Wednesday, February 23, 2011

OSCARS: Best Director

Winner - Richard Attenborough
Best Director - 1982 (Gandhi)
"Spared no expense."
Filmmaking at its essence is a dictatorship. Much like the captain of a ship, the director calls the shots. They guide their crew through rough waters and, depending on how good they are, lead them to box office treasure or career misfortunes. It takes someone with vision, who is capable of directing others clearly, to take a stack of paper (the script) and see it through all the stages of development and all the departments of a production finalizing in something that people would want to devote their time to viewing. Conventionally everyone reports to the director on every issue from prop management to set construction to stunt coordination and all points in between. They oversee every aspect of the film through all stages of production (pre-production, principal photography, and post-production) up to the release.

Typically they are involved in the script, if not in the actual writing then they initiate re-writing that occurs on the set, or before filming commences. From there the director will work with the art director to develop the visual style of the film. This includes meeting with the costume designer as well as the make-up artist and visual effect team. Storyboards are drawn up so everyone can have a clear visual presentation of the film. Then the cinematographer is brought in to translate the illustration on the storyboard to actual shots when filming begins. The director also has first and final say on the casting of the film, especially on the lead and supporting actors. Once the project is filmed the director will work with the editor in assembling the film. During this time the sound editors are creating and capturing sounds to create the ambience audio to play under the dialogue. When all of this is in place the composer records the orchestral underscore for the film and then the sound engineer mixes everything and any final adjustments are made before the film is released. Only in extreme cases of failure or inexperience will the studio or producer interfere with the director, but otherwise it is their duty to provide them with whatever they need to get the film done.

Winner - William Wyler
Best Director - 1959 (Ben-Hur)
The Academy Awards have always recognized achievements in the field of directing. In the beginning, at the very first awards ceremony, there were two categories honoring achievements in directing. The first was for dramatic direction, which recognized Frank Borzage for Seventh Heaven (1928) and the other was for comedy direction, which recognized Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights (1928). After the first Academy Awards the specification of comedy direction as a category was discontinued. Since then the Academy has generally favored dramatic films. There have been other genres, or at least elements of other genres present in the main, non-technical, categories – including Best Director and Best Picture throughout the history of the awards. Just as the other categories have their trends, this is one that is present in the Best Director category. Winners for dramatic combos in the past include Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story (1961) (Musical-Drama), James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment (1983) (Comedy-Drama), Jonathan Demme for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) (Thriller-Drama), and James Cameron for Titanic (1997) (Historical-Drama). This also presents the trend between the Best Director winners and the Best Picture winners.

There is also a strong correlation between the Best Director winners and the Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Directing. The DGA has an almost uncanny ability to pick the winners of the Best Director Oscar, which follows the DGA announcements by about a month. Founded in 1936 as the Screen Directors Guild, the group changed their name to the Directors Guild of America in 1960. They have been presenting awards honoring achievements in their respective field since 1948 when Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for A Letter to Three Wives (1948). Throughout the history of the event there has only been six instances where the DGA did not agree/predict the Best Director Oscar winner. They are as follows:

1968 – Carol Reed won for Oliver! (DGA – Anthony Harvey – The Lion In Winter)
1972 – Bob Fosse won for Cabaret (DGA – Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather)
1985 – Sydney Pollack won for Out of Africa (DGA – Steven Spielberg – The Color Purple) (He wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar that year.)
1995 – Mel Gibson won for Braveheart (DGA – Ron Howard – Apollo 13) (Howard was also not nominated for an Oscar that year.)
2000 – Seven Soderbergh won for Traffic (DGA – Ang Lee – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
2002 – Roman Polanski won for The Pianist (DGA – Rob Marshall – Chicago)

Winner - Clint Eastwood
Best Director - 1992 (Unforgiven)
& 2004 (Million Dollar Baby)
One of the highlights of this category, and all around great achievements in the realm of filmmaking, is when actors take up the reigns and wind up not only being nominated, but also become award winning directors. Robert Redford (1980), Warren Beatty (1981), Richard Attenborough (1982), Kevin Costner (1990), Clint Eastwood (1992 & 2004), and Ron Howard (2001) all began their careers as actors and managed to prove their talent on both sides of the lens. Other actors who have been nominated include Orson Wells for Citizen Kane (1941), Laurence Olivier for Hamlet (1948) and Kenneth Branagh for Henry V (1989).

Heavy consideration should be given not only to the competition, but also what the filmmaker has accomplished, endured, overcome and achieved with their work, not just in dollars and cents, but in a lasting emotional impact. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to gage the latter. Most films in contention for awards are released at the end of the year, sometimes leaving only a month between their release and nomination. It’s bad news for most films that are released early in the year, as their relevance won’t be as strong as something everyone is talking about and has access too. Sadly this industry thrives on these virtually meaningless awards and fortunately the great ones stand the test of time.

NOTE: Both Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick never won an award for directing. Hitchcock won an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967 and Stanley Kubrick won an Oscar for the Special Visual Effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Think about that next time you’re watching one of Kathryn Bigelow’s timeless masterpieces like Near Dark (1987), Blue Steel (1989), or even The Weight of Water (2000).

This year's nominees for Best Director: 
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen – True Grit
David Fincher – The Social Network
Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
David O. Russell – The Fighter

-       Frank Capra’s triple score in the late 1930s.
-       William Wyler’s record 12 nominations resulting in 3 wins, tying with Capra.
-       Nominating Charles Crichton for A Fish Called Wanda (1988).
-       Oliver Stone winning for Born on the Fourth of July (1989).

-       Woody Allen beating George Lucas in 1977 (I’m not going to let this one go.)
-       Kevin Costner beating Martin Scorsese in 1990.
-       Pretty much all of the above mentioned DGA upsets, especially 1995.
-       Christopher Nolan NOT being nominated for Inception (2010).

Think he saw that in his dreams?

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