The Best Director category is usually extremely competitive at the Academy Awards, aka the Oscars. It’s also a pretty controversial one, as the Academy has only recently started branching out to nominating and selecting individuals who aren’t old stuffy white guys. While this year will certainly have a few them (as no Best Director list is complete without them), there is a chance that this year continues the trend of attempted diversity, believable or not. There are some definitive front runners and some long shot hopefuls, so let’s get into it.
Here are my predictions for the Best Director nominees.
Paul Thomas Anderson – “Licorice Pizza“
It is crazy that PTA has had 25 nominations for 9 films and has only won 3 times. Obviously “Licorice Pizza” has the opportunity to most certainly add more nominations, and quite possibly add another win. The film is wonderful in every way you would expect from such an auteur filmmaker. But it is also his most lighthearted and fun, somehow keeping all the things we love about his films but doing them all with a wink and a smile. I loved every second of this film, and it is one of the best directed films of the year, without a doubt. This one feels like a for sure thing, if not to win but definitely PTA being nominated in this category. Also, see “Licorice Pizza.” It’s great.
Jane Campion – “The Power of the Dog”
Full disclosure: “The Power of Dog” is going to show up on every single prediction list I make. There simply isn’t a category where someone attached to this movie isn’t going to be recognized by the Academy. Director Jane Campion puts her masterful skill behind the camera on full display in “The Power of the Dog.” It is expert filmmaking, the kind of slow burn, patient and insightful visionary work that the Academy adores. I said it in my review (here) and I’ll say it again: let more women make movies! Not arbitrarily, either. We need more diverse and unique stories from more diverse and unique individuals, and “The Power of the Dog” and Campion’s work on the film is proof as to why it’s so necessary.
Kenneth Branagh – “Belfast”
There’s been a lot of awards talk surrounding this film, including possible nominations for all of their actors. But aside from being on the Best Picture list, Branagh is probably the most assured chance “Belfast” has to take home some gold. I don’t put my money on Branagh to win it all, but “Belfast” is beautifully directed and it absolutely deserves to be nominated. This was a surprisingly feel good movie despite its subject matter, and it’s really well put together across the board. It is definitely Oscar Bait, but like other films I’ve mentioned it doesn’t feel forced or pandering. It’s a really well made film, and thought Branagh doesn’t always knock it out of the park (I’m still holding out for an apology for “Artemis Fowl“) he certainly gets it right with “Belfast.”
Denis Villeneuve – “Dune”
My least favorite film on the list (sorry, I’m just not a “Dune” fan), Denis Villeneuve still manages to make one of the most ambitious and visually stunning films of the year. I may not be on board with the lore or the overall story, but damn does Villeneuve know how to make a movie. He’s long been one of my favorite directors who doesn’t always make films I enjoy. But the man knows his way around a camera, and is an expert at translating his vision to the screen. It’s really impressive, and while I think “Dune” will probably do well in the technical categories and little else, I think Villeneuve has more than earned his spot among the best of the best for 2021.
Can you believe that Steven Spielberg has had 17 Academy Award nominations, 10 of them for Best Picture, 7 for Best Director, and has only won 3 total? For all the amazing films he has given us over the years, he’s only won Best Director twice since 1978. That’s why “West Side Story” is such an interesting and intriguing inclusion. It has all the potential to be the most nominated film of the Academy Awards this year, but whether or not it will win is a whole different story. I will say this: Spielberg makes movie magic with “West Side Story,” and film is superb from top to bottom. It is a dazzling movie going experience, and I ranked it as one of my top 10 best films of the year. That has to be attributed to the skills of such a complete and skilled director. Only someone like Spielberg can turn a passion project remake no one asked for into a magnificent and Award winning reimagining. I will be shocked if he’s not on the list of nominees.
Like I said, 2021 gave us a lot of well directed films, and there are a few that have a dark horse chance of knocking off some of the more assured picks. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi‘s “Drive My Car” is begun drumming up a ton of buzz, with many outlets believing that this foreign film may actually be the biggest and most surprising winner of the Academy Awards. There’s also Joel Coen flying solo with “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” His film is a bold, abstract choice of direction that feels like just the right blend of skill and intrigue that the Academy often enjoys honoring. The long shot picks are Adam McKay for “Don’t Look Up,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal for “The Lost Daughter.” McKay often finds himself on these lists, but this latest entry has been pretty divisive and may end up excluding him from the list despite being a really well made film. Likewise, Gyllenhaal makes her feature film directorial debut, and makes one helluva a statement doing so. I’m actually kind of pulling for her to make the list, but who knows. It’s the academy. There’s probably only room for one woman on the Best Director’s list.
Those are my predictions for the Best Director category. Who do you think will make the list this year? We’ll find out who gets the nods when the Academy of Motion Pictures announces their nominations on Tuesday February 8th, 2022.