Best Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

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)

Steve McQueen 2In 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.  Marty ScorseseOne 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 HustleDavid O. RussellThis 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.  Alexander PayneI 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)

Alfonso CuaronI 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.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 5 – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street - BP

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film directed by Martin Scorsese, with a screenplay written by Terence Winter.  The film tells the true-life story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a New York stockbroker in the late 1980s who makes a rapid rise to Wall Street royalty with the founding of his brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont.  However, Belfort reaches this skyscraper affluence through greed, corruption, and downright illegalities.  Before long, the entire world comes crashing down on Belfort and his securities fraud posse.

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and over the years, he has particularly become the king of mob movies.  Between Goodfellas and The Departed, two of my all-time favorite films, Scorsese has developed a top-flight reputation in this genre.  In The Wolf of Wall Street, he adds to his decorous list of accomplishments a film with more sex, drugs, and crime (the white-collar variety, mostly) than any of his before.  Scorsese WolfThe film itself has been on the receiving end of a wide assortment of controversies, ranging from complaints about his glorification of such a dreadful subject matter to uproars about the excessive nudity and foul language.  For me personally, none of those things bothered me one bit when I watched this movie in theaters—in fact, I went back and saw it a second time!  In many films, the overload of sex, drugs, and F-bombs might be too overzealous, but Scorsese makes it work.  He does not include sex and nudity just to include sex and nudity; Scorsese meticulously weaves these elements into the story to advance the plot and make the film more realistic.  For that, I will never bat an eye.

Every single actor throughout the entire movie gives a well-crafted performance, and this greatly benefits the fluidity of the film.  Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the grandest performances of his entire career as Jordan Belfort, and I was utterly pleased to see him receive some Oscar recognition.  Leo and JonahThis is Leo’s fifth collaboration with Scorsese, beginning with Gangs of New York in 2002, and their partnership is one of the best in the business.  DiCaprio is an insanely talented actor, but his best work always seems to come out of Scorsese flicks, and his portrayal of the drug/money-addicted Belfort is absolutely astounding, in all the best ways.  My favorite scene from the entire film features Leo high on Quaaludes attempting to reach his car from the country club doors—if you have not seen this film, this scene alone makes it worth the watch.  Jonah Hill also gives a wonderful performance, and even though he broke out in the Oscar world with 2011’s Moneyball, this is by far the best job Hill has ever done in a film.  In many interviews, Hill credits this as his dream role because his favorite actor is Leo and his favorite director is Scorsese; however, he never seems star struck on the screen, and his portrayal of Donnie Azoff is absolutely hilarious and riveting.

Margot RObbieThe hidden gem in this movie is the breakout supporting performance by newcomer Margot Robbie as Belfort’s wife Naomi.  Robbie, an Australian native, absolutely nails the Brooklyn accent, and if you had no clue of her Aussie roots, you would NEVER believe she was not from New York—her accent is THAT good.  Aside from the accent, Robbie gives a stellar performance, and I hope to see a lot more from her in the near future.

Terence Winter took the wild and outlandish true story of Jordan Belfort’s rise to the pinnacle of Wall Street and turned it into one of the finest screenplays of 2013.  Winter’s incredible script, along with Scorsese’s genius filmmaking and the ensemble cast’s award-worthy performances, has made The Wolf of Wall Street one of 2013’s finest exports.  The Wolf of Wall Street is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.

The Wolf of Wall Street trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

Academy Award nominations for The Wolf of Wall Street:

Best Picture (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers)

Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill)

Best Director (Martin Scorsese)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club