Just this past year The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow made history as she became the first woman director to win the Oscar. In a field overwhelmingly dominated by men, the presence of women has been getting more noticeable. Some of 2009’s best films came from women directors including Best Picture nominees The Hurt Locker and An Education as well as critical favorites Bright Star and Julie & Julia. 2010 looks poised to have a similar female influence.
Two of 2010’s most critically acclaimed films – Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right – are directed by women. Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was the standout of the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the Grand Jury Prize and it stands poised to be the first solid Best Picture nominee. Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right features one of the best female casts of the year with two of my absolute favorite actresses in the lead – Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. Early reviews are very positive and the film stands poised to be one of the hits of the summer. This early success by women may only be a precursor of what 2010 will have to offer.
Another female directed film that stands poised to be a major awards contender is Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. Coppola received a Best Director nomination in 2003 for her film Lost in Translation and many thought she was a favorite. She could find herself the second woman director in a row to take home the top prize if her film takes off. However, the men definitely aren’t going to lay down and take it this year.
Several Academy favorites are back with dramatic efforts that should get them back on the Oscar radar this year. 4-time nominee and 2-time winner Clint Eastwood is back with Hereafter, a supernatural ensemble thriller with a dynamite cast. 2-time nominee Terence Malick is back with The Tree of Life, a highly anticipated period drama from a legendary filmmaker. 2-time nominees and 2007 winners Joel and Ethan Coen are returning with True Grit, a remake of the classic John Wayne western of the same name. Also, 6-time nominee Peter Weir is back with his first film since 2003’s Best Picture nominee Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
However, none of these titans of film are my early bird pick to win it all. I’m going to go with previous nominee Julian Schnabel to take the top prize for his biographical film Miral. Schnabel has proven himself to be a fantastic and inventive director with his previous efforts The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Before Night Falls. He just missed a nomination with his last film and the Academy obviously notices his work. Even though little is known about Miral, it has the right type of content to allow for Schnabel to deliver an inventive and original film that could get him his due notices.
Some newcomer competition for Schnabel and the veterans include Anton Corbijn of The American, Doug Liman of Fair Game, and Christopher Nolan of Inception. None of these men are newcomers to directing, but they have all never been nominated for an Oscar. Liman’s previous directing efforts have not been the types of films to have any Oscar hopes including Jumper, The Bourne Identity, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Christopher Nolan will be touted as the most overlooked director in Hollywood by fanboys ever since he and his film, The Dark Knight, were snubbed in 2008. He strays away from comic book fare this year, which may get him some recognition from the older members of the Academy who hear “batman” and tune out.
The 2011 Oscars also have several opportunities for “firsts” when it comes to the Best Directing category. The success of Toy Story 3 makes it seem like a sure thing for a Best Picture nomination, which means its director Lee Unkrich has the opportunity to become the first ever animated film director to get a nomination. The criminal neglect of animated films has been declining over the past several years as the Academy realizes that they are just as powerful and intelligent as any live-action drama. This could be the year that animated movies get the attention they deserve.
Check out the chart for Best Director and be sure to let me know your thoughts on the race in the comments.