This year, there is a broad range of Oscars experience within the group of directors nominated in this category. Two directors have been previously nominated twice each for Best Director, while two others are receiving their first nomination in this category. The last one is Martin Scorsese—the veteran filmmaker has been previously nominated seven times! The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:
WINNER: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)
In 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time. He is an absolute master of his craft, and after critically acclaimed directorial efforts in Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), he has returned with a true tour de force. The 44-year-old British director has taken a brutally pragmatic perspective on a true story set in one of the harshest periods of American history, but his effort is commendable and exceptional. Even though at times this movie is difficult to watch, given the ruthless behavior by many of the slave-owners, it is honest and emotionally impacting, and McQueen has created one of the more important films of our generation. Steve McQueen has never previously been nominated for Best Director.
2. Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
To put in straightforwardly, I will watch anything Martin Scorsese makes. I have been a fan of his work for as many years as I have been passionately watching movies, and The Wolf of Wall Street ranks right up with the greatest titles on his distinguished filmography. One of my favorite Scorsese flicks is Goodfellas (1990), and The Wolf of Wall Street shares so many brilliant characteristics with that classic film. Here, the 71-year-old director packs in more sex, drugs, and crime than any 3-hour film could possibly hold, but somehow, it works. I credit this to the wealth of veteran experience Scorsese has in this business. Although I am not quite prepared to put The Wolf of Wall Street above the likes of Goodfellas or The Departed (2006), Scorsese has nonetheless created another cinematic masterpiece. Martin Scorsese has been previously nominated for Best Director seven times, winning his only Oscar in this category for 2006’s The Departed.
3. David O. Russell (American Hustle)
Just one year after directing Silver Linings Playbook, my favorite film of 2012, David O. Russell is back with another fantastic movie in American Hustle. This is Russell’s third trip to the Oscars in the past four years, and this says a lot about where he is as a filmmaker. He is one of the most renowned directors in the business, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. Even though American Hustle is a magnificent film, I still think The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) were better movies overall; however, this is not a negative reflection on David O. Russell because it shows how dominant his work has been in recent memory. David O. Russell was previously nominated for Best Director for both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.
4. Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Similarly to David O. Russell, Alexander Payne is becoming a director that I very much enjoy. I have only seen two of his films, Election (1999) and The Descendants (2011), but they are each two of my favorites. I was beyond pleased with Nebraska when I saw it in theaters, and even though it seems quite different than his other films, it is stimulating in many distinctive ways. Although it does not appear Payne will come close to winning the Oscar this year, he has still made a movie that I will enjoy watching over and over again in the future. Alexander Payne was previously nominated for Best Director for his work on Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011).
5. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
I will try not to waste much precious space discussing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. How on earth it has received so many Oscar nominations and award wins this season will continue to baffle me until the day I die. Maybe the voters are smitten with the film in the way they were with Avatar (2009), but I do not believe a film should garner this much critical respect just because it “looks good.” Both the acting and the plot are non-existent, and even though Cuarón has made a beautiful-looking movie, it is nothing more than a façade for a TERRIBLE work of cinema. Cuarón has never previously been nominated for an Oscar.