Okay, so there is someone else working in a similar old-school manner to Nolan -- Paul Thomas Anderson. Initially looking like an early lock for a nomination, the director (who only has one prior nod, for "There Will Be Blood" five years back) has slipped out of serious contention after the film died at the box office, and reviews proved divisive. But even those slightly cooler on the film must give some props to the filmmaker, who broke away from the influences (Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese) that have long hung over his work and produced something truly original and distinctive. Again, the quality of his craft can't be questioned. The 70mm cinematography is stunning, with some of the director's most memorable imagery yet, and the editing is hypnotic and unlike anything we've seen before, the film establishing a totally new rhythm. And he once again reaffirms his position as one of the best directors of actors out there (it's always curious, as with this film, when all three major actors in the film are touted for awards, but the director -- the common thread -- is overlooked). Whether or not you believe that Anderson's script ties together properly, it features some of the best scenes he's ever produced. And even if you do find the film a little lacking, it's hard to disagree with the idea that even Paul Thomas Anderson's failures are better directed than 95% of the successes out there.
Sarah Polley - “Take This Waltz”
Writer/directors are a breed we love and female writer/directors all the more since they’re a fairly rare species in Hollywood. Actress-turned-writer/director Sarah Polley is that tremendously special rare talent. A lot of people are polarized by “Take This Waltz,” a sensuous, sort of fairy tale adultery story set in Toronto during a sweltering summer. It features selfish, mockingbird-like characters that are attracted to shiny new objects and everyone in the film makes poor decisions. Moreover, Polley takes a lot of risks in the picture and purposefully holds back where other filmmakers would have played certain moments for further swooning romanticism or heartbreaking manipulation. And “Take This Waltz” is woozy and devastating, but generally on its own terms. It’s brilliantly realized and captures the frustratingly real messiness of imperfect people and the consequences of selfish or immature decisions. For that, it was hard for some to embrace, but for many of us, it’s a bold and lovely picture, sad, sensual, and a little disheveled like life. Featuring honest performances from the likes of Seth Rogen, a terrific dreamy lens and an ace soundtrack, Polley pulls out a lot of stops without overdoing it. She’s also got a fantastically inventive, poignant and smart documentary coming in 2013 called “The Stories We Tell,” and if you’re somehow unsure of her talents thus far, this upcoming documentary seals the deal for her staying power.
Jacques Audiard - “Rust & Bone”
While foreigner filmmakers like Milos Forman, Billy Wilder and Roman Polanski (among many others) have come to Hollywood to do bigger, bolder work, often on larger, more expensive canvases, Jacques Audiard needed nothing of the kind after his Oscar nominated "The Prophet." And while France submitted the more saccharine and overtly crowd-pleasing “The Intouchables” this year as their Oscar hope, Audiard’s “Rust & Bone” still feels like it has the potential to rise out of the foreign film ghetto and compete for the big awards. And it’s easy to see why. Vivid, evocative and as striking as all his visually poetic previous films, Audiard seems to be the master of pulling tough raw performances out of already-terrific actors (in this case Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts) and then wrapping them in his cinematic aesthetic that’s usually beautiful and punishing. “Rust & Bone” is not without its critics, who claim some of the script is a mess, with an even messier third act, but many of us would argue, the messiness of life, the blood, the tears, the pain, the scars are what Audiard mines for in this picture, coming out the other end with something hauntingly memorable.