Academy Award for Best Director
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
For the last few years, the Best Director race has normally narrowed itself down to two front-runners, each with a very good chance of winning. But this year, it seems as if Chazelle is nearly a lock to win the award. After taking home the Critics Choice Award, the Golden Globe, the DGA Award and the BAFTA, Chazelle has won pretty much every major award he could win and with La La Land gaining a staggering 14 nominations (tied with All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations in Academy Award history), it would seem only logical to award the man who pulled it all together. The directors of All About Eve and Titanic were also given this award. It is also important to note that Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash gained major award momentum, and though Chazelle didn’t win anything, it cemented his name as Hollywood’s best young director. To give him this award in a time where the Academy is constantly accused of being too ‘old’ and traditional, would signal their acceptance of new talent. It also doesn’t hurt that La La Land is a love letter of sorts to Hollywood.
So who on earth could beat Chazelle? Well Barry Jenkins could… but probably not. Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, is another relatively young director and could also benefit from the aforementioned mentality of the Awards. It also doesn’t hurt that Jenkins is a POC, and following the Oscars So White Controversy, the ceremony may want to award a black director, especially considering no black director has ever won the award. While Moonlight will likely play runner-up to La La Land throughout the night, it should win Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins, and therefore the Academy will feel less obligated to give him this award. Like Chazelle and Lonergan, Jenkins has been nominated at the majority of the award season’s main events, though he was snubbed at the BAFTA awards, which could point towards less support from international voters. In terms of other nominees, Lonergan has a slight chance, though Manchester By The Sea has certainly not over performed and therefore there is little talk about his role here. He will also most likely win his respective screenplay category, so that’s him sorted for the night. Villeneuve’s nomination is his win and is a nod to Sci-fi film and the directors rather prolific career over the last few years. Sitting on the fringe of indie and blockbuster, Villeneuve has always been in discussion for this category numerous times but before this year never got the call up. He could follow this year’s nomination up with another if the Blade Runner reboot goes to plan.
Finally, we have Mel. Mel Gibson, Hollywood’s villain for the last decade has returned to centre stage. I personally believe Gibson does actually have a chance at taking this award even considering the mass backlash against his anti-Semitic comments. Not only is this the flashiest direction nominated (which the Academy normally loves), but it would present a chance for the Academy to emphasise second chances in a time where many believe the award ceremony itself should be done away with. The political atmosphere will also have a massive influence, as while liberal voters will likely eat La La Land and Moonlight up, Republicans may want to recognise Gibson and his patriotic work. While it is certainly unlikely, I wouldn’t rule a Gibson upset out. He hasn’t been nominated at most major award shows (he did receive a Golden Globe nom), and he might not have the momentum behind him, but he has won this award before and everyone loves an underdog.
Potential Spoiler: Barry Jenkins