘Sideways’ was about to wrap. He decided to wait after his following film ‘The Descendants’ to work on it. This wait proved beneficial, especially since he was going to film in his own hometown.
For a review of 'Nebraska' click on the following link:
Of all the American directors that came to life in the 90's, (Fincher, Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson) Payne is the one concentrating solely on content over style, giving the US geography and its mundane everyday life an important role in the visuals of his films.
In 1999 Alexander Payne made ‘Election’ a small film with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick that struck a nerve in his audience. It was very local (the elections at a school) yet its story is universal and can be translated to even presidential behavior. Three years later he was working with Jack Nicholson and Katy Bates in the Oscar nominated ‘About Schmidt’. Two more years would pass and he would outdo himself with the sweet and balanced ‘Sideways’ which gave its unusual actors their best performances (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh). Payne was given the Best Adapted Screenplay at that time. His next project was ‘The Descendants’, in 2011, which gave George Clooney one of his most natural and empathic performances. Once again the film won the Best Adapted Screenplay but also was named Best Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globes (apart from Clooney’s own Golden Globe for Best Actor (Drama).
‘American Hustle’ has been in the radar of critics and audiences way before it came out, and taking for its success in both flanks, it has not let anyone down. It is a story of excess in the 80’s, where con men (and women) mingled with politicians and even the FBI. It is O’Russell’s most visually focused film to date, edited in a fast pace to go along with its sensational story and mainly its characters. The film has received the most Oscar nominations, including nods to four of its stars, two of which (Lawrence and Bale) have already won Oscars and the other two (Adams and Cooper) have been previously nominated, all of them in previous films of O’Russell. So you might say it’s all in the family, and you might be right. O’Russell reportedly wrote each character with his actors in mind.
For a list of "American Hustle' Oscar nominations in acting, click on the following links:
Silver Linings Playbook
Born in 1958, American director, screenwriter and producer O’Russell has been in the radar of A-list films almost from the beginning. His resume includes the critical success of ‘Three Kings’, the existential comedy ‘I Heart Huckabees’, ‘The Fighter’ which gave its stars (Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams) some of their best work to date and finally was unanimously lauded for the Sundance darling ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. His films are choral and usually intertwine different stories, genres and ideas that merge not always to the full harmony of their films.
Every award organization in America was holding their nominations until Scorsese released his ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and once he did, it was definitely in. The film is a typical Scorsese: excess, violence, shouting, moral dilemmas, and a story so well told and edited that three hours plus is barely enough time for this destruction of the American society tale, lead by a towering performance by DiCaprio, following his long collaboration with Scorsese. Scorsese has such an intuitive yet very cerebral vision of his film as a whole, it develops in mysterious ways even if you know where the whole thing is going to.
Scorsese’s career is so long and has passed through so much transformation that leads to many critics saying his prime ended with the 80’s. When talking about Scorsese’s Best films, ‘Main Streets’, ‘Taxidriver’, ‘Raging Bull’ and even ‘Goodfellas’ jump to every film historian and fan, leaving his collaborations with DiCaprio as second best. But the truth is, Scorsese is an extreme film lover and a proud New Yorker, which explains ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘The Aviator’, ‘The Departed’, ‘Shutter Island’ ‘Hugo” and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’: films that have given him the chance to delve deeper in the building of his city’s personality and spirit, the core of moviemaking, working with genre and a remake of a Hong Kong police drama transplanted to the Boston environment. This means Scorsese has never lost his impetus, his full energy, his love for the métier of filmmaking and his full oeuvre is impressive.