Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best Director

Hi all! I’ve been MIA since last Friday, so apologies for being gone so long. The Oscars are right around the corner, and now I’m back with some Oscar discussion between me and my movie friend, Matt. Today we’ll be talking about Best Director. Stay tuned for more Oscar discussion in the next couple days.

Matt: The Director is the author of the film. At least, that is how things should be. When we watch a film, we should be learning something about the director, about the things they love, the things they hate, perhaps even something as deep as their belief in the existence of God. Just as we do not study works of literature (and isn’t good film just literature in moving format?) without studying the author, so we should not study a film without investing our time to learn about the director. Having said that, I find it appropriate that each of this year’s nominees also served as writer of their respective pictures.

Kristin: I think Matt has a nice, all around take on the Best Director category. It’s an interesting point that he brought up that each of the directors served also as writers of their films this year. I’ve always thought admirably of those who take on the task to both write and direct their own films. It’s almost as if the director gets a one-up on his project, because he’s already very aware of which direction he wants the film to go.

Matt: One of the nominees is a newcomer, one a seasoned veteran, and three are masters/legends of the cinema.

Michael Hazanavicius and The Artist

Matt: Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is no doubt one of the most ambitious films of recent years. No one in his right mind would attempt to sell a silent, black and white film to the masses when most theater dollars come from the “was that a shiny object” Facebook generation.  They say you shouldn’t say the word “fire” in a theater; the truth is, a greater panic typically ensues when the words “silent film” are uttered in said establishment. And yet, Hazanavicius created an extremely engaging film without, for the most part, any sound, a movie that went on to be loved by filmgoers of all ages.

Kristin: Michel Hazanavicius seems to be the favorite going in this year, having already won the Best Director award at the BAFTAs, DGAs, and various film critic groups and associations. Like Matt said, he’s definitely the newcomer in the category with few American films below his belt, even though The Artist is really considered a French film. You can read my review of The Artist here, or see where it ranks on my top 10 favorites films list. Clearly, I love this film. But why should Hazanavicius win the award? Because he took the idea of silent film and brought it to an unlikely generation, and the results couldn’t have been better for him. Even if someone didn’t love The Artist, one can hardly admit that the direction of the film isn’t obvious–well-constructed, moving, intelligent and talented actors chosen in order to teach that a lost art isn’t forgotten, even if the rest of the world seems to have moved on without you.

Alexander Payne and The Descendants

Matt: I’m sad to say that I have not yet seen Alexander Payne’s film The Descendants. I actually have not seen any of his films (gasps!), but I look forward to catching up on the things I have missed.

Kristin: It’s OK, Matt. There’s only so many films you can see in a year! Luckily, I was able to see Alexander Payne’s The Descendants right around its wide release over here, so I can say a little at least. The Descendants is a different story altogether. But as for Payne? Well, the film has seen success in practically every category across the board except for Best Director. Although Payne’s been nominated in multiple awards ceremonies, he hasn’t won. His writing seems to be the stand-out for the film more so than his direction of it, and I personally believe the writing to be the reason for the film’s success. After all, he’s won the award for Best Screenplay (Adapted most times) six times at various critics awards and societies. I don’t see Payne being the front-runner, the upset, or the dark horse in this category.

Woody Allen and Midnight in Paris

Matt: From the aspect of pure enjoyment, Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris was probably my favorite film of the year. That’s not to say that I believe it was the best or most important film of the year. I have come up with no better term for movies like this than the “Cinema of Joy.” I was charmed from the clock’s first chiming of midnight. I don’t think I am alone in admitting that this was the first Woody Allen movie that I have seen (so many great movies, so little time). But do not worry, I will not stay film illiterate, in regards to Allen, for long. Manhattan and Annie Hall will be ordered through inter-library loan just as soon as I can. I will expand more upon Allen’s work when we discuss Best Original Screenplay. For now, that is all.

Kristin: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was also one of my favorite films of the year too. It’s completely enjoyable and lighthearted. Although Oscar nominations have proven Allen to be a winner in the Screenwriting category, Allen has also seen great success in the Best Director category, having been nominated seven times. Altogether, he’s been nominated 23 times at the Academy Awards, won three times, and made only a single appearance at the Oscars. Apparently, he’s not all into showing up for the recognition, despite being a largely nominated writer and director (and also actor before!). I’m with you, Matt, in that there are great films of his such as Annie Hall that I have yet to see, but like most movie geeks, I work hard to not be film illiterate and give as much time as I can to catching up. Overall, I see Allen garnering more success in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Martin Scorcese and Hugo

Matt: One of my first acts upon returning home from the theater after seeing Hugo was probably exactly what Martin Scorcese intended–I looked up the full version of George Melies’s A Trip to the Moon, and enjoyed it immensely. My second act was to order a collection of Melies’s shorts. Hugo is as dreamlike as the movies of the filmmaker to which it does homage. Scorcese’s choice to shoot in 3D is only the second justifiable use of the medium I believe I have ever seen, Avatar being the first. But it is the way that Scorcese uses 3D that is so fantastic; unlike Cameron, whose shots tended to roar out, “Hello, I’m in 3D!,” Scorcese’s use is much more subtle. It complements the cinematography rather than distracting from it. Often it is extremely difficult to squeeze barely passable acting out of children. Scorcese shows his prowess in directing his actors; Asa Butterfield delivers probably the best child performance I’ve seen since Haley Joel Osmond in The Sixth Sense.

Kristin: I’ve seen quite a few of Martin Scorcese’s films, but Hugo is one I have yet to see. I guess between the two us, we’re able to see all of these films and offer an opinion on this category. I was surprised to learn that Scorcese was directing more of a children’s film, and Hugo is actually considered his first children’s film to direct. However, based off of feedback I’ve heard from multiple people, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hugo serves more as an adult film with a youthful lead. Best Director is a category Scorcese has become a favorite in, and if anyone in this category could beat Hazanavicius, I think it could be Scorcese.

Terrance Malick and The Tree of Life

Matt: There are few movies I can think of where the audience’s response has been more polarized than Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life. You either loved the film, or you hated the film. We’ve had it engraved in our minds that a movie has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. These three parts must follow chronologically, or the viewer is lost. Mess with convention, and you better be ready to hear the public roar.

Malick is a painter and a poet. He will film the same scene multiple ways, once with dialogue, once without, once at midday, once at magic hour. For Malick, filming is gathering the different elements necessary to create the hues to paint his picture. Once his palette is full of colors, he makes his brush strokes in the editing room. Add voiceover, Malick’s window to his characters’ souls, and the poetry and painting is complete. The creation is somewhat abstract, but now the viewer may peel back layer after layer of meaning. The Tree of Life is hypnotic, dreamlike. The film whispers about the joys and sorrows of childhood, man’s place in the universe, and the mystery of the ways of God. Those were but a few of my thoughts as I left the theater. I do not doubt that others’ experience of the film, whether good or bad, differed greatly from mine. I think that great cinema resounds with individuals differently. I don’t think I have to tell you who I would pick for Best Director.

Kristin: Unfortunately, Matt, I’m nearer the side of those who “hated” Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life, although I think “hate” would be too strong of a word to describe my feelings toward the film. The odd thing is that I believe Malick is a fine director, but that he’s too glued to the cutting board. Anomalous Material offers a great article including a video of some Oscar nominees (and others) discussing multiple things, including Malick’s attachment to a pair of scissors. While I’m all for the gorgeous cinematography and the idea of expressing your feelings in a more artsy type of way, I couldn’t imagine Malick winning the award, much less getting close behind any of the other nominees. What I will say about Malick is that he has successfully garnered a lot of discussion over The Tree of Life, which makes for great round table talks and thought behind the film.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

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