Earlier this week I went through the acting contenders at this year's Oscars, and so now we move into the writers and directors, those men and women that are, as of late, coasting a bit off of the Best Picture lineup. Ever since the field expanded from five to whatever the Academy deemed worthy this year, the race for these categories has been a bit looser, even when something like Bennett Miller randomly making it for Foxcatcher last year happens. Let's see if that's the case again this year, shall we?
There are a lot of legendary directors in the running this year for this award, including one who has been in contention thrice for this trophy and never actually won it. Ridley Scott has helmed major movies for decades, and his The Martian is surely his best shot at this trophy since Gladiator. Were Scott to be nominated this year, he would tie Peter Weir for the most-nominated living director without a win, and that may be something the Academy would want to rectify-it does seem strange that Ridley Scott, one of the most lauded directors of our era, hasn't won, and at 78 he'd be the oldest person to win the trophy if he were victorious. While it's not a guarantee that all of these factors would add up to him finally holding his own little gold man, it's enough to ensure that he's a nominee.
The rest of the field is harder to predict. Thomas McCarthy's Spotlight hasn't won a major critics prize just yet; still, the actor-director is the sort of person that can sneak in on a prestige film on his first real try, so he's a decent guess. It remains to be seen whether relative unknowns Lenny Abrahamson (Room) or John Crowley (Brooklyn) can be equally as lucky. Todd Haynes, on the other hand, is someone who has been trying to break into this field for years with little-to-no success. Carol is rocking out with critics, and has Harvey Weinstein behind it, but it's hard to tell if a film with two female leads will make it in a category that famously skips out on female-driven films even if they're competing for Best Picture. In addition to Scott above, there's also Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies), Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight), and last year's Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant) in the legends category, but it's difficult to know where these movies stand. AGI, it's worth noting, is not someone that the Academy had taken a penchant to in the big categories and it's not clear whether they suddenly will (though he could also have the luck of David O. Russell whom they can't stop nominating, it seems, and who could be back for Joy), whereas Spielberg and Tarantino are always threats at the Oscars, but Spielberg's film may be too old news, and Tarantino's third outlandish western in a row may seem been there-done that.
We end, therefore, with two contenders who seem in most senses completely out-there, but on-paper could make some sense. Ryan Coogler (Creed) has a bona fide populist hit on his hands, something that is definitely worth noting and that could get him into the race, particularly if people were paying attention a few years ago with Fruitvale Station (it's also worth noting that Coogler would be both the third African-American director to be nominated for an Oscar and arguably the sexiest guy in the Dolby if he showed up). Meanwhile, George Miller, who randomly won Best Animated Feature a few years ago but shockingly has never been nominated for Best Director, could be the Foxcatcher of the year with Mad Max: Fury Road. It sounds crazy, but there's a lot of split decisions here at the moment, and it's hard to imagine the precursors coalescing around five specific directors this year (plus, Miller seems like the random nominee that scores a DGA citation, which always helps). It's not something I'm quite ready to pull the trigger on, but Fury Road is mesmerizing and gaining steam after the National Board of Review-wouldn't this be wild?
My Predictions: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Todd Haynes, Thomas McCarthy, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg
If I were forced to predict one winner this far out for Oscar night, it would surely be Inside Out for Animated Feature-I mean, that's the Free Space in Bingo this year. However, close behind it would surely be that Thomas McCarthy is going to win the Oscar for Spotlight, a film that is clearly a writer's film, and its screenplay is arguably its showiest asset. Its nomination is guaranteed in a way few others are, and I think we'll be seeing other films sort of making a play to amp up their nomination count here, because an actual win is no longer in the cards.
One of those films could well be Inside Out-Pixar hasn't been a threat in this category for a few years now (last nominated for Up), but the inventiveness of Inside Out and its clear play at ingenuity will be an easy reward, especially in a year where this category feels a little bit slight. The Hateful Eight, penned by Quentin Tarantino, also feels like an easy victory-Tarantino has won this category twice and even if this film doesn't sell as well, it's hard to see him missing once again. And speaking of directors that keep getting cited here, David O. Russell's Joy is also a strong contender even if he can't quite crack the Director field, and he brought along with him this cycle Annie Mumolo, who was Oscar-nominated a few years back herself for Bridesmaids.
The remainder of the field seems a bit of a wasteland. Unless something dramatic happens, Oscar also-rans like Suffragette and Sicario seem unlikely to score, and Straight Outta Compton feels too outside the Academy's wheelhouse. Son of Saul if it is a strong enough player in the Best Director field could sneak in (foreign films have a solid history in writing categories), but it needs to make a big mark late-in-the-game. Youth would be a strong guess if it were doing better, but right now it feels more like just an actor's game, while Ex Machina if anyone remembers it would be a clever play here. However, I think your best bet may be to go with yet another pair of multiple time Oscar-winners in Joel and Ethan Coen, who wrote Bridge of Spies (did you know that?), a film that I feel may be being underestimated from a technical standpoint considering the Academy's strong history with Spielberg even if they don't always reward him everywhere.
My Predictions: Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, Joy, Spotlight
Novelists seem to be a pretty big deal this year as well. Emma Donoghue is going to be hoping she can outdo the likes of Gillian Flynn and Helen Fielding by turning her bestselling novel Room into an Oscar nomination (the Academy is weirdly unkind to women who adapt their own novels to the big screen). Nick Hornby won an Oscar nomination six years ago for An Education, and may be back with another Best Picture contender/female coming-of-age movie.
There's also playwrights and more traditional screenwriters in the mix, with Lucinda Coxen getting her first real shot at Oscar with The Danish Girl, though I do think that film may have slipped a bit in terms of buzz and that could be costly if it's trying to get into a tough category like this. Charlie Kaufman is always a threat for writing (he's a three-time nominee with a trophy), but is Anomalisa coming too late in the year and will this branch nominate two animated films in the same year? Perhaps the best chance of a big-name screenwriter scoring another nomination would be Aaron Sorkin, though his Steve Jobs seems to have fallen on some hard times in terms of buzz (still, Sorkin alone could land a nomination here).
My Predictions: Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, The Revenant, Steve Jobs
We'll get into some of the other tech categories later this weekend, but in the meantime please share your thoughts on these races-are there any films you're hoping to see pop up? Any you're dreading? And please post your predictions in the comments!