Oscar Experts Typing: Who will round out the Best Director slate?

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Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we discuss who might join the consensus top three in Best Director.

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! It’s Friday and we’ve reached the end of a banner week for Charles Melton — winner of supporting actor honors at the Gotham Awards and New York Film Critics Circle. But we’re not here to type about the ascendent “Riverdale” star and our favorite Reggie. Instead, it’s back to the Best Director race. The New York critics fired the starting gun on Thursday with their awards and, lo and behold, the Best Director frontrunner Christopher Nolan came away with the group’s prize. That was sort of seen as a surprise by some online — but I can only assume those who found the Nolan pick to be an eye-opener didn’t read the rapturous reviews of “Oppenheimer” from New York Film Critics Circle members. The New York critics don’t release their voting results online, but we can probably make a few educated guesses about other contenders. “Killers of the Flower Moon” won Best Film from the group, so Martin Scorsese will make his annual stop at the NYFCC dinner (to be fair, Scorsese’s films have only won top honors twice before). But it’s safe to say Marty was a likely alternate to Nolan, as too was “May December” filmmaker Todd Haynes. The Netflix drama won two awards, including Best Screenplay for Samy Burch. Nolan and Scorsese are top picks in our Oscar odds, and I assume they’ll stay in those positions possibly through the Oscars ceremony on March 10. My final three spots remain largely mainstream: I’ve got Yorgos Lanthimos for “Poor Things” (a future Los Angeles Film Critics Association winner?), Alexander Payne for “The Holdovers,” and Greta Gerwig for “Barbie.” Alongside “Oppenheimer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” those films represent, to me, the top five in the Best Picture field. But there is always room for alternatives. In my head, I’ve got Jonathan Glazer in sixth place for “The Zone of Interest,” but I think he needs to win some of these critics’ prizes to be taken seriously. Another person I have my eye on is Cord Jefferson for “American Fiction,” who has been pounding the pavement since Toronto and is a thoughtful and engaging conversationalist (full disclosure: of course, I interviewed Jefferson this week so I’m now #biased). Then there’s Bradley Cooper for “Maestro,” and while his campaign has largely focused on the performance so far, I can’t help but feel like he might have some hidden support within the directors’ branch after being snubbed in 2019. How are you reading this race, Joyce, and do you think anyone can stop Nolan from finally winning his first Oscar?

joyceeng: Wow, when did you join us over here in the Payne Posse? I haven’t touched my lineup in months and won’t until there are more tea leaves, so I still have Nolan, Scorsese, Lanthimos, Payne and Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.” The Palme d’Or winner also had a good week, topping the Gothams with two wins for Best International Feature and Best Screenplay (which just means it had the consensus of 10 people), and claiming Best Foreign Language Film at NYFCC. Can’t wait to watch it pick up international film prizes throughout the season and not have a chance at the Oscar because, France. It feels like Triet and Glazer are angling for the “Euro spot” and I am prepared to replace her with him at any point, especially if “The Zone of Interest” performs better at next week’s European Film Awards. I would love to include Gerwig, but I feel like the DGA five will be her, Nolan, Scorsese, Lanthimos and Payne, and I don’t know if the DGA and Oscar quintets will match for the first time in 14 years. Every time it seems like they will, they don’t. And obviously there have been years in which you can clock the impending DGA snubbee (no offense to Joseph Kosinski). Nolan’s NYFCC victory wasn’t surprising at all and there will be more directing accolades in his future, which will be a tough pill for Oppenhaters to swallow. There’s just a lot of love for “Oppenheimer” and I feel like a vote for Nolan in Best Director would be out of passion, not obligation. I still maintain that if he wins the Oscar, I only see a split with Best Picture if a smaller film like “The Holdovers” prevails. Jefferson would be cool, but “American Fiction” would need to really pop. He’ll also give Celine Song a run for her money for directorial debut awards. Song was in the top five in the odds way back when “Past Lives” was one of the few top contenders released, but she’s now in ninth. I think she and Jefferson will get their individual recognition in the screenplay categories. Cooper is in eighth in the odds, which I feel is accurate, especially with “Maestro” yet to drop on Netflix. I’m sure some people feel bad he was snubbed for “A Star Is Born,” but I doubt a branch as idiosyncratic as the directing one would vote for him out of pity. And even if they did, would they put him at No. 1? Besides, we know he doesn’t care about winning.

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Christopher Rosen: My sense with Triet is that she’s going to get that screenplay nomination before her directing nomination. The writing category has more room and “Anatomy of a Fall” feels firmly entrenched among that potential group of nominees. So I feel like Glazer is the option, but I’m just… not sure there’s as much passion about that movie as we maybe thought? Which doesn’t mean he can’t get in there, but I feel like Gerwig would have the edge over him because people love her and the movie. Of course, everything I wrote about Triet would qualify toward Gerwig and, to be honest, Song, since all three might win up with screenwriting nominations without directing noms. (A similar fate could befall Jefferson and Cooper.) We’ve had a lot of people asking us (one person) about Blitz Bazawule for “The Color Purple,” and neither of us think that is likely to materialize. But is it possible he sneaks in at the Golden Globes in 10 days and then sparks a run on predictions? Or should I hold my long-shot Globes hopes out for Paul King, who directed my favorite big studio December release, “Wonka”?

joyceeng: Well, the writing categories have no bearing on Best Director since they’re different branches. Like you said, “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Barbie,” “Past Lives” and “The Zone of Interest” could all make screenplay and miss director. It’s not like the branches confer on how to spread the wealth, and no one would dispute that “Anatomy” has a greater chance of snagging a screenplay nom than a directing one at this point, but its safe status in another category doesn’t mean Glazer has the edge. Of course, Triet and Glazer could both get in and this whole convo is irrelevant. There’s been a Cannes selection in the Best Director lineup the past five years, so I would bank on one of them occupying a spot. It’s just hard right now to figure out which one it’ll be and the field is tough. I don’t think either musical helmer will make it, unfortunately, but “Wonka” is a lotta fun and I’m currently trying to get it into my Globe predictions. It’s difficult for musicals in general and I feel like Steven Spielberg wouldn’t have gotten in for “West Side Story” if he weren’t Steven Spielberg. As I’ve said, I think “The Color Purple” will do well at the box office, so I wouldn’t count out Bazawule, but I suspect — and I think you’d agree — most of the affection for the film will be performance-driven.

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Is there room for Charles Melton and Dominic Sessa in Best Supporting Actor?

Christopher Rosen: You always like to type and say that but I have never once believed members vote in a vacuum, so it is something everyone has in the backs of their minds even if they don’t actually pick nominees for the other categories. We’ll never agree on that take, however, so moving on! Glazer feels like someone the branch would want to embrace based on its past history, but “Anatomy of a Fall” is the real consensus movie of those two Cannes faves. That’s why it won the Palme d’Or and also probably why it managed those Gotham Awards and NYFCC wins. So, I don’t know — and maybe both get in and Gerwig and Payne wind up on the outside. (Nolan, Scorsese, and Lanthimos feel like locks to me, regardless of what happens with the rest of the category.) Let’s end here with a name mentioned earlier: Haynes. Everyone loves Todd Haynes! But never enough, it seems, to give him a Best Director nomination. But “May December” feels a bit different, and if I can compare its trajectory to something else, I keep thinking of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” That movie was surprisingly strong for Netflix last season because, as it turned out, everyone just really loved it more than their other releases. The streamer’s slate is much stronger in ’23, but I feel like one of the things I keep reading and hearing about “May December” is that it’s secretly the best Netflix movie this year. So! Would that passion help Haynes get in, even though it didn’t help Edward Berger this year make the Best Director lineup? I’m not not above putting Haynes in as a surprise Globe nominee. Let me know how cracked this is as we head into the weekend.

joyceeng: Listen, you don’t need to tell me it’s not a vacuum, but the directors have shown time and time again they DGAF what’s going on in other categories or what precursors have done. We do agree that people ultimately vote for what they like, and in the nom phase, if you like two things, you can vote for both things! As for “May December,” my fave Netflix film of the year, it’s shaping up to carry on the Haynes Oscar tradition of producing nominations for his actors but not for him (save for his screenplay nom for “Far From Heaven,” his lone Oscar citation to date). However, it’s arguably his most accessible film and now that it’s on Netflix, I can see it blowing up. At the moment, I would rank his chances behind that of Burch, Melton and Julianne Moore, but I’m very much here for two Todds getting their first Best Director nominations back to back.

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