Back in the years where there were five Best Picture nominees, there was almost always a significant amount of overlap between the Picture nominees and the Director nominees; while it was common for one of the Picture nominees to not have a Director nomination and vice versa, usually you could rely on those awards sharing four out of the five nominations. And that overlap is why, ever since the Academy increased the number of its Picture nominees, I’ve always internally thought of the Director nominees as the “actual” Picture nominees, and the other films are the also-rans. It doesn’t always hold – Argo won Picture without a Director nomination, and this year Three Billboards seems to have a real chance to win despite Martin McDonagh not having been recognised – but for the most part it holds.
Which is why I find the Director nominees so fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of attention focused on the nature of the Director nominees – two first-time directors in Gerwig and Peele and two long-time acclaimed directors who have never before been nominated in Del Toro and Nolan, as well as PT Anderson who is one of our great artists and who has never won. But what I found exciting was the level of involvement these filmmakers had with the film. Each of those films was written by their directors – The Shape of Water was co-written by Del Toro, while the other four films’ directors have sole writing credits. (You can also add Three Billboards in here as well – while the film doesn’t have a Director nomination, Martin McDonagh was the screenwriter on that Picture nominee.) In other words, none of these films are works for hire; these are all films that are intensely personal and shaped and moulded and made by their director into a unique expression of the person they are. Which is not to criticise directors like Spielberg or Guadagnino or Wright, who found scripts that spoke to them and worked hard to make those films theirs. But these five films particular feel specific and intimate and real.
[Comments on Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, Get Out, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name after the jump]