Who will be on Oscars' Best Director shortlist?

NEW YORK • There are but two guarantees in this year's Oscar race for Best Director: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Alfonso Cuaron (Roma). Who else makes the final five is anybody's guess.

Other directors - including Oscar-nominated veterans and would-be first-timers - all have a legitimate path to those spots. Here are some possible candidates for the nominations to be unveiled on Jan 22.

Damien Chazelle, First Man

In his favour: Chazelle won the Best Director Oscar for his last film, La La Land (2016), and the man-on-the-moon drama First Man is even more of a technical feat. The directors' category respects a special-effects movie that was difficult to pull off and First Man has that feel.

Working against him: The movie has not lived up to its high expectations during this award season. Neither Chazelle nor his star, Ryan Gosling, scored nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) snubbed it entirely.

Ryan Coogler, Black Panther

In his favour: Coogler's arc as a director, moving from a Sundance prize-winner (Fruitvale Station, 2013) to a mid-budget studio hit (the first Creed, 2015) to one of the biggest movies of all time (Black Panther), is the stuff a classic career is made of.

Working against him: Black Panther seems certain to crack Oscar categories where no superhero movie has gone before, but it is possible this one will remain out of reach.

Though Black Panther earned a notable SAG nomination for its ensemble and a best-drama nod from the Golden Globes, Coogler did not score one for the latter's directing prize.

Peter Farrelly, Green Book

In his favour: This race-relations comedy about a black pianist and his white driver is a favourite for many in the academy. Its stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, are near-locks to be nominated, and Farrelly's path from co-directing Dumb And Dumber (1994) to helming an Oscar contender will charm voters.

Working against him: The Best Director category increasingly favours auteurs who can display technical showmanship, which is not a trait Green Book has in abundance.

Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

In his favour: Jenkins directed the 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, but the academy still has a few things it could make up to him. In addition to the infamous envelope snafu that briefly gave the top prize to La La Land, Jenkins lost the directing Oscar to Chazelle. As far as this year's race goes, Jenkins is one of the best-liked directors in this category, which can go a long way with voters.

Working against him: It is worrisome that the SAG snubbed If Beale Street Could Talk and may suggest that the film is breaking too late.

Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

In his favour: From his unlikely camera set-ups to the perverse deadpan tone, you can identify a Yorgos Lanthimos film in seconds. The maker of The Lobster (2015) and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017) has never made as accessible a film as The Favourite, but he did it without sacrificing that personal stamp.

Working against him: Might his avant-garde tendencies still prove a little too much for some members of the academy? Royal period pieces usually go a long way with this group, but Lanthimos pushed The Favourite into some untraditional places.

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

In his favour: Lee is one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, but he has never been nominated for the Best Director Oscar. The academy has the perfect opportunity to make it up to him for the critically acclaimed BlacKkKlansman.

Working against him: At the 1990 Oscars, presenter Kim Basinger used her screen time to criticise the academy for failing to nominate Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989) in other categories besides Original Screenplay.

The directors' branch is very different now, thanks to the academy's diversity push. But has Hollywood's old guard changed enough to embrace a provocative film-maker who has made what some critics call his best movie in years?


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Who will be on Oscars' Best Director shortlist?'. Print Edition | Subscribe