FIRST-HALF FYC: Best Director

Posted by · 3:59 pm · January 4th, 2011

With precisely three weeks to go until Oscar nomination morning, we continue to flag up worthy work from 2010’s first half, much of it lost (or, indeed, never present) amid the crush of more recent awards contenders. You know the January-to-June drill by now: beyond that, we can get as far-fetched as we like.

I certainly did this week, as my field of Best Director suggestions betrays the extent to which foreign arthouse fare rules the quality ranks in the early months of the year, while American studios save their prize ponies for summer. For this ballot to pan out, the Academy would have to overcome their usual resistance to subtitles several times over, while making history twice by nominating two women and a documentary filmmaker. Not much to ask, is it?

Speaking of women, by the way, it bears repeating that opening months of the year were strong ones for female filmmakers: between the likes of Debra Granik, Jessica Hausner and Mia Hansen-Løve, all of whom were closely considered, I could have cheerfully assembled a ladies-only field.

Finally, before I get into my picks, I should add that while many (certainly the Academy itself, on recent form) see the Best Picture and Director categories as interchangeable, I don’t quite work that way — as often as they inevitably overlap, sometimes a director’s formal ambition and achievement burns a little brighter than the whole.

Yorgos Lanthimos, “Dogtooth”
Not having seen either of Lanthimos’s previous features, I’m unsure how prepared I should have been for the aggressive formal discipline and thematic reach of this macabre adult fable, but it caught me off-guard anyway. He coolly pushes buttons of onscreen violence and sexuality without descending into juvenile shockmongering, keeping his structure lean and his scenes on the tightest of leashes. The possibility exists of Lanthimos receiving an Oscar-night invitation from the Academy’s foreign-language branch, but a Best Director nod seems only marginally more impossible.

Maren Ade, “Everyone Else”
The German critical favourite crashes this series of columns a bit late in the game, but since I only caught up with it recently, let this mention also stand for showings the film should have made in my Actress and Original Screenplay lineups. It somehow feels appropriate to start with Ade, however, since as impressively as the film functions as a twin performance showcase, this feels very much a director’s film and personal essay. Her command of composition and the film’s languid, interflowing set pieces are impressive, her well-placed stabs of visual wit welcome.

Banksy, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
Is Banksy a filmmaker? I don’t quite know yet – for all the Best First Film citations he’s been scooping along the seasonal trail, it seems unwise to bet on a second ever coming down the pike. But the secretive cult artist has certainly fashioned a highly individualistic one-off wonder, one that cleverly encapsulates his entire career through the lens of another, revealing much about his personal artistic philosophy along the way – which is the most one can ask of any director. That the film is also a polished, tidily assembled entertainment seems cause for extra credit.

Andrea Arnold, “Fish Tank”
Yes, a fifth mention in this series for my #2 film of 2009. Sorry if this seems like overkill, but these columns are about highlighting the best, and for my money, only a few directors in either half of the year match Arnold (an Oscar-winner, lest we forget) for ensemble shepherding skills (coaxing knockout performances from young amateurs, to boot) and rigorous visual schematics – the latter particularly commendable in a genre where her British peers tend to fall back on dull televisual “naturalism.” Bonus points for the most thoughtful application of popular music in any film this year.

Luca Guadagnino, “I Am Love”
I admit I didn’t jive to Guadagnino’s florid melodrama stylings at first sight, and 16 months later, the film still doesn’t entirely have my heart. But with subsequent viewings, I find myself increasingly intrigued by what the director is up to, as the relentless aestheticization on display seems stricter and more story-bound than show-offy splatter it seemed at first glance, while his network of artistic references seems richer and more tangled than the Visconti tag many critics were quick to hand it. In another, better, Oscar era, this could have been a classy lone-director nominee.

Who were your standout directors of 2010’s first half? Share your thoughts in the comments, and come back next Tuesday, when we’ll be stalling the Best Picture discussion for one more week with some technical category suggestions.

[Photos: CinemaVistoDaMeZimbio, Mubi, Producers Distribution Agency, The Guardian, Time Out]

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22 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2011 at 4:23 pm

    ChrisG said...

    Yay! So you finally saw “Everyone else” and it seems you liked it quite a bit. It truly is a great film. Same goes (even more) for “Fish Tank”, so I don’t mind seeing it pop up every time these columns.
    And I’m going to import “Dogtooth” tomorrow or any day soon. It’s getting increasingly annoying to read great things about it every second day without any news of release in sight.

  • 2 1-04-2011 at 4:27 pm

    Glenn said...

    Arnold and Guadagnino are in my top five right now, Banksy would be close. Wasn’t a fan of “Dogtooth” and I have “Everyone Else” on my DVD queue.

    I just rewatched “Fish Tank” last night for the first time since I saw it at a film festival in 2009. Brilliant film.

  • 3 1-04-2011 at 5:19 pm

    Anthony B. said...

    I loved Dogtooth and Lanthimos is right near the top of my list for the year.

    The rest would go:

    Banksy — Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Tim Heatherington and Sebastian Junger — Restrepo
    Martin Scorsese — Shutter Island
    Atom Egoyan — Chloe

  • 4 1-04-2011 at 7:09 pm

    John said...

    1. Scorsese (Shutter Island)
    2. Vincenzo Natali (Splice
    3. Matthew Vaughan (KickAss)
    4. Daniel Barber (Harry Brown)
    5. Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland)
    6. the guy who directed THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (look at the sequel to see what a difference a director makes)

  • 5 1-04-2011 at 7:46 pm

    DylanS said...

    I’m sorry, but where’s Polanski? I didn’t go crazy over “The Ghost Writer”, but there’s no denying his gift for crafting and atmosphere, it was far and away the film’s greatest asset.

  • 6 1-04-2011 at 9:01 pm

    Hans said...

    I see no Taylor Swift in this column =(

  • 7 1-04-2011 at 9:02 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Bravo for including Guadagnino for “I Am Love”!!! Masterful film. My #3 of the year.

    Haven’t seen any of the other three, but our viewings rarely correspond, so no surprise.

  • 8 1-04-2011 at 9:09 pm

    red_wine said...

    These are such five exemplary selections and I like these all so much that I will simply post these again as my selections too.

    Lanthimos showed the formal command of Haneke, Guadagnino meanwhile channeled Visconti with his eye for everything that is opulent and lavish and privileged under the sun. Fish Tank is so brilliant in its spontaneity, something very difficult to achieve in film that it almost seems undirected with the edginess and unpredictability of life playing out in front of us. Banksy created one of the most singular and extra-ordinary creations of the year – MBW.

    But the best work out of these is Maren Ade’s. You are right that it deserves a mention in screenplay too, infact it is the best screenplay of the year. But I don’t think this is a twin performance showcase, the film (and by extension the year) belongs to Birgit Minichmayr. Baring Binoche is Certified Copy which will be eligible next year, I think Minichmayr does the most dazzling work this year.

  • 9 1-04-2011 at 9:37 pm

    Billyboy said...

    Scorsese, Shutter Island
    Polanski, Ghost Writer (Crossing fingers on a lone director spot)
    Baumbach, Greenberg

  • 10 1-04-2011 at 9:55 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    How about Lee Unkrich for his direction of Toy Story 3? Certainly the fleet and funny, but absolutely heartbreaking notes of this sublime film deserve some credit to the director?

  • 11 1-04-2011 at 10:17 pm

    Rashad said...

    Ridley Scott – Robin Hood
    Scorsese – Shutter Island

  • 12 1-04-2011 at 10:18 pm

    James D. said...

    Have not seen Dogtooth yet, but I love all the others. Robert Rodriguez did great things with Machete, though.

  • 13 1-04-2011 at 11:10 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...

    My Predix for the Oscars:

    David Fincher – The Social Network
    Christopher Nolan – Inception
    Darron Aronofsky – Black Swan
    Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
    Joel / Ethan Coen – True Grit


    Danny Boyle – 127 Hours
    David O. Russel – The Fighter
    Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone

  • 14 1-04-2011 at 11:29 pm

    forts said...

    Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3
    Martin Scorsese for Shutter Island
    Tim Burton for Alice In Wonderland
    Adam Green for Frozen
    Rodrigo Garcia Barcha for Mother & Child

    Those would be my five up there

  • 15 1-05-2011 at 2:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    DylanS: Where’s Polanski? Below these guys, though I agree that his direction is what makes the film work.

    Hans: I’m awaiting Taylor Swift’s directorial debut as eagerly as you are. I hear she’s working on an adaptation of “The Master and Margarita” as we speak.

    Robert Hamer: I’m not as big a fan of “Toy Story 3” as most, and I still think Unkrich falls into the Pixar chase trap, but it’s good work.

    James D: Rodriguez is a second-half pick, no?

    Simon Warrasch: Appreciate the input, but there are lots of places to submit predictions. This column is about personal favourites from early in the year — it’d be more interesting to read yours.

    Forts: Glad to see Adam Green in your list — he was close to mine.

  • 16 1-05-2011 at 7:26 am

    Graysmith said...

    Hmm.. I’d say (in no particular order):

    Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island
    Noah Baumbach, Greenberg
    Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
    Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer
    Nicole Holofcener, Please Give

    Surprised no one else mentioned Granik.

  • 17 1-05-2011 at 9:37 am

    Cordy said...

    Banksy – Exit Through The Gift Shop
    Debra Granik – WInter’s Bone
    SCorcese- Shutter Island
    Polanski – Ghost Writer
    Lee Unkrich – Toy Story 3

    Still have a lot to see though

  • 18 1-05-2011 at 10:42 am

    Scott C said...

    Yeah, whether or not you loved the film as a whole, I don’t think anyone tops Guadagnino’s direction over these 6 months of releases.

  • 19 1-05-2011 at 12:00 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    Allen and Albert Hughes for The Book of Eli.

    Also, Martin Scorsese.

  • 20 1-05-2011 at 12:10 pm

    Derek said...

    GREAT list. Banksy, Gaudagnino, and (the winner) Andrea Arnold are all on my *year-end* ballot, with Ade not far behind. I missed Dogtooth, but seeing the company in which you’ve put it on this list, it’s a must-see!

  • 21 1-05-2011 at 12:59 pm

    Pope said...

    Good picks Guy. Haven’t seen “Exit” yet but I got it on Netflix. Waiting for Dogtooth and Everyone Else to hit.

    Rodrigo Garcia Barcha – Mother and Child (what a pleasant surprise this was)
    Scorsese – Shutter Island
    Polanski – The Ghost Writer
    Baumbach – Greenberg

    I GREATLY appreciated what David Michod did with Animal Kingdom. That man has directing chops for sure. That movie has not left my psyche since I saw it months ago.

  • 22 1-05-2011 at 7:21 pm

    Marvin said...

    Has no one seen Contracorriente (Undertow)?