The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 2009-2010)
The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.
I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.
This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker is actually one of the best films of the past decade. I didn’t see it when it came out (“it” being in quotes), and it took me almost two years, but I finally saw it again and really love this movie. It’s really quite the achievement.
It’s about Jeremy Renner, a bomb diffuser in Iraq, who seemingly has a death wish. He’s very cavalier in the way he handles his duties, even though he’s great at it. That’s pretty much the plot. There’s a lot of stuff that happens in this movie, and it’s tense as shit and really well made.
In ’09 and when I wrote up these categories, I voted for Tarantino, partly because Basterds was my favorite film, and partly because it allowed me to not have to choose between Cameron and Bigelow, which I thought was a choice between the lesser of two evils, but honestly – at this point – Bigelow is really the only choice. Regardless of Basterds being my favorite film, Bigelow deserved this Oscar all the way.
Avatar. It’s now the second highest grossing movie of all time (was the first until a few months ago), so chances are, you’ve seen it.
A paralyzed marine is offered the chance to go into an avatar body as a second chance, but that’s all tied to pretty much enslaving and killing indigenous peoples all in the name of a natural resource on their planet. That’s pretty much the plot. The film is mostly about creating this world.
It’s a great technological accomplishment. I think we all understand this. That said – the direction is fine, but I don’t think I can vote for it on sheer fact that it just doesn’t hold up next to The Hurt Locker. It’s not because it was mostly made on computers. It’s just because — was this really that great an effort that we needed to vote for it? Does it really hold up next to The Hurt Locker? I guess the direction he provided is different from what Bigelow provided, but still, I can’t see this being my choice. Second choice, sure (though I have him third because Quentin). Can’t vote for him. Don’t think this holds up better than The Hurt Locker does. But don’t worry, that $760 million domestic is a nice consolation prize.
Precious. Did you guys know this was based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire?
It’s about an overweight black teenager, going on her second pregnancy, both by her father, dealing with vicious hatred from her mother, and just pretty hard life in general. This movie is about that.
I went back and saw this again recently – I feel it’s horribly overrated. Not that it’s not a really solid film. I just think the way people reacted to this was a bit much. It’s just a very good film, but not an overly great film. The performances in it are great and the film is very interesting. I just think the buzz around it is stronger than the overall quality of the actual film. I’m fine with the nomination. No issue there. Though I do have Daniels fifth in the category. Maybe you can put him over Reitman. I’m cool with that. But other than that, he’s not going over the other three.
Up in the Air. I really loved this movie. Haven’t seen it in a few years, but I was such a huge fan when it was up for all the awards.
George Clooney is a dude who fires people for a living. That’s his job. He goes around to different companies and tells people they’re getting fired. He’s really good at it, and is tasked with training a new employee, Anna Kendrick. Meanwhile, Vera Farmiga is a woman constantly on business, and she and Clooney manage to coordinate their schedules so they could meet up and sleep together at various stops. That’s pretty much the movie. It’s really well done.
Great film. Great writing, great performances, but like all of Reitman’s nominations thus far (all… both of them), he ends up dropping to the rear of the category because of really strong directing at the top of the category and an ultimate lack of style. Now, sometimes that doesn’t matter to the Academy, but when you have a surefire winner (which this category has), it’s hard to be in Reitman’s shoes and be considered for a vote. Now, his film had really strong writing, and, if this managed to win its way to Best Picture, he might have gone along with it. That’s how films like this work. I consider Reitman like James L. Brooks. There’s no real showiness to it, but if it’s gonna win the whole thing, he’s going along with it. But, in this category, he’s a fourth choice, maybe fifth. Solid, but no one really votes for him.
Inglourious Basterds. How can you not love this film? They’re killin’ Nazis, man.
You probably know what this is about. I can’t really explain it otherwise. It’s Quentin, so I have a hard time thinking a movie buff managed to stumble upon this site without having seen this movie. So, if you are that person, then quietly tiptoe to your nearest place of watching movies and go see this immediately. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back. And the rest of you, you don’t need me to tell you what this is about. You already know. Shit, you’re probably like me and read the script when it got leaked, two years before this even came out.
This is my favorite film in the category. I want to vote for Quentin on that alone. But quite honestly, it’s not the best effort in the category. It would have been my choice, but that was before I saw The Hurt Locker again two years ago. As much as I love this and as much as I still want to vote for this – Bigelow deserved it.
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The Reconsideration: Yeah, this year. I was a Hurt Locker hater for a long time. Not because I thought it was bad, just because I thought people were overrating it. Though I wasn’t in the Avatar camp. It wasn’t black and white. It was like 2005, with Crash vs. Brokeback. I was in the corner, rooting for Good Night and Good Luck. Here, I was all for Inglourious Basterds. But I’ve come around. It took a couple of years, but I completely get why Hurt Locker won, and why Bigelow deserved to win. She honestly had the best effort in the category and is completely the choice. She did the best job.
Quentin is second for me, being my favorite film on the list and me just loving it. Cameron goes three because I like what he did even though I wouldn’t vote for him. The film isn’t holding up particularly well, six years later. And then Reitman/Daniels — ehh. Either one. I put Reitman fourth and Daniels fifth, even though it doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t vote for either. Bigelow is the vote. She truly gave the best effort in the category.
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- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
- Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
- James Cameron, Avatar
- Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
- Lee Daniels, Precious
- Inglourious Basterds
- Up in the Air
- The Hurt Locker
My Vote: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Avatar is an essential film. It’s one of the highest grossing films of all time, it is a huge film in terms of Hollywood history (it ushered in this era of 3D), and it pushed technology forward in terms of how films could be made. Must be seen, whether you like it or not. Fortunately, you’ve probably seen it already.
The Hurt Locker is essential. Best Picture winner, great war film, and one of the best films of the past decade. No reason you shouldn’t see it.
Inglourious Basterds is essential, as are all Tarantino movies. You pretty much see all these before you get into Oscars, so there’s really no way you’re reading this without having seen it. So you’re probably fine, or else you should go watch it soon and not tell anyone you haven’t seen it. Because it’s pretty much movie buff requisite viewing.
Up in the Air is a great film. Jason Reitman had a hell of a run with his first three films. I don’t know if it’s remained essential, but it comes really highly recommended. Plus, with the cast, you’ll probably end up seeing it anyway. So consider it essential in terms of what I think you should see. Otherwise, you can probably get pretty far without having seen it. Though I don’t see why you’d want to, since it’s awesome.
Precious — not essential. Solid, but not essential. Don’t think this is gonna hold up over the next couple decades. I think it’ll be thought of as a good film with great performances. If you’re into Oscars, it’s essential, since Mo’Nique gives one hell of a performance, but otherwise, you don’t need to rush out and see it.
The Last Word: It’s Bigelow. It’s so completely her I don’t even think it’s a discussion. There’s no way you can take Reitman or Daniels. Cameron… I’m curious to see who takes Cameron on the vote and what their argument is. I don’t know if they’re completely wrong, but it would definitely be an interesting angle to take. I think it depends on the argument whether that’s a good decision or not. And Quentin — you could. I wouldn’t say no. But I also don’t think he had a better directing effort than Bigelow. Writing, sure. Directing? Don’t know. I think it’s an easy win for Bigelow.
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Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter
These are the first Oscars that took place after I started this site. So this is basically fresh for me. And it’s an incredible category at that. And that’s even without Christopher Nolan, who was DGA nominated instead of the Coen brothers.
Black Swan is a crazy film. I’m shocked this got the kind of support from the Academy that it did. I’m glad they loved it, but it’s surprising it got as far as it did.
Natalie Portman is a ballerina who wants so much to be the star of the company. She’s up for the lead role in Swan Lake. Technically, she’s amazing at what she does. So she’s a perfect white swan. But to play the (insert title here), she needs to have a wild streak in her, which she clearly doesn’t have. She still lives with her mother, is almost childlike… she’s not that person. But, as she prepares for the role, things start happening. She slowly starts coming more and more unhinged. It’s terrific.
Aronofsky does a good job with this. It’s an indie and an art film, and these types of films don’t usually make it on here. He’s also the one that has the biggest range on this list. Meaning, his effort I can see being as high as a 2, potentially even a 1 for people. And I can also see it as low as a 4. I’m still not quite sure where I’d even put it. This is a rough category. You can go a lot of different ways. The way he shoots this, I think you can make a case for him, so he’ll definitely be there in the end.
True Grit. Quite frankly, my favorite film on this list. I love this movie. I love a good western. I love that this got nominated, despite the lack of a DGA nomination.
It’s a remake of the John Wayne film. The plot is simple. Teenage girl sets out to avenge the death of her father, hiring a lawman to track down the man that killed him. Along the way, they are accompanied by a Texas ranger. Nothing complicated here.
The film is gorgeously shot. This will be no lower than fourth for most people, and I’d wager no lower than third for the majority of people. This is just a well-made film. It’s definitely in contention for me because it’s my favorite film on the list. And in a category like this that carries a lot of weight.
The Social Network. My other favorite film on this list. How can you not love this movie. Remember 2010 when we were all pissed that this was gonna lose at the Oscars? Feels like a lifetime ago.
It’s about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, framed by not one but two separate trials brought on by others claiming they were the ones who had the idea that he exploited and cut them out of. It’s a perfect film.
Fincher is a great director and this is a great film and a great effort. Clearly he’s worth voting for.It really just comes down to which one you take in the end.
The King’s Speech. And this movie. I had such a dislike for this at the time. I loved the film, but I just hated that it was gonna win all the Oscars. Not that it really won all that many. The only win it had that I truly disagreed with was this one.
It’s about King George VI, ascending to the throne, yet having a horrible speech impediment. Despite all the speech therapists and things he tried to overcome his condition, it isn’t until he meets Lionel Logue that he manages to get somewhere.
The film is astoundingly good. It’s hard not to love this, and any dislike I had at the time was so clearly because I was in favor of another film. And also because this represented the “classical” choice, that just felt boring.
Hooper’s effort isn’t as bad as I may have said five years ago. Five years ago I’d have said he shouldn’t have even been nominated and clearly had him as fifth in the category. Now, I think he can legitimately be counted for a vote. Everyone in this category could be.
The Fighter. The return of David O. Russell. Funny how this film was so fresh and so energetic and such a triumph for him at the time, and now, five years later, we’ve practically forgotten about it after Silver Linings and American Hustle.
This is about Micky Ward, Boston boxer, whose brother (and entire family, really) helped him train and become a championship contender. The film is more about the craziness between Ward and his family than actual fighting, and that’s what makes the film so great. And that’s clearly what Russell took to heart, since he tried to recreate that dynamic in all of his films since.
The film is really well directed, and it really marked a new era in Russell’s career. A lot of style on it, and a lot of well-crafted fight scenes. Curious to see if anyone would take this as the vote. It felt at the time that he was pulling up the rear in the category, #4 or #5, and I’m not sure if much else has changed. Someone has to be fifth in this category, and I think it may actually be him.
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The Reconsideration: What do you do here? They’re all great films and efforts. And you had at least one or two other options that weren’t nominated. Pretty much any of these efforts feels like they could be #1, and any feels like they could be #5. Here’s how I shake them out:
My #5 is gonna be David O. Russell. I love him, have loved his films, and love this film, but I think it’s the weakest direction here. And this is coming from someone who was pissed that Tom Hooper won this category in 2010. Also, weakest direction here simply means that, among the five nominees for Best Director, this is #5. This completely belongs here. I just – wouldn’t vote for it. I don’t know. It doesn’t stick out to me above the other four.
My #4… oh, 2010 me is gonna hate myself for this… is Darren Aronofsky. I really like what he did, and I think his direction is what makes the film as good as it is. I just… wouldn’t vote for him here. I could have him as high as third, and on another day I might have him as third. But here, he’s fourth. I wouldn’t vote for him no matter what day it was, so ranking isn’t the biggest deal. I think he belongs here, but would never vote for him.
My #3 is Hooper. Which is saying something, since I used to think he didn’t even belong on this list. But a lot of that had to do with spite that the film was so easy a winner. But honestly, it’s an amazing film. And his direction is really strong. His shot choices and the way he constructs scenes – incredibly well done and he was a deserving winner. I don’t know how much I’d ever consider him for a vote in this category, but me having him third and saying he’s a deserving winner is leaps and bounds above where I was five years ago.
No matter how many times I go over this category, those are the three I’d never vote for. My vote will always come down to one of two choices.
So we’re left with either David Fincher or the Coens. It’s a tough choice. Because I love both films a lot, and I love both efforts a lot. Fincher was my choice at the time because I knew he was the alternate to Hooper and I felt voting for him helped his chances at taking down this category, making the Best Picture win for The King’s Speech less of a blow. But my heart was always with True Grit, and now that I’m five years removed, and am simply voting for my favorite effort, I don’t see why I wouldn’t take them. True Grit was my favorite (nominated) film of 2010, and the Coens had my favorite directorial effort. It really doesn’t make any sense to continue to take Fincher. So I won’t.
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- Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
- David Fincher, The Social Network
- Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
- Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
- David O. Russell, The Fighter
- True Grit
- The Social Network
- Black Swan
- The King’s Speech
- The Fighter
My Vote: Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Every single one of these movies is essential. The Social Network is perhaps the film of the decade, culturally. The King’s Speech needs to be seen because it’s great and because if you want to talk Oscars, you need to see it. It won Picture, Director and Actor. That’s three times essential for Oscar buffs. Black Swan also won an Oscar, and is Darren Aronofsky. Any movie buff will consider all his work essential. And ditto the Coen brothers and David O. Russell, which takes care of True Grit and The Fighter. Any self-respecting film buff needs to see all five of these.
The Last Word: You can make a case for all five of these. Russell seems the slightest. Aronofsky is a solid choice, but I wouldn’t take him. Hooper is also a solid choice and is the classy one to take. The Coens crafted a gorgeous western. You could easily see it being the vote, though not everyone would. And Fincher — it’s pretty clear how he could be the vote. To me, the Coens made my favorite film, so I’m taking them. I understand why Fincher would normally be the vote, and maybe on another day, I’d take him. Because it’s essentially a toss-up for me. You’d be right to take any of these. Make your case, don’t diminish the other nominees, and you won’t be wrong
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)