Ranking the 89th Academy Award Nominees for Best Director

In order to judge them fairly, I have taken it upon myself to watch all the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director and the acting categories, and I have to say that this year has some incredible nominees, most of which are deserving of their nominations. I will be ranking them category by category in different posts, from the nominee I feel is the least deserving to the nominee who I found to be superior to all the others. I’ve tried to remain as objective as I can, and taken as much into consideration as I can, in order to judge them fairly and honestly.

Best Director is such a tricky category – there have been some truly amazing filmmakers to have won this award, while there have been some even better directors that never did. This year, the five nominees are very eclectic – one of them is a previous winner, while four of them are first-time nominees here. One of those is a veteran screenwriter and playwright that has made three tremendously great films. Another is a veteran director who is finally receiving his due, and the other two are young and exciting filmmakers who are going to help define the future of cinema.

#5 – Kenneth Lonergan for directing Manchester by the Sea


Manchester by the Sea is one of the best films of the year. Part of that is because of the incredible writing and the unbelievable acting. One thing it doesn’t have at its disposal is great direction. It didn’t particularly need amazing direction, and it got its message across without the need of flashy filmmaking. I adore the fact that Kenneth Lonergan is an Academy Award nominee for directing (Margaret is a masterpiece of filmmaking), but objectively I cannot say that Manchester by the Sea was the best directed film of the year.

#4 – Barry Jenkins for directing Moonlight


Moonlight is a beautiful film, and Barry Jenkins takes such superb artistic licence – but most of what makes Moonlight so incredible are all the factors that surround the direction – part of that is because maybe Jenkins did have such a powerful grip over this film that he put his vision into everything, but I just felt that as a whole film, it doesn’t appear to be the best directed film, and rather a film that benefits from a powerful story, stunning cinematography and performances from a talented cast. Jenkins is the breakout filmmaker of the year, and he is going to have an amazing career – and Moonlight is the perfect film to put Jenkins on the map. But Moonlight is just a film that benefits from strong direction, not brilliant direction, and that’s what the rest of the nominees that rank about Jenkins show, assured and brutally honest directing, which is vital (and is exactly what won Alejandro González Iñárritu two consecutive Academy Awards in this category).

#3 – Denis Villeneuve for directing Arrival


Denis Villeneuve is another tremendous director, and he’s made incredible films such as Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario. Arrival is his most mainstream film, and while it may still be an utterly amazing film, it also doesn’t benefit from some trademark flairs that Villeneuve brings to his films in the past. It is still a brilliant film, and his direction cannot be underestimated – I just felt like it didn’t show him at his very best. There isn’t any doubt that Arrival is a beautiful film, but in terms of direction alone, I just felt it was a slight bit lacking – but I’d be a fool if I didn’t admit that I wished Villeneuve could pull of an upset. Personally, he is my favorite of the nominees. Objectively, he is solidly in the middle, but I know of all the nominees here, he is going to benefit the most from this recognition of being nominated, so he doesn’t have anything to worry about, and I look forward to loving Blade Runner 2049, which is already one of my favorite films of the year and I haven’t even seen it yet.

#2 – Mel Gibson for directing Hacksaw Ridge


This is a strange one – and while I was harsh on Mel Gibson and his film Hacksaw Ridge in my review, breaking it down, I did find that despite the film being poorly written, and featuring some terrible performances (not all the performances, just some), it did have some really interesting directing. Now to understand my point, you have to separate the writing from the directing. As a film, Hacksaw Ridge is terribly written – sappy, over-emotional and sometimes silly. Yet, it still manages to build a story of a young and dignified man fighting for what he believes in – and when it comes to the third act, when we actually see the events on Hacksaw Ridge, that is when the true scope of the film’s directorial achievement becomes clear – the rest of the film may be mediocre, but the entire segment that takes place during the war is brilliantly composed, brutally violent and emotionally moving. The movie may end on a less-than-stellar note, but overall, for the fact that Gibson managed to construct scenes of war where we felt the same terror and hopelessness, while still retaining faith like the main character in the goodness of humanity, the film’s direction deserves a place near the top of the list.

#1 – Damien Chazelle for directing La La Land


I don’t need to explain this, do I? If I have to explain to you why Damien Chazelle was the most impressive director of the year, you have yet to see La La Land. Beautifully composed, brilliantly filmed and utterly stunning, each and every moment of this film is a masterpiece. Much like with Casey Affleck, I don’t need to justify much why I think Chazelle was the best in his category – it is a remarkable achievement for a film, and the fact that it is already on its way to becoming a classic is testament to the brilliance of the film as a whole, and that’s all because of its captain, who is assured and unique in his approach to this film, blending the classic with the new, and for that reason, Chazelle is undeniably the best in his category.

So there we have it – five very deserving nominees, each one with a unique film, helped by their unique direction. I wouldn’t mind any of these nominees winning, because they all did amazing work, and are utterly deserving of their nominations.


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