Unlike Best Picture, the Best Director category at the Academy Awards is still only made up of five slots, and it's tough to crack in there, especially as nominees are usually aligned with the Best Picture nominees. More than almost any other category, the merits of a film's direction can sometimes be overlooked in favor of the helmer of the best-liked film, rather than the one who did the most surprising, boldest and impressive work of the year.
As such, having looked at the acting categories in the last few days, we wanted to highlight some directors whose chances of a nomination are slim (right now it's looking like Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Ang Lee, Ben Affleck, and either Tom Hooper or David O. Russell will take those places), but who are just as deserving as the competition. If you are an Academy member, why not take a chance and vote for one of the below. For all The Playlist's year-end coverage, make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.
One of the few chances a director has at landing a nomination if their film will be ignored for Best Picture is if their work is showy, in a film where it's clear that the filmmaker involved is responsible for the style and tone of the piece (see Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" a few years back). And this year, Joe Wright ticks that box with his version of "Anna Karenina." Originally intended to be a more traditional kind of period piece, budgetary issues led to Wright using adversity to his advantage, retooling the film into a non-naturalistic tale set almost entirely within the confines of a theater. Which makes it sound by its very existence stagey, but Wright turns it into something thrillingly cinematic, a curious midway point between Powell & Pressburger, Busby Berkeley and Bertolt Brecht. Long steadicam shots, stunning production design and a few coup de theaters all add up to one of the most original takes on the costume drama we've ever seen, which contrasts the artificiality of the lives of the Russian aristocrats against the "purer," more pastoral life of Levin (Domnhall Gleeson). The cast are superb, the team that Wright has assembled (including returning collaborators composer Dario Marianelli and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey) are working at full throttle, and it's both intellectually rigorous and quietly moving. It's the director's best film yet, and a nomination would go some way to making up for him being passed over for his work on the Best Picture-nominated "Atonement" five years ago.
Famously, the Academy doesn't seem to be convinced by Christopher Nolan; while his films have picked up multiple nominations, he's only ever had one, for writing "Memento," and when "Inception" was nominated for Best Picture two years ago, Nolan was passed over again for Director. In all likelihood, he'll have to wait for his next film before he breaks into the club, but we'd argue that his work on "The Dark Knight Rises" is as worthy as any of the directors who are in serious contention. His third and final Bat-film may not scale the giddy heights of "Inception" (except for literally, in that aerial opening sequence...), but it's the most technically accomplished and adept film he's ever made. He's become more and more confident with his action sequences, which are on a grand scale here (that opening scene, and the stadium explosion, number among the best set pieces of his career), but Nolan's also skilled at the smaller, more intimate moments, with the scene between Bruce Wayne and Alfred proving to be the most emotional of his career. More than anything else, there's simply no one (well, maybe one person) who's making films like Nolan: big, massive scale productions, shot on film, with minimal CGI and emphasis on practical effects wherever possible. And we think that's something that should be applauded, particularly for a film as rich and satisfying as "The Dark Knight Rises."