Oscar 2014: Martin Scorsese and the men who shouldn't beat him
Martin Scorsese has come under tremendous flak for his drug-and-adrenalin-fuelled adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. Does he have a shot at the Best Director Oscar this year?
It's that time of the year again, and I've already gushed about how great a year 2013 has been for English movies.
We looked at the Best Supporting Actor, the Best Supporting Actress, the Best Actor and Best Actress races already, and now comes the battle for Best Director.
The big omissions this year were the Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis, Spike Jonze for Her and Richard Linklater for Before Midnight, stupendous films all.
But the nominees who have made it are in for a pretty good fight.
Here are the five men vying for the prize, with my take on their odds:
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf Of Wall Street
There is only one Martin Scorsese, and we’re f***ing fortunate to be around while he’s making movies.
The 71-year-old master has come under tremendous flak for this drug-and-adrenalin-fuelled adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s eponymous memoir.
But critics be darned, this is a helluva motion picture, a scathing and powerful cautionary tale that is both a truly memorable comedy and a masterpiece of horror.
It’s wicked and witty, clever and cartoonish, a caricature and a freak-show, and — for my money — the best and most feverishly good directing we’ve seen this year.
He’s not going to win it, of course. Just like he didn’t win for Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or Goodfellas… But when the dust of outrage settles, The Wolf Of Wall Street will be heralded as one of his most brutally brilliant films.
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Image: Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street, inset: director Alfonso Cuaron
Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave
McQueen is one of the most talented English directors to pop up on the scene over the last decade, and while his harrowing slavery drama based on Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name is relentless and harsh, it is also the director’s most conventional film.
It’s strong but obvious, masterful but manipulative.
In my review, I applauded the film while explaining how basic it is. It’s well-performed, beautifully shot, but far, far from being the year’s best film.
And yet McQueen is almost as likely as Cuaron to pick up the trophy.
Image: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave, inset: Steve McQueen
David O Russell for American Hustle
Flair might be missing from McQueen’s picture, but David O Russell’s showy new flick is positively doused in flamboyance, an ode to style and the seventies.
The camera lurches around like a prizefighter trying to dance, the costumes remain firmly in the land of seventies-parody, and there’s a whole lot of coolth everywhere you look.
It’s not a great film, really, but it is a rousing entertainer made with a lot of craft.
Does it deserve as many nominations?
Of course, but it is without doubt a strongly directed film and, according to many people, “this year’s Argo,” a film that wasn't nominated in this category.
Could the Academy want to right that wrong and give a fan-favourite the big prize?
A Russell win here, while not very likely, won’t surprise many either.
Image: Jennifer Lawerence and Amy Adams American Hustle, inset: David O Russell
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska may well be among the finest as well as the most underrated films this Oscar season, held in place by brilliant performances from Bruce Dern and June Squib, shot lovingly in black and white and paced rather immaculately.
It’s a fine feature and Payne — who won the Best Adapted Screenplay award in 2005 for Sideways — is a more assured filmmaker than ever.
That said, the 53-year-old is probably the least likely to pick up the prize come Oscar night.
Image: A scene from Nebraska, inset: Alexander Payne
Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
Direction relies so completely on many different aspects of the film -- the writing, the performances, the cinematography, etc -- that it’s hard for any jury to completely assess and truly appreciate the role of a director by merely looking at his film.
Having said that, there are times when a director’s overriding vision is the very backbone of a motion picture, and Cuaron’s big-screen miracle is just such a film.
Think what you may of the script (and the hokey dialogue) Cuaron conjures up a film unlike any we’ve seen before, and presents a cinematic experience borne purely out of his own unique vision.
The opening shot, the long-tracking takes, the wacky physics… A lot comes from the master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, but Cuaron is very much at the helm every step of the way. He’s the one to put your money on.
Image: Sandra Bullock in Gravity, inset: Alsonso Cuaron