My Thoughts: I know this has very little to do with the price of eggs, but am I the only person who is always kind of struck with the same thought of "he's really good-looking" every time I see a photo of Bennett Miller? I have followed his career for over a decade now, and yet it's always a surprise for some reason when I see that piercing gaze and crooked half-grin, and suddenly I'm shell-shocked and playing with my hair. Anyway, though, we've discussed all of these movies multiple times (like most of awards season, the end stretch is filled with important contests, but the victor is pretty well hinted at). As a result, I'm going to give away who takes the bronze right now by going to his movie, and that is...
Wes Anderson, someone I never really expected to admire in quite this way. I remember the first time I caught The Royal Tenenbaums on DVD (it was at my best friend Chris's house in high school, and I was not impressed), and honestly I've left most of his films roughly in that same spot-I get the appeal, but I don't love the movie in the way that his most devoted of followers seem to do. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the first film, really, where I was smitten (at least the first live-action film). Anderson's playfulness is still there, but with a grown-up's sensibility, and he is aided by a remarkable piece of work by Ralph Fiennes. The direction in the film is occasionally quite inspired, and I rather liked some of the snow-covered camera shots and the way he pieced those scenes in, even if Anderson's touches (the cameos, the twee-ness), don't always resonate with me. All-in-all, though, it was the first of his films that I watched, thoroughly enjoyed, and didn't feel like he had to abandon his own sense of self in order to get to that point, so well done.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is another director that delivered royally in 2014. I'd say maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but wait until we get back to 2015 and I have to discuss his gargantuan slog The Revenant and then we'll talk once more. Birdman, though, there's an energy that I've never seen from him. The camera-work we've already discussed (click on that Cinematography link below-actually click on all of the links, as there's so much content and fun there to enjoy and I frequently check comments from old articles so don't worry about missing your point to engage), but he genuinely seems to care about these characters, and not just in a "let's see what it's like to destroy their souls" sort of way that he gets in most of his motion pictures. I feel like Riggan is a thoroughly conceived creation, someone that has a beginning, middle, and an end, but it doesn't feel like his misery (and there is some there) is being forced at us by a director that has become famous for films that occasionally resemble torture. I truly hope AGI returns to this world in the not too distant future, as it's a wonderful compromise and shows that he can excel in ways that perhaps even he didn't expect were possible.
While AGI and Wes Anderson shocked me this time by making films that I actually enjoyed, there was no such luck for Bennett Miller, who didn't followup Moneyball (hands down my favorite of his movies) with something else I could sink my teeth into, but a dour, dry piece of cinematic toast. Foxcatcher is the type of film you watch and are baffled by the choices of the director, which surely doesn't boast well for Miller. After all, why give us such blatantly homosexual overtones with the characters and not follow through with them (you're already probably risking the defamation lawsuit as it is)? Why introduce a world-class actress like Vanessa Redgrave onto the screen and then give her virtually nothing to do? And why did you allow your lead actor to essentially let his makeup do all of the acting? There are occasionally some nice shots (I loved the laps around the expansive, immaculate estate), but that's not a good movie, and the story direction here is all wrong. At least he's still sexy, though, so he's got that until he returns to baseball.
Richard Linklater actually just did a remarkable film about baseball, but here we have something a little bit more momentous than his great 2016 cinematic entry. Boyhood is the sort of project that is kind of made for this category, as investing that much time and energy into a film and telling an autobiographical story with actual movie stars is the stuff that cinematic legend is made out of; quite frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if someday people talk about Linklater's quest to make Boyhood in the same way they do David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia or Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. It's that good of a story. And it's that good of a movie-the direction here is fabulous. It speaks to Linklater's confidence as a storyteller and director that he was able to make such a grand, consistent movie without the benefit of reshoots or go-backs. Boyhood is sentimental without appearing cloying, and the kind of movie where it stands out on its own and yet you can't help but project your own story up on that screen. Easily his most impressive directorial achievement, and that's saying something.
I don't know why I'm ending on Morten Tyldum. After all, when he got this nomination, my first thought is "really-they are risking the hot water of not nominating Ava DuVernay and they don't even have the cover of claiming it was to give it to Clint Eastwood?" I mean, the guy's name is unfortunately apt (sorry-I'm sure he's lovely in person, but that is a moniker that feels invented for the stuck-up rich guy in an Adam Sandler film), but his direction in The Imitation Game is atrociously bad. The film has no stylistic vision, it's a straight biopic (that was not an unintentional pun), and it has such random choices in terms of when to cut back and when to shoot forward-randomly we're out at sea or in a flashback where Alan is the same sort of child he was as an adult. Shocking! The story feels false almost throughout, and when it does find a fine moment it's a happy accident that is due to the saving grace of Keira Knightley. I might have been able to stomach a Best Picture nod in the expanded field due to the import of the subject, but Best Director-not a chance.
Other Precursor Contenders: Best Director is one of those rare fields where the Globes, Guilds, and BAFTA awards all have the same number of nominees (aside from the supporting actor races, this is the only OVP category where this is the case). This does not guarantee uniformity, however, as we saw with the Golden Globes where Miller and Tyldum were ousted in favor of Ava DuVernay and David Fincher (Gone Girl)-the win went to Linklater. The DGA also skipped Bennett Miller, but did so to get Clint Eastwood into the lineup (one of those rare years where Clint had traction but couldn't translate at the Globes or the Oscars in this category), and gave their trophy to Inarritu. Finally the BAFTA Awards randomly decided to give out the Miller and Tyldum slots to James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), meaning that this is the first year since the expanded fields where every director of a Best Picture nominee landed at least one major precursor (Linklater took the BAFTA). As a result, it's kind of hard to predict who was in sixth place, though popular opinion at the time was between Eastwood and DuVernay, and considering that his film did better and he's beloved by AMPAS, my guess is that Clint just missed out.
Directors I Would Have Nominated: Well not Morten Tyldum, that's for damn sure. I would have thrown in Jonathan Glazer for his mesmerizing Under the Skin, proving that occasionally a giant hiatus doesn't lead to disappointment (though come on dude-you can get more than one out a decade). I also would have included Dan Gilroy's challenging, provocative look at the media Nightcrawler, which is stylistically wonderful and told like a horror film even though it isn't obviously one, but what an inspired way to present your movie. Honestly, that film just looks more impressive with age.
Oscar’s Choice: In what I genuinely think was a close race, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pulled off a slight upset over Richard Linklater to take his first Best Director trophy.
My Choice: I actually really love what AGI is doing in his picture, but Linklater is batting in the all-time leagues with Boyhood so it's not much of a competition. Anderson is in third (we already covered that though-pay attention), followed by Miller and finally Tyldum.
Those were my thoughts-how about yours? Do you still fly your flag high for the Birdman camp or are you with me in Boyhood town? Who was closer to that Oscar nomination-Clint or Ava? And does anyone want to defend the Morten Tyldum nomination? I'm hearing cases down in the comments!
Also in 2014: Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature Film, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Art Direction, Costume, Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup, Documentary Short, Live Action Short, Animated Short, Previously in 2014