People sometimes confuse directors and producers or are unsure of which the important one is. Producers add input and help raise money, but the person running the whole show — telling the actors how to act, choosing how to interpret the script, deciding what the final product will be — is the director.
Usually, because of how pivotal directors are to their final products, the people who win the Oscar for Best Director also have their respective films chosen for Best Picture – last year’s victory for Argo despite Ben Affleck’s snub for Best Director being a rare exception. As such, if you want to know who’s on track to win Best Picture, keep your eyes focused on the five nominees in the race for Best Director.
ALFONSO CUARÓN (Gravity)
Much like James Cameron did with Avatar, Cuarón had to invent new technology just to bring his newest film to the screen, but the lengthy production time led to an incredibly solid and polished product. Gravity was the movie that, more than any other last year, was referred to as “an experience.” Cuarón’s voice and vision are entirely to thank for the film’s immersive feel and unforgettable journey.
STEVE McQUEEN (12 Years a Slave)
Movies about slavery often capture the textbook history but fail to convey the true horrors of it on a deeper level, because the overall cruelty, terror, and inhumanity of the subject is nearly impossible to grasp. McQueen’s genius in adapting the memoirs of the abducted Northup Solomon was in focusing not on a large number of people (like other movies about slavery before it did) but on a single person, taking you as an audience member right along on the journey with him.
ALEXANDER PAYNE (Nebraska)
One of the shrewdest directorial choices of the year belonged to Payne, who felt that the subtle comedy and quiet drama of Nebraska’s screenplay would look best in black-and-white. (Giving Will Forte the chance to prove his dramatic talent and leading-man chops was a close second.) Nebraska is the first of Payne’s movies that he didn’t write himself, but it’s his most accomplished work as a director.
DAVID O. RUSSELL (American Hustle)
Russell’s idiosyncratic techniques in filming Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook are well documented, but his unique style has turned him into one of the most sought-after directors for actors to work with. American Hustle is his most mature effort yet, capturing the ‘70s so completely and fully that the movie felt like it had been filmed four decades ago.
MARTIN SCORSESE (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Scorsese is no stranger to Oscar nominations, having been up for ten Oscars prior to 2014 (and having won Best Director for The Departed). When a director receives as many nods as Scorsese has, it’s easy to dismiss further nominations as presuming and sentimental. Watching The Wolf of Wall Street, though, it’s hard to deny his ever-evolving talent and his artful ability to surprise.