The Oscar Warrior: So Who Will Win the Best Directing Oscar?

Anyone who has been reading these semi-regular columns about this year’s Oscar race has probably already noticed the last-minute sea change of opinions where early winners like Zero Dark Thirty (Sony) and heavily-predicted winners like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (DreamWorks) have suddenly fallen away to allow Ben Affleck’s Argo (Warner Bros) to rise to the top.

While the Writers Guild (WGA) is still a couple of weeks away from announcing their awards, Argo has already swept all the previously-announced guild awards from the producers (PGA), actors (SAG) and last night’s Directors Guild (DGA) win. When you add those to the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award wins for Argo, it’s looking pretty good that support for the movie following Ben Affleck’s directing Oscar snub is pervasive enough to continue right through Oscar night.

But that still leaves the now Affleck-less directors’ category and the chance that Oscars for Best Picture and Director will go to different movies for the first time since Ang Lee won in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain even though Best Picture went to Crash.

As you probably know by now, support for a movie for Best Picture by the Academy usually comes with support for that movie’s director as well and the Academy very rarely splits on the two categories. That’s why a movie nominated for Best Picture that doesn’t have a corresponding director nomination isn’t taken very seriously as a frontrunner even though Argo is bucking that trend quite effortlessly.

By now, we already know Affleck’s snub was probably an oversight and that Argo has enough support to win Best Picture, but someone’s still going to have to win Best Director and that’s now an open field with five contenders who haven’t won a single award up until this point.

The contenders are:

Michael Haneke for the Foreign Language drama Amour.

Ang Lee for the difficult adaptation of Life of Pi

David O. Russell for the comedy Silver Linings Playbook

Steven Spielberg for the dramatic biopic Lincoln

and Benh Zeitlin for the Sundance favorite Beasts of the Southern Wild

In theory, any one of those five could win the Oscar since they had enough support to get nominated, although only two of them received corresponding DGA nominations: Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg.

Of the directors above, Russell and Spielberg may make some sense since they’ve directed their actors to the most Oscar nominations in the acting categories, and one could easily see the acting branch of the Academy, which makes up roughly 20%, back one of them over movies with only one acting nomination (which is the case with Amour and “Beasts”) or none (like Life of Pi.)

Spielberg certainly seems an obvious choice since he’s such a known commodity, but he’s also the one nominee who has won the Oscar for directing twice, and some Academy members may feel the Oscar should be given to someone new. This way of thinking might rule out Ang Lee as well, even though his movie Life of Pi is quite an impressive directorial feature for sure.

On the other hand, Haneke’s tough drama Amour has received overwhelming support for a foreign language drama, not only getting a nomination for Haneke’s direction but also his script, another for actor Emmanuelle Riva’s performance and an even rarer Best Picture nomination. We think Haneke’s movie will be the easy winner in the Foreign Language category and we can easily see Academy members who won’t have Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow or Tom Hooper to vote for, going for a veteran foreign filmmaker rather than someone brand new and unknown like Benh Zeitlin or David O. Russell, a director still trying to live down his reputation as being difficult.

Basically, there are a lot of different ways the Academy members could go while filling out their ballot and it’s really going to come down to whether they want to honor someone new who has never received an Oscar i.e. Russell, Zeitlin and Haneke or give further support to a respected filmmaker like Lee or Spielberg.

After a lot of thought on the matter, I’ve decided that the directing race comes down to Lee or Haneke. Although Lee has a lot of supporters within the Academy, Life of Pi has its detractors and his fairly recent win for Brokeback Mountain may convince many members both young and old to put support behind the 70-year-old Austrian filmmaker who has never even been nominated.

In that sense, this category could very well be one of those rare Oscar night surprises similar to Roman Polanski’s win 10 years ago as the underdog Haneke is called to the podium for a second time after Amour wins the Foreign Language Oscar. Then again, since Life of Pi was my favorite movie of 2012, I’d be equally thrilled if Ang Lee wins his second Oscar even if Life of Pi doesn’t win Best Picture.

Either way, this is likely to be one of the most exciting races since we haven’t gotten 5,000 clues to who might win leading up to Oscar night.

(All photos from WENN.Com; Lee & Spielberg – APEGA, Russell – FayesVision)

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