Sunday, February 23, 2014


Directing is a category I thought I maybe knew a fair bit about before I started really delving into the technical categories. Now, I feel like I either know way more or way less as I see just how much all those other things are under other players' control. Let's see how this goes. The nominees up are:

  • David O. Russell for American Hustle
  • Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
  • Alexander Payne for Nebraska
  • Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
  • Martin Scorsese for  The Wolf of Wall Street 

With so many of the "small" decisions in American Hustle grating me so poorly, it's hard to imagine me liking the orchestrator of those decisions very much. I've heard some gripes on the casting, but I really have no issue with it so much as I have issue with performances. This is the sort of film which interests me from the get go, and I think it's definitely one that could have maintained that interest. Instead though, the director went in a lot of directions that at best just didn't captivate or resonate, and at worst, there was a level of pacing I found detrimental and costume design decisions that felt like a grand overreach.

Gravity, on the other hand, scored really well with me on those little decisions. Cuarón's move to link the sound to screen position, the long unedited cuts, and the unique use of sound and the score were all really unique, clever, and powerful. He seems more intimately than most to have his fingers in the pies that make his films what they are. I've long liked Cuarón, and this is a showcase of why.

Payne is a director I haven't paid attention to in the past despite the work on Sideways. It's easy to see why he's been overlooked both because he doesn't have a lot to his resume as well as the fact that Nebraska is a beautiful display of restraint. The showiest bit here is the lack of show. One of my favorite decisions of Payne's was to shoot in black and white. I think black and white is overused in still photography and underused in film. This is definitely a film in which color would add almost nothing with the exception of the awe of the expansive fields. Payne made a number of smart decisions to transform a potentially boorish script into something truly engaging.

At first look, Steve McQueen took a slam-dunk Oscar-bait story and baited a lot of nomiations. At second look, you might notice that was adapted for the screen by a guy that until two years ago was the head writer for the Wanda Sykes Show. McQueen made a lot of right decisions to turn that script into the movie it is, the biggest of which may have been continuing to work with Michael Fassbender. I'm not going to say that John Ridley is a bad screenwriter (at least not here), but his lack of experience gives me even greater respect for what McQueen put out.

I saw Scorcese and DiCaprio mentioned together and my ears perked up, but I cannot say how much I loathed every moment of watching this film. So many choices failed me here. I hope Scorcese wasn't trying to glorify the broker culture, but at the same time, he had a complete misstep if he was trying to decry it. He failed the film in nearly every way save basic style.

To me, Cuarón and Payne are the ones that really elevated their material past what it could have been. McQueen may have strongly elevated the film past the screenplay, but I feel the source material there was really strong to begin with. I think ultimately there were more decisions and tweaks to make Gravity the film it is than there were to make Nebraska the film it was, and I get the feeling Cuarón was closely responsible for a greater proportion of those flourishes in his film than Payne was for his as evidenced by the technical award nominations. I'd vote for Cuarón personally. As to the academy vote, as long as Hugo was Scorcese's make-up for the complete Shutter Island snub and he doesn't take home the statue here, I'll be okay. I'm not much of an "anyone but" voter, but I'm pretty much there this year. In the end, I think McQueen's Oscar-bait hooks a statue.

No comments:

Post a Comment