After four posts focusing on the acting races at the 2021 Oscars, it’s time to turn to Best Director. If you missed those entries on the lead and supporting performer derbies, you can find them here:
With the directing category, I do believe there’s three filmmakers that have likely punched their ticket to a nomination. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how my projections panned out at the same early November time frame in 2019 and 2020.
Two years back, I correctly identified four of the five contenders: winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) as well as Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Todd Phillips (Joker) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. 2020 was more unpredictable with two months left to go and that resulted in only two directors being accurately named: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), who took the gold, and David Fincher (Mank). Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) was in Other Possibilities while neither Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) or surprise nominee Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) were yet listed in my top ten.
Back to 2021 and the three individuals who I believe stand probable shots at making the cut. They are Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune).
It was 28 years ago that Campion was nominated for The Piano. If it hadn’t been for Oscar juggernaut Schindler’s List, she likely would’ve been making a speech. Upon its premiere in Venice, Campion took the Silver Lion (equivalent to this competition) for Dog. I don’t see her being left off the ballot.
Belfast is the current frontrunner for Best Picture and it’s hard to envision writer/director Branagh not making it in. If so, it would be his first nod in directing since Henry V some 32 years back.
Dune is being heralded for its technical wizardry and it should pick up numerous down the line wins and nominations. Five years after his behind the camera work was recognized for Arrival, Villeneuve should be a factor again.
Interestingly, I don’t feel there’s a clear favorite to win. There are plausible scenarios for any member of this trio to emerge victorious. Campion, Branagh, and Villeneuve constitute my top 3 (in that order), but it’s more of a 1a, 1b, and 1c at press time.
As for the other two slots, there’s a few contenders stemming from unseen product. There’s big names in that bunch: Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley, who won four years ago for The Shape of Water), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza, a two-time nominee for There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread), Ridley Scott (for House of Gucci and not The Last Duel), Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, previously nominated for The Big Short), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick… Boom!), and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story, a two-time winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).
Any of these gentlemen could bubble up to the surface once their pictures are screened. I’m sticking with the two I’ve had in my five recently: del Toro and Anderson.
King Richard has a chance to win Best Picture, but I’m skeptical its maker Reinaldo Marcus Green makes it here. The sports drama seems destined to be recognized more for its performances, but if the Academy really falls for it, Green could be theoretically be swept in. That holds true for Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Pablo Larrain (Spencer) as well.
Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s nod in 2020 for Another Round came out of nowhere. While it was pegged to take International Feature Film (which it did), Round was not nominated in Best Picture. There’s a slew of directors who could fill the “surprise” slot this time around (many from foreign features): Pedro Almodovar (Parallel Mothers), Julia Ducournau (Titane), Asghar Farhari (A Hero), Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World). I wouldn’t completely count out Rebecca Hall for Passing. Yet none of these upset selections are in my top ten.
The one that is: Jonas Poher Rasmussen for festival darling Flee. While I don’t have it nabbing a Best Pic nom at the moment, I do foresee the Danish doc contending in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film. That kind of attention could cause the voters to include him.
Here’s how those rankings look at the start of November:
1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (Previous Ranking: 1)
2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2)
3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3)
4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 4)
5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 5)
6. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: 6)
7. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7)
8. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee (PR: Not Ranked)
9. Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard (PR: 9)
10. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)
Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Julia Ducournau, Titane
Best Picture is next!