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Who's Joining Jenkins & Chazelle in the Best Director Shortlist? 

While working on Oscar chart updates, Best Director suddenly felt quite loose and ripe for shifting favor. While the Directors Guild Nominations will surely clarify that race to an extent those aren't until January 12th, a week after Oscar nomination voting begins. Right now though the coveted nominations for Best Director look fairly up in the air beyond the two thirtysomething wonder boys who have been showered with the most honors already: Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). 

La La Land is only Chazelle's third feature (though many would mistake it for his second) and Moonlight is only Jenkins second (though many would mistake it for his first) so they're relative newbies. Oscar, however, is an octogenarian institution and they aren't always comfortable handing everything over the reigns to fresh blood. In fact the Best Director's race isn't usually that amenable to multiple fresh faces. You have to go back to 2009 to find an Oscar year with two directors nominated that were this green in their filmmaking careers (Jason Reitman's Up in the Air was his third feature and Precious was Lee Daniel's second) and they definitely weren't the frontrunners. For a long this year we were predicting a shortlist of all first-time nominees in the directing category but that hasn't happened since 1999. It's not a common occurrence.

Oscar's love of long-since proven directors suggests good news for Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Eastwood (Sully) or Scorsese (Silence) but the only one of those films with any noticeable precursor heat is Hacksaw Ridge and are they really going to welcome Gibson back in the year of angry white men upsetting the world with their prejudices? 

Kenneth Lonergan and Denis Villeneuve both have heat with Best Picture probables Manchester by the Sea and Arrival respectively but performance pictures like Manchester can sometimes suddenly be absent when the director's nominations are read out and critically acclaimed sci-fi pictures can also stumble come nomination morning due to genre biases. They might be in but they might not.  In a year when the buzz hasn't totally settled on a handful of auteurs, Oscar can sometimes surprise with a left field foreign or indie choice but even that seems hard to parse this year since so many different pictures have small passionate devotees but not huge mouthy legions of them. 

Are we overthinking this? Check out the New Best Director and Best Picture chart and report back. 

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Reader Comments (29)

I've been entertaining a theory that Jackie is going to miss in Best Picture but Pablo Larrain still gets in as a lone director along the lines of Bennett Miller getting in for Foxcatcher.

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

Just wait until the award organisations who do *nominations* start filing in. All we have now are the Golden Globes, I think, in terms of that? It seems like the orgs that do nominations wait a bit and then the same five or six names start appearing.

The Mel Gibson thing is just so odd. That movie is weeeiiird and technically not even that strong.

I do think, however, that Garth Davies might make it in in the way that Mortem Tyldum did, you know?

December 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Saw Manchester By The Sea tonight. Wonderful and restrained and the melodrama was held nicely in check despite the heartbreaking circumstances. I think Kenneth Lonergan's sure-handed direction elicited the wonderful performances from Affleck, Williams and Hedges. It would be a pity if his name is left out among the five best directors of the year.

Then maybe a from-the-outside curveball like Park Chan-wook for The Handmaiden would be a pleasant surprise.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

I think it's all gonna come down to the reception for Silence. But I have such doubts.

At the moment: Chazelle, Jenkins, Lonergan, Larrain, Villeneuve. #wishfulthinking

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

As long as Chazelle and Jenkins are locks, I'm honestly good. I just love first-time nominees in this category! The only other person I'm vaguely rooting for would be Park Chan-Wook and yeah, not happening.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

"For a long this year we were predicting a shortlist of all first-time nominees in the directing category but that hasn't happened since 1999. It's not a common occurrence."

Actually it didn't happen in 1999 either, as Lasse Hallstrom became a two-time nominee that year.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPat

Nathaniel, is that possible Garth Davis get nominated for Lion?

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

While Mel Gibson has gotten some precureser love and will possibly get a DGA nomination I really find it highly unlicky the director's branch will nominate him. If the entire academy was voting he'd easily get in but I don't see Gibson being forgiven for past mistakes by the directors branch. The directors always go for riskerer choices and Gibson really is not one.

Jenkins and Chazelle are locks and I'd love a Jenkins win but for some reason the first african american director winner narrative is not being pushed for Jenkins. Lonergan and Villeneuve seem likely to. For the final spot I could easily see Scorsese getting in on name reconition because while the academy might not fully embrace the feature directors are sure to respect Scorsese. Other then him I could see a surprise Foxcatcher type nomination for Pablo.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

The Director's branch often goes high brow. Will they really nominate Mel Gibson? His personal issues aside he's the exactly the type of filmmaker that the branch often embraces I don't think.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterguest

Since the first year of the Oscars, the only years in which all of the nominated directors were first-time directing nominees were, by my count, 1928/29, 1948, 1995 and 1997. So it's unlikely - but of course it could happen.

At this point, I think the five most likely nominees are Villeneuve, Chazelle, Lonergan, Jenkins and Scorsese. But the directors' branch has supplied some of nomination morning's biggest surprises of recent years (Zeitlin; Payne; Miller; Abrahamson), so...

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Yeah, the Directors Branch has given us some delightfully surprising nominees this season, which is why I'm not entirely rooting out someone like Pablo Larrain yet (that surprise Abrahamson nod last year makes me think the Directors Branch are not averse to more risky, female-centric movies, which could help Larrain). I agree that Chazelle and Jenkins seem like locks, with Lonergan closely behind. I just can't picture Gibson right now (I'm in denial), and I don't remotely see Hacksaw Ridge being a strong all-around Oscar contender for any category. The Academy did snub Eastwood two years ago with a film they obviously loved (and he was DGA-nommed), so Gibson may go a similar way.

I think the likely 5 as of now are Chazelle/Jenkins//Lonergan/Villeneuve/Scorsese in that order with outside shots for Pablo Larrain and David Mackenzie.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I think this is the kind of year in which we can see a lone director nomination. The only time it happened after the expansion of best picture was with Bennett Miller and Foxcatcher. Cold cold semi biopic by a respected director... Jackie?

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I think it'll be Jenkins/Chazelle/Villeneuve/Scorcese/Lonergan. A great line up too. Larrain is great and deserves it as well but Jackie is the official Carol of the year. I think the academy will embrace Arrival more than most people expect and will also really embrace Silence which is very close to becoming a hot topic of conversation. I expect the winner to be Damien Chazelle.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I got the feeling either Verhoeven or Almodovar gets the lone director nom, if there's any. Pedro is campaigning, it seems, and the absence of "Elle" at the shortlist (as "Julieta") may induce some to get him a nom in this one.

I have...

1. Jenkins
2. Chazelle
3. Gibson
4. Lonnergan
5. Marty/Pedro/Paul Verhoeven/Villeneuve/some other.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso


1. Moonlight
2. La La Land
3. Manchester by the Sea
4. Arrival
5. Hell or High Water
6. Hacksaw Ridge (You're a bit too bullish on Lion. That Globe nod is equally likely to be it's last gasp, not it's second wind.)
7. Fences
8. Zootopia (Yes, it's only top 10 list is AFI, but AFI is the most consistently, overall, tasteful critic group top 10, especially if you strictly go on their (full) off-consensus choices track record. And considering that Sully, Lion, Jackie, 20th Century Women and Loving have fallen apart to varying degrees? AFI's "off consensus" choice this year could start looking a whole lot sweeter, and also being an implied concession to the mainstream doesn't hurt.)
9. Silence
10. Hidden Figures (SAG Ensemble will HELP, but NBR is kind of crazy and I'm not sure this has a lot of appeal outside of the actors branch, especially since it doesn't have time to build.)
11. Lion (No NBR. No AFI. No SAG Ensemble. The CCA's are the most milquetoast outsider group. The Globes (an insider group) COULD keep it in, but it could also be a last gasp.)
Outside of those 11? I don't think anything has a chance.



December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

You don't mention Denzel Washington at all, but I actually think he has an outside shot at best director.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCash

I really think people are underestimating David McKenzie for Hell or High Water. Remember last year when everyone was in love with Room as a Best Picture nominee but NOBODY predicted the Abrahamson Best Director nod? This seems along the same lines. Everyone is pencilling in HoHW as a top five BP nominee, but no one is mentioning McKenzie.

You heard it here first.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBen

I can't believe the Director's Branch will nominate Gibson. I just can't. They're one of the better branches in that they haven't made any choice in recent years that is completely ridiculous - they often offer a decent surprise or two (Zeitlin, Haneke, and for me, Miller). The Imitation Game received eight nominations, so the Morton Tyldem nom wasn't *that* unexpected. If Hacksaw Ridge receives that many nominations, it will be one of the nomination leaders on nomination morning, and that seems inconceivable.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Ben, thank you, I have been saying the same thing about Mackenzie being the Abrahamson of this year. We could be wrong since nobody else is mentioning him but for that reason I hope we're right!

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergabriel

And let's be clear: Sully has suddenly, and faux-shockingly, fallen apart so completely (only Jackie has fallen apart more on a Best Picture level) that even putting it 10th seems mighty generous. The ONLY thing worth honouring there was Hanks, and since neither Globe nor SAG went for's out.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Why am I doubting the support for Arrival? (I love the film). I just don't feel the support for it especially in director. I don't know why. Hmm..

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

It's gotta be one of the wonder boys for the win.Does this mean either will break William Friedkin's record for being the youngest Oscar-winning director at 32?

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

brookesboy: He was 35, not 32. Chazelle, who WILL be 32 at the time of the ceremony, would. Jenkins, who turned 37 last month, wouldn't.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Thanks, Volvagia, I got erroneous info from a lazy website--thanks for the correx! As a fan, I kinda want Friedkin's record to stand another 50 years, but I won't begrudge Damien if it comes to pass.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

brooksboy: I hate to say it, but Friedkin's achievement has already been broken, by Sam Mendes.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Edward, by four weeks. That hurts.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I'm not upset that Hollywood is warming up to Mel again - I judge the art, not the artist -
I'm upset they're warming up to Mel with Hacksaw Ridge, a piss-poor movie that is
hammy, corny, cheesy and clichéd as fuck.
With some really bad acting from Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer,
and ugly, digital cinematography.

I really hope that Hacksaw Ridge will be ignored as much as possible.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Ulrich: So, I should prepare for probably needing to see this year's equivalent to The Revenant? Good.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

In nearly every conversation I've had about Moonlight, someone brings up that other coming of age drama that packs such an emotional punch, Boyz n the Hood. How ironic and sweet it would be for Jenkins to snag both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay literally 25 years after John Singleton was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay!

December 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

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