There were so many well-directed films in 2018. That the Academy only picks five requires the snubbing of plenty of quality films. While the Best Director category logically follows from the Best Picture race, the expansion of Best Picture to a possible 10 films makes it harder to narrow down the Best Director race.
Any director whose film nabs a Best Picture nomination is in the hunt for a Best Director nod. Beyond those nominees, there is not much else in contention. And the Directors Guild Award nominations will clear up any confusion over the frontrunners. Aside from the weird year of 2012, the 2010s DGA and Academy Award nominations were almost the same. Each year, just one slot was different.
- Bradley Cooper
- Alfonso Cuaron
- Barry Jenkins
- Yorgos Lanthimos
- Spike Lee
In the Mix:
- Ryan Coogler
- Adam McKay
- Peter Farrelly
- Damien Chazelle
- Steve McQueen
- Marielle Heller
The Best Director category will line up with the Best Picture nominees, as per usual. Which five will be narrowed in on here is what is of concern here. Cuaron is a sure-thing, given the craft at hand in Roma. It is all Cuaron all the time in Roma.
I have heard some speculate he could win Best Director and lose Best Picture. In this scenario, Roma would also likely take Best Foreign Language film (almost as a consolation prize). This is a possibility, but I find it hard to say the Academy would reward his direction without going all in on his movie for Best Picture, given how pointed the direction is to that film’s success.
Either way, assume his nomination here barring some strange Netflix hate by the Academy.
Cooper is also a sure thing. A Star is Born is such a crowd pleaser, and it is so ingrained in the Hollywood ideal that the Academy will not be able to help themselves. A Star is Born could sweep, as much as I find that a less-than-ideal situation.
The next favorable odds go to Spike Lee. Lee has spoken about his lack of representation at past Oscar ceremonies, but Blackkklansman is a film that the Academy can’t afford to pass up. To not have Lee in this race would be a notable omission.
Yorgos Lanthimos didn’t land a Golden Globe nomination, but that doesn’t mean all that much. Once the DGA nominations are announced, we will get a better look at the Oscar field, but I would suspect he will show up there. If that happens, he will be primed for a slot in the Oscar shortlist.
Jenkins, Lanthimos, and Lee are the three names that could be replaced. While it would be surprising to see Lanthimos or Lee out, either could be usurped given the run Vice is having at the Golden Globes. McKay was previously snubbed at the Globes when he released The Big Short, but the Academy still granted him a nod. That film had a surprise award run when it won the PGA Best Picture award. Vice is unlikely to repeat that showing, but McKay is the next likely candidate to edge into the Best Director race.
One cannot forget about Ryan Coogler, though. Black Panther is the question mark this year. A huge success, it is unclear how the Academy is going to recognize it. Certain technical achievements are locks. And I have a strong feeling it will get a Best Picture nomination. I can see a scenario in which Coogler lands a DGA nomination.
This race is not entirely clear yet. Chazelle is an unlikely candidate, but the Academy likes him. McQueen and Heller are long-shots, despite the quality of their films. Farrelly got the Golden Globe nod, and Green Book is toned for award season. But I can’t imagine him earning a nomination over the great work that Jenkins and Coogler are doing in their films. Of course, that probably means he’ll get the nomination. The Academy can’t please everybody.
If I were to put money on it, I would go with the contemporary trend I highlighted at the start of the article. Four DGA nominees will carry over to the Academy: let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, it is Cooper, Lee, Lanthimos, Cuaron. The fifth DGA nominee is (in this hypothetical) Barry Jenkins. But the Oscar nod goes to Adam McKay or Peter Farrelly. Because the Academy historically likes showy films that will translate to mainstream appeal. This is just one scenario, but it illustrates the state of the race right now.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)