Thursday, July 19, 2018

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Day Five: Best Director

It's been a while. You know where we left off, right? On Best Supporting Actor, which Oscar gave to Hugh Griffith and I gave to...well, check it out if you haven't already. And check out our look at Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Score.

As for today? Let's get to Best Director, after the jump.


Jack Clayton for Room at the Top
***

Notes: First and only nomination; NYFCC Runner-Up for Director

The film has an unmistakable energy, with the affair scenes almost dreamlike, out of time, contrasting with the rapid, walk-with-purpose momentum of the rest of the film - it's only with Alice, after all, that Joe can allow himself to relax, not just plot or resent. It's a dreaminess that underlines the harsh reality of...well, reality.


George Stevens for The Diary of Anne Frank
*****

Notes: Fifth of five directing nominations, previous two-time winner; DGA Award Nominee; Golden Globe Nominee

Three hours is a long time to spend in a cramped, crowded attic space, especially knowing from the outset how it all turns out. Stevens uses that to his advantage, making that set feel lived-in, the characters flesh-and-blood, the time spent an endurance test with the occasional respite through holidays, romance, and petty squabbling. One of the few directors who makes the intimate feel monumental - never crass nor exploitative. And wow wow wow can he make you cry at the littlest moments.

Billy Wilder for Some Like It Hot
****

Notes: Seventh of eight directing nominations, previous winner; DGA Award Nominee

Only Wilder could get just as many laughs from mass murder as he does from Jack Lemmon trying to walk in high heels. Despite the silliness, it's a very adult picture, populated by the same cynics, hustlers, and predators who tend to thrive in his films. And yet...while I can't go so far as to say you care about these characters...you do begrudgingly like them.

William Wyler for Ben-Hur
****

Notes: Eleventh of twelve directing nominations, third of three wins; DGA Award Winner; Golden Globe Winner; NYFCC Second Runner-Up (in a tie)

The scale is staggering. How Wyler captained such a gargantuan ship is truly astounding: these sets! These action sequences! These horses! It's pure cinema, baby! And for the most part, Wyler never loses sight that this is a character piece about one man's journey from ruin to revenge to redemption: he takes his time with those personal moments. I wish his actors were more consistently directed, but dear Lord, did you see those horses?


Fred Zinnemann for The Nun's Story
*****

Notes: Fourth of seven directing nominations, previous winner; DGA Award Nominee; Golden Globe Nominee; National Board of Review Winner; NYFCC Winner

It's not just glorious closeups of Hepburn's face in subtle conflict; Zinnemann stages her emotional journey beautifully, gradually setting her further apart from her fellow nuns as the film progresses - look at the way she blends into the line of novitiates at the beginning, compared to how she's turned her back on the others while studying medicine, and ending on a long, silent, contemplative shot. Beautifully crafted, inner conflict writ large.

Other lauded auteurs:
  • Charles Barton for The Shaggy Dog (DGA Award Nominee) - Such zaniness! ***
  • Frank Capra for A Hole in the Head (DGA Award Nominee) - Solid work. ***
  • Basil Dearden for Sapphire (NYFCC Second Runner-Up [in a tie]) - Lets his ensemble play together, surprises with feverish shot choices and blunt cutting. *****
  • Richard Fleischer for Compulsion (DGA Award Nominee) - Great confidence in his cast; some beautiful but ostentatious compositions; rides a fine line between art and exploitation. ****
  • John Ford for The Horse Soldiers (DGA Award Nominee) - didn't see it.
  • Howard Hawks for Rio Bravo (DGA Award Nominee) - Every moment engaging, every performance a winner. *****
  • Alfred Hitchcock for North by Northwest (DGA Award Nominee) - The Master of Suspense also had a great flair for comedy, and this breezy thriller shows off both strengths. *****
  • Stanley Kramer for On the Beach (DGA Award Nominee) - ****
  • Leo McCarey for Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (DGA Award Nominee) - I hated almost everything about this odd clump of celluloid. *
  • Otto Preminger for Anatomy of a Murder (DGA Award Nominee, Golden Globe Nominee) - Preminger's handling of the tone allows for mystery and mirth to intertwine without trivializing the film's investigation of sexual assault and consent. *****
  • Douglas Sirk for Imitation of Life (DGA Award Nominee) - God bless his reflective surfaces, terrific work with actresses, and overall Sirk-ness. ****
  • Fran├žois Truffaut for The 400 Blows (Cannes Film Festival Winner) - Throughout, the illusion of spontaneity; never apologizes nor makes excuses; captures youthful resentment and wildness truthfully. *****
-------------------------------

Oscar went with the spectacle of Ben-Hur and its director, William Wyler.


Understandable! But in a close race, for me, between Stevens and Zinnemann, I have to give my vote to....

 GEORGE STEVENS
for
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK


Tomorrow (and I mean it this time!), we're getting into Best Supporting Actress: The Diary of Anne Frank's Shelley Winters, Imitation of Life's Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore, Pillow Talk's Thelma Ritter, and Room at the Top's Hermione Baddeley.


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