Following from my previous post, let’s consider the nominees for Achievement in Directing:
As is often the case with the award for Achievement in Directing, familiarity mixes with the new. Mel Gibson is the only previous winner here, whose Braveheart also picked up four other awards including Best Picture. Much like Braveheart, Hacksaw Ridge is a historical war film, with some technically complex and very impressive battle sequences that would have been difficult to direct, so Gibson’s nomination makes sense. The film is also something of a comeback for Gibson, who fell out of favour with Hollywood and audiences for his extremely foolish remarks some years ago. Despite that, I suspect that his past may well prevent him picking up the award. Of the other four nominees in this category, none have previously been nominated for Directing, although both Damien Chazelle and Kenneth Lonergan were previously nominated for Writing – Chazelle for the Adapted Screenplay of Whiplash and Lonergan for the Original Screenplays of You Can Count on Me and Gangs of New York. Barry Jenkins is significant, as only the fourth black director to be nominated for the Academy Award, again suggesting a wish among Academy members to compensate for previous years’ lack of diversity. The directorial styles of the five men (as usual, women have been completely excluded this category) are distinct, Chazelle opting for a range of long takes and crane shots while Lonergan favours an intimate, composed approach. Villenueve also favours long takes but combines this with discontinuous editing and a ‘dirty sci-fi’ aesthetic, while Gibson utilises a classical style with frequent moments of slo-mo (I’ll get back to you on the style of Jenkins once I’ve seen Moonlight).
As with Best Picture, the subject matter is likely to be a factor when it comes to actual voting. Gibson delivers a true story about a character held up as an American hero; Lonergan crafts a tale of grief in small town America. Jenkins’ film is also concerned with urban American life, while Villenueve’s film features grief like Lonergan, although that is combined with aliens. While Hacksaw Ridge’s subject matter is common Oscar bait, Gibson’s own past may come back to haunt him. I confess to cynicism as regards Jenkins and Villenueve, and do not believe the Academy members will vote for a film concerned with black and LBGTQ issues, nor for a science fiction film director. Granted, Gravity did win Directing in 2013, but this can be credited to the elaborate artistic and technological innovations required for that film (and there were no aliens). This award feels like a two-horse race between Lonergan and Chazelle, but after his success at BAFTA, I suspect that the nostalgia and sheer bonhomie of La La Land is likely to win Chazelle the Oscar as well.