This is one of the few legitimately interesting categories to watch. Will we have a back-to-back winner and make history in Iñárritu? Will we have a winner in the technical mastery of George Miller? Or could Adam McKay sneak in thanks to a last-minute boost? A Best Picture/Best Director split isn’t unprecedented, and lately has seemed the norm, and this is one category that will definitely come down to the wire.
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road Should Win
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant Will Win
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Power Rankings: Iñárritu-McCarthy-Miller-McKay-Abrahamson
I’m honestly at a loss for who could and should win this year, but we can rule out one director, Lenny Abrahamson for Room. While beautifully directed, the film is too small and Abrahamson too small a name to make an impact. He nabbed the spot from Golden Globe winner Ridley Scott, who just missed the cut and could’ve shaken up the five-way tie even more.
So let’s examine each director individually, starting with McKay for The Big Short, whose name has come up more and more as guild awards are revealed. McKay snagged a DGA nomination (essential in this category), but other than that nothing too substantial. It’s worth noting his omission from the Golden Globes, where the film did not score any wins, despite the Globes’ effect not being what it used to be.
Moving on to Tom McCarthy, hot off the biggest disaster of his career (The Cobbler), he resurrects it with Spotlight, and since November the conversation has been focused on Spotlight‘s inevitable sweeps, some of which didn’t happen. McCarthy scored a DGA nomination, a Critics’ Choice nom, and the film also did well at the independent shows. McCarthy clearly isn’t out of the conversation, and the understated tone of Spotlight has earned him many fans. If we’re looking at a split, however, and Spotlight does win Best Picture, McCarthy might leave this one empty-handed. That seems most likely at this point, as when Best Director does split, it goes to the most technically impressive film, and Spotlight is not it this year. This last happened in 2014, when Cuarón took it home for Gravity while 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture.
Now to the two technical beasts, first George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, which is feeling like this year’s Gravity. While it’s shot at Best Picture is low, I’m anticipating a sweep in the craft and technical categories for Mad Max, including sound mixing & editing, film editing, makeup, and possibly production design and visual effects. The craft categories will be interesting ones to watch this year because of Mad Max but also because of The Revenant and The Martian, which will both put up a fight. Miller has scored in all the right places for this film, and he’s my personal winner for this category, which feels like a career victory lap for the acclaimed veteran.
But then there’s Iñárritu, previous winner for 2015’s Birdman and he will not go down without a fight for The Revenant. He won the Directors Guild Award earlier this month, which possibly could have cemented his victory. The last winner of the DGA who did not go on to win the Oscar was Ben Affleck in 2013 for Argo, and that one was an anomaly since he did not even score a nomination. DGA almost always signifies an Oscar victory, but if the voters are feeling Iñárritu fatigue, and for a film that has many vocal detractors, he could miss out.