OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Best Director

Best Director HEADERThroughout Oscar season, Film Misery will be offering almost daily breakdowns of the categories in the Oscar race. Today we continue with the Best Actress category.
 

Best Director RussellThe Nominees:

Michael Haneke, Amour
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Most pundits and movie bloggers have been calling this a two-way race, and I see no compelling reason to disagree. All the same, the Academy threw us something of a curveball when it decided to grant nominations to only two of the five Director’s Guild of America Award nominees. To complicate matters further, the DGA ultimately gave its top prize to the year’s most irksome Oscar snub: Argo’s Ben Affleck. So for only the seventh time ever – assuming this year’s Best Picture Race is as locked as it currently feels – the Oscars and the DGA will select different winners. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, but if you consider how many other precedents this year’s awards is either poised to break or has already broken (a possible 3-time Best Actor Winner, the oldest Best Actress ever, one film nominated in all major categories), I’m ready to roll with it…to a certain extent.

Best Director Zeitlin

All the same, it the DGA nominations remain arguably our most dependable tool in narrowing down a front-runner. It seems incredible to suggest that the big winner could possibly be a nominee not recognized by the DGA, so I don’t have too many qualms about cutting Benh Zeitlin (also, too young) and Michael Haneke (also, too foreign). David O. Russell is the one DGA snub I could feasibly see making a splash in this category – he gots the Weinstein monies, after all – but I am only willing to disregard so much historical precedent when divining the choices of a voting body itself seldom eager to surprise. Besides, his remaining two competitors are actual DGA nominees, and their movies are arguably stronger contenders overall.

With eleven and twelve respective nominations, Lee and Spielberg’s movies will be mentioned more frequently on Sunday’s telecast than that of any other filmmaker. Surely that counts for something, especially since both films make strong showings in all those technical categories. Helping both Lee and Spielberg further is the fact that the Academy loves them; Lee’s been nominated three times and has won once. Spielberg’s been nominated a whopping seven times and has won twice.

Neither director is without their handicaps either. Pi is arguably more of a “director’s movie” than Lincoln, a film whose praise has been split foremost between the acting and the script – directing less so. Conversely, Lincoln is far more of an Actor’s showcase than Pi, a film that failed to garner a single acting nomination. What’s frustrating, however, is that neither director sports weakness debilitating enough to ruin their odds against the other. This race really is a dead heat.

Best Director SpielbergEven Nate Silver, AKA the guy who schooled all the people during last year’s election season, shows both directors in a practical lock (though he gives Lee a 2% edge). Considering Silver is, by his own admission, less adept at predicting Oscars than elections, I think I just have to go with my gut. And my gut tells me that the Academy will choose to honor the more frequently honored, more well-established, and far more powerful nominee in Spielberg. Lee will nab himself a second trophy some day, I imagine. I just have my doubts that Sunday is that day.

Predicted Winner: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln (With Life of Pi‘s Ang Lee being a very plausible alternate)
Preferred Winner: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Write-In Vote: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty (Sorry, Ben)

Be sure to check out our complete Oscar predictions, which will be updated throughout the week.

 

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