OSCAR RACE 2012–BEST DIRECTOR



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Continuing my Oscar predictions, the next category is Director.  In certain ways, picking the director nominees used to be fairly easy.  You selected which five films you thought would be nominated for best picture and then try and decide which one wouldn’t correspond with a director (there often was one difference).  But now that it is possible for there to be up to ten picture nominees, this sort of throws a monkey wrench into the system.
In many ways, you still make your guesses using the same principle.  You decide which five movies you suspect would have been the nominees if the rules of up to ten weren’t in existence and you take that as your cue for your basic list of for the director’s category.
Like all the other categories, the top five seem to be slowly rising to the top.  So to the list:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  It’s not just the double whammy so far of winning the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review awards.  There’s no guarantee that that translates into an Oscar win, though at the same time, it don’t hurt.  Part of what is helping here is that Argo, which had the lead, peaked and was being overshadowed by Spielberg and Lincoln (which was more successful than was originally thought) and is now being overshadowed by Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty as well.  Will she win?  Right now it’s all buzz, but the buzz is deaf impairing, so unless the movie opens and then crashes and burns, it seems she’s got it (the first female director to win twice; the first to be even nominated twice).
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln.  This seems like a done deal, not just because it’s Lincoln directed by Spielberg, but also because it did much better than anyone expected (which is important since people expected it to do well as it was).
Ben Affleck for Argo.  Once the front runner for winning, but has now been eclipsed.  But his nomination still seems like it’s in with the in crowd.
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.  My only hesitation here is that the movie hasn’t opened and I’m a little loathe to make a prediction for a musical (I still remember Nine), but it looks like a sure thing.
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a serious comedy and that doesn’t hurt and people just seem to love it to death. 
Now there are definitely other possibilities, but here is where things get tricky.  If you think that another director is going to get in there, you’re going to have to decide who won’t make it.   Right now, I think only Tom Hooper and David O. Russell have a chance of being unseated and replaced by: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master (the issue here is that the critics loved it, but the public, which includes the voters, didn’t); Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (deserving, and the strongest possibility for an upset as far as I’m concerned); Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained (the movie is too unknown a quantity and it may open too late to really excite people); Peter Jackson for The Hobbit (he’s already got it for The Lord of the Rings, I can’t see them doing it again and some people haven’t been happy with some of his directorial choices; it may also be opening too late for people to care); Michael Haneke for Amour (probably deserving, but he’s probably going to get shut out; and since it’s going to win Best Foreign Language Film, they’ll probably nominate it for screenplay and forget the direction); Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom (forget about it, it will be Zeitlin before Anderson). 

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD


Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story told through the eyes of a child, with all the awe and wonder of such a subjective viewpoint.  It has the same fairy tale quality of such movies as The Night of the Shooting Stars and The Night of the Hunter as well as more realistic films as To Kill a Mockingbird and Shane.  It is a wonderful film, perhaps the best of the year so far.   The narrator and our guide to this other world is Hushpuppy, a pint size little girl who lives with her alcoholic and ailing father in a place call the Bathtub, an outlying area on the other side of a levee that protects the larger, nearby city.  The residents of the Bathtub are free spirit types who want little to nothing to do with civilization.  At first one empathizes with this fierce independence; there is something grand and moving about it.  On the downside, though, the result is often alcoholism and cruelty, as well as an inability to protect themselves when disaster strikes.  And strike it does.  First Hushpuppy’s father has a heart attack.  And then the rain comes.  And while the city is protected by the levee, the Bathtub is flooded by salt water that eventually destroys all plant and fish life.  All the while Hushpuppy voices her childlike view of what is going on in voice over narrative while imagining the approach of wild beasts that have been released by the polar ice cap melting.  What happens next is the conflict between civilization and people who just want to be left alone.  I can’t quite agree with the ultimate conclusion here, that the people are somehow better off by returning to the Bathtub; I certainly would never want to live there.  But I found the unfolding of Hushpuppy’s story fascinating as the plot takes her all over the place, from a Fourth of July type celebration complete with tons of seafood and fireworks, to a shelter for people fleeing the floods, to perhaps the oddest place of all, a floating whorehouse.   Benh Zeitlin directed the film and wrote it along with Lucy Alibar, a first film for each of them, using non-professionals.  But Zeitlin makes excellent use of their amateurishness.  He gets a deft and fascinating performance out of Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy.  But perhaps the strongest performance is by Dwight Henry as her father Wink, a character both kind and cruel who rages and rages against the dying of the light.  He’s one of those awful people you never would want to meet in real life but are fascinating within the safe distance of a movie screen.   But in the end, perhaps the greatest kudos should go to Dan Romer who, with Zeitlin, wrote the sole stirring anthem that punctuates Hushpuppy’s story.  At the end, Hushpuppy tells us that she and all of the people in the Bathtub are all part of the universe, and that no matter what happens, they’ll keep going, as they march back home accompanied by that transcendental music.   It’s a deeply emotional ending to a very unusual and captivating film.