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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 2013-2014)

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.

2013

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

David O. Russell, American Hustle

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

The Analysis:

It feels weird talking about these films, because it was literally two year ago when they were nominated. They’re all so fresh. Feels like this will be pretty quick.

Gravity is a very simple film. Astronauts in space repairing stuff, some accident happens and debris comes hurling toward them. One of the astronauts gets stranded out in space without a lifeline. She has to survive. Very easy plot to follow.

This film is all about the direction. It’s a joy ride from start to finish. Cuaron directs the shit out of it, and I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s definitely worth a vote. You may not take him, but there’s no denying he’s worth a vote. This category is really strong, too, so there will be more people worth voting for.

12 Years a Slave is a hell of a film. This is the one that’s gonna hold up best over time.

A northern black man is captured and sold into slavery down south. That’s the story. And holy shit, is that story brutal.

Steve McQueen directs the hell out of this movie and when you see it, there’s no denying he’s worth voting for. And I would not even hesitate to call a vote for him a great decision.

Nebraska is Alexander Payne again. The man just keeps making great movies.

He wasn’t nominated for the DGA, by the way. Paul Greengrass was for Captain Phillips, and Payne ended up getting on in the end. Not sure who I’d have preferred there.

Nebraska is about Bruce Dern, an old, possibly senile, man, who is trying to get to another town because he thinks he won the lottery. His son accompanies him on the trip, and it turns into a beautiful bonding trip. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s a quiet film with great performances and low-key humor. It’s an Alexander Payne film.

The direction is fine. The black and white enhances the overall product. Wouldn’t have looked as good in color. It’s admirable, but I don’t think I’d consider him any higher than fifth. Maybe fourth at best. Does anyone place him higher than fourth in this category?

American Hustle is David O. Russell. Doing his thing again. This is the first time it started to rub people the wrong way. But also might have been the perfect entity for what David O. Russell’s current iteration is.

It’s about the ABSCAM operation. A bunch of crooks and FBI agents worked together to take down crooked politicians. Christian Bale is a con artist, Amy Adams is his girlfriend, Jennifer Lawrence is his estranged wife, Bradley Cooper is an overly ambitious FBI agent, Jeremy Renner is a mayor who really wants his town to prosper, and is involved with some illegal stuff in order to make it that way. The whole thing is done Scorsese style. This movie owes a lot to Goodfellas. Loaded with energy and music and the whole thing.

It’s a great film. I can see taking Russell here. Not sure if I love the effort overall enough for a vote, especially since the person he owes a lot of credit to is also in this category, doing something similar.

The Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese, proving that some people don’t lose skill with age. What a hell of a film this is.

Jordan Belfort goes from idealistic stockbroker to one involved in corruption, drugs and illegal trading. And it’s awesome. Half the movie is drugs and sex and it’s just wonderful. I don’t even know how to explain this movie if you haven’t seen it. Fortunately we’re like three years out from this, so you’ve probably seen it. And if not, it’s Scorsese and DiCaprio, so I can just tell you to see it and not explain what it’s about, because the burden here is actually on you.

The film is great, and Scorsese does a great job directing it. Not sure I’d want to vote for him though. This is a strong effort, but not one I’d actually vote for. He’s a third choice for me. He feels like a third choice. That one that’s really solid that you could see people voting for but not one you’d actually take.

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The Reconsideration: Strong category. Imagine if Paul Greengrass were here too.

Don’t want to mince words, this category being so recent at the time of me writing it up — Alexander Payne is #5. Wouldn’t ever vote for him. I don’t think most people would.

Scorsese and Russell — 3 and 4. However you want to split them, take your pick. They’re solid, but I wouldn’t vote for them. Not over the other two. They’re energetic, but there’s nothing I see out of their efforts that makes me put them as high as I put the other two efforts.

It’s really between either Cuaron or McQueen. Either are perfect choices. To me, it’s Cuaron. It was always Cuaron. What he achieves with this movie is nothing short of astounding. He and McQueen are really close at the top, but I take him. I just really love what he did with Gravity. I know I’m not saying much, but in order to talk more eloquently about this category, I’m gonna need more time to let this one sit.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
  2. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
  3. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. David O. Russell, American Hustle
  5. Alexander Payne, Nebraska

Rankings (film):

  1. Gravity
  2. The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. 12 Years a Slave
  4. American Hustle
  5. Nebraska

My Vote: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Recommendations:

All essential.

Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne. I’ve called all their films essential throughout this entire Quest. So, Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and Nebraska are all essential films. Don’t worry, movie buffs all love them. Essential doesn’t mean not great.

12 Years a Slave is a film all people need to see. Not just movie buffs. But movie buffs especially need to see it because it won Best Picture, is astoundingly good, and because the amount of famous people in it will cross list with a bunch of other films you love, proving to you it’s worth seeing. Trust me, you must see this.

Gravity is one hell of an adventure. The simplest story possible, told incredibly well. You almost take it for granted, how well this was made. It’s essential. Not sure how well it’ll hold up over time, but for now, it’s 100% essential.

The Last Word: Seems to be between Cuaron and McQueen. I can’t see taking any of the other three over time. I mean, sure, if you love the films enough, okay, fine. But Scorsese and Russell almost cancel each other out, since one is doing Scorsese, and the other is Scorsese doing what he’s done before. And then Payne — looks great, but do you take it? I have a hard time seeing Payne as a choice in any of these categories. The other two, you can see why you’d take them. And either is a great choice. I stick with Cuaron, because I’m still amazed at how well Gravity was made. But we’re only two years out from this, so it’s not like we’ve had any real time to digest anything.

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2014

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

The Analysis:

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson. All his movies feel very much “Wes Anderson.” Which means either you love it or you just don’t get it at all.

This movie is a coming of age story inside a murder mystery inside a flashback inside a novel. (Very Wes Anderson.) A girl is reading a book at the grave of her favorite author. The book is him recollecting a time where he went to (insert title here) and met its elderly owner, who recounted the story of his earlier days, which involved him being the lobby boy and working for Gustave H., one of the great concierges of all time. One of his guests is found dead and he suddenly finds himself a prime suspect, having been given her most prized possession in her will.

The plot is insane and wonderful. It’s gorgeously colored and shot, and the great joy is seeing Wes Anderson work in his ever-growing stable of actors. The film is wonderful, and Anderson’s direction is wonderful. However, since it’s quintessentially Wes Anderson, I could see someone having this as high as maybe 2 and as low as 4. It’s almost like when Terrence Malick gets nominated. You know the Terrence Malick style. You have a feeling about it. And as much as I love this film and love Wes Anderson, it’s difficult to vote for him in this category, given…

Birdman. What a film this is. People found it pretentious, but that’s a discussion for another day. The direction is something else entirely.

Michael Keaton plays a former A-list actor famous for a superhero movie who is now trying to put on a comeback play on Broadway, which he is writing, directing, starring in and producing. And it’s not going well. He’s starting to become unraveled. It’s fucking glorious.

The entire film is shot as though it were a continuous take. It’s truly impressive. This is one of those efforts that you can’t deny. You might want to vote elsewhere, but there’s no questioning the strength of this effort.

Boyhood is Richard Linklater’s masterwork. He took the same actors and shot a twelve minute short film with them every year for 12 years. (12 Years a Boy.) And he put it all together to basically show you the life of a child from 6 to 18. The pieces aren’t directly connected, yet add up to a hell of an experience.

Here’s the thing — on concept and the fact that he made this, it’s a hell of an effort. In terms of the pure nuts and bolts of it, watching the direction as you watch the film — there’s not a whole lot there. So it comes down to what actually constitutes good directing. He’s definitely worth a vote and you can easily take this, which is really all that matters in the end.

Foxcatcher is Bennett Miller. He’s directed three films so far. First one, Picture and Director nominations. Second one, Picture nomination. Third one, Director nomination. All great films. Dude’s got a hell of a start to his career so far.

This is about Mark Schultz, Dave Schultz and Jan de Bont. The two brothers were olympic wrestlers, and de Bont was a weird millionaire who decided to start a wrestling team. So he basically buys the two brothers to start it. It’s… a really interesting film. Hard to explain, but it’s so fucking good.

Miller is a hell of a director, if his first two films are any indication. I’m actually really glad he ended up getting nominated, especially over the alternative (who, this year, was probably Clint Eastwood). I don’t think he gets higher than fourth. He’s definitely one of those “solid, but I wouldn’t vote for him” nominees. Maybe you can put him as high as third. He definitely fits that mold though. Don’t think you take him in the end.

The Imitation Game is a terrific film. Your classical Oscar nominee of the bunch.

It’s about Alan Turing and the invention of the machine that broke the Enigma during World War II. That’s all you need to know. It’s fucking wonderful. Wonderful all around.

The direction is fine, but it’s clear that Tyldum came along for the ride with his film getting all those nominations. Don’t think anyone has him higher than fifth here. The direction is solid, but there’s nothing there you really would see as exemplary enough to vote for. You’d be wanting to vote for him on love of film alone. I think we can see that pretty plainly, even only a year out.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I think we start by saying no one takes Tyldum. And then Miller may get a small handful of votes, but overall, I don’t think he’d be considered the choice by most. Anderson is a swing vote. Some people might take him, most people would say they’d love to take him but end up going somewhere else. And then others just don’t like the style and will deliberately have him near the bottom of the list.

The category seems like it’ll always be between Inarritu and Linklater. The two efforts are so different, it’s hard to compare them. So I won’t. It’s simply a matter of which one you want to take. They’re both completely worthy. To me, what Inarritu does cannot be ignored. Others will think it’s a gimmick, which is exactly what the people who are against Linklater will say. I say — take what your heart says to take, and don’t belittle the other nominees, and you can’t go wrong.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
  2. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  4. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  5. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Rankings (film):

  1. Birdman
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Boyhood
  4. The Imitation Game
  5. Foxcatcher

My Vote: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Recommendations:

Boyhood is already one of the essential movies of all time. So that has to be seen by all.

Birdman is essential. Not sure what time will do to this, but the way this was shot, for any real film buff, they’ll want to see this because the craft behind it is too good to ignore.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson. That basically makes it essential. Plus, all those Oscar nominations to boot. You have to see this, because look at all the people involved, and all the great films Wes Anderson has made. How could you possibly (deliberately) not see this?

The Imitation Game is not gonna hold up as an all-time essential film. It’s essential for 2014, but over time, it’ll just be a really solid movie that got nominated for a lot of Oscars that comes highly recommended because it’s really entertaining. Don’t see this as being all-time essential. But people will see it anyway because of all the pieces involved (Oscars, actors, etc).

Foxcatcher is Bennett Miller, whose three films are all essential. This movie is terrific. It’s essential for film buffs even if not all people will love it.

The Last Word: Seems like an easy choice between Inarritu or Linklater. Both are right. Don’t shit on the other one and you’ll be fine. Tyldum seems like a fifth choice, Miller seems like a choice a few people would take, but mostly people will respect the effort, maybe like the film, and rank solidly but not want to vote for. And Wes Anderson is one of those where, some people will definitely want to take him, but most will rank him solidly but not take him because we’ve seen him do this a bunch and because the other two efforts are… well, they are what they are. They feel like better choices over all. Not that it makes Anderson any less deserving. That’s just how it feels. I think the choice is clearly Inarritu, but I would not for a second say Linklater is not as deserving of a vote.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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