This issue of AwardsLine went to press moments before Alejandro G. Iñárritu took the top DGA Awards prize last weekend, but without question the big shocker in the AMPAS list—and isn’t there always at least one of those in this category?—was the omission of veteran Ridley Scott for his superb work on The Martian. Scott was the one DGA nominee who did not repeat on Oscar’s list, replaced instead by Room’s Lenny Abrahamson, with a small film that couldn’t possibly be more different from the epic Martian. Most pundits had predicted would finally win the Best Director Oscar this year, but for those who did land Oscar’s directorial noms, here is how the race looks at this point:
The Big Short
A late entry after Paramount decided to move this planned 2016 release into the race. It was a bet that really paid off—if ever there was a dark horse, it’s The Big Short and its director, Adam McKay. With BAFTA and DGA nominations, this frequent Will Ferrell collaborator is also the unlikeliest of nominees, but he took what looked like an impossible task and turned Michael Lewis’ business book into a funny, human, even harrowing look at the 2008 financial crisis. Its PGA win as Best Picture doesn’t hurt his prospects.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The biggest beneficiary of Scott’s absence from the lineup might be Australia’s well-liked veteran George Miller. Rebooting his Mad Max franchise after a 30-year absence, and turning it into an extraordinary action film like no other, Miller is a shining star this season and obviously hasn’t been forgotten despite a May release for his film. It has withstood the onslaught of more obvious Oscar contenders and turned him into a semi-favorite, no matter the fate of his movie in the Best Picture race.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Alejandro G. Iñárritu won the Best Director Oscar for Birdman last year, along with Picture and Screenplay, making him unlikely to repeat that feat even for something as successful and admired as The Revenant—a filmmaking challenge from every angle you can imagine. He did take the DGAs, however, and if he can pull off the Oscar, he would join only Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford in back-to-back Best Director wins. And if he adds Best Picture to that, he would stand alone. Certainly the bumper box office reciepts haven’t hurt his chances.
The surprise entry of Oscar’s Director class of 2015 is certainly this Irish helmer, who pulled off a technically challenging effort in making a movie that’s largely set and shot in a tiny, cramped room. No CGI trickery involved. The Directors Branch clearly recognized what an awesome and tricky project this was and rewarded Abrahamson for pulling it off. Ultimately, though, it was the emotional power of the movie that won the day for him here, and this nomination is really the win no matter what happens.
Although Spotlight‘s directorial style was straightforward and not at all flashy, McCarthy—also nominated for co-writing the Original Screenplay with Josh Singer—managed to make the somewhat plodding and deliberate art of investigative journalism exciting and suspenseful. This movie, the best about journalism since 1976’s All The President’s Men, proved to be a perfectly toned investigation-into-an-investigation and landed McCarthy his first Oscar nomination in this category.