With the holidays behind us and critics groups across the country handing out their awards to what they deem to be “the best movies of the year,” awards season is officially in full swing. Though we still have some time before the actual Oscars ceremony – which will take place on March 27, 2022 – nominations are set to be announced on February 8, a date which is fast approaching.
Most often, races in “above-the-line” categories are of most interest, with the lion’s share of attention going to the picture, acting, directing, and writing awards. At the moment, the Best Director race in particular has many curious, with what’s looking to be a “clash of the titans” between the likes of Jane Campion, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, and many others. Using GoldDerby as a resource – an awards prediction site that aggregates the opinions of pundits and everyday users to estimate the odds that a contender will be nominated in a specific category at the Oscars or other various ceremonies – the top ten likeliest directors to receive an Oscar nomination this year have been ranked and revealed.
10 Sian Heder – CODA
CODA has proved to be the “little indie that could” ever since its successful premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it became the first film in the festival’s history to take all three top prizes in the U.S. Dramatic category – the Grand Jury Prize, the Directing Award, and the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast.
Since then, it was selected by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten movies of the year, and it received two nominations from the Golden Globes, four from the Critics Choice Awards, and nine from the Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards – where director Sian Heder herself was also recognized. If CODA continues to assert itself as a major player in this year’s awards race, it would not be a shock to see its already lauded director acknowledged as well, with much praise going to her work with deaf actors.
9 Joel Coen – The Tragedy Of Macbeth
Often known for directing dark comedies like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and A Serious Man (with the occasional darker drama like No Country for Old Men), Joel Coen shocked many when it was announced that he would be helming a new film adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth – and doing so without his brother and writing/directing partner, Ethan. However, the results were no less exemplary than what we’ve come to expect from Coen.
Selected by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top ten movies of the year, The Tragedy of Macbeth has had somewhat middling success elsewhere (only earning a Best Actor nomination for Denzel Washington at the Golden Globes and just Best Actor and Best Cinematography at Critics Choice), but given that Macbeth remains one of the most acclaimed movies of the year (with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic) and that Coen is a three-time directing nominee at the Oscars and former winner, he can’t be counted out for his subversive and stylish work here.
8 Julia Ducournau – Titane
Titane shocked the world when it took home the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, making director Julia Ducournau the second female director in the festival’s history to win the award after Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano, and the first to not win alongside another director, as Campion did with Farewell My Concubine‘s Chen Kaige. Such an achievement made her a contender to keep one’s eye on this awards season as, despite the provocative body horror film’s divisiveness, it clearly had its fair share of fans.
The film experienced a brief bump in its Oscar campaign after it was selected as the French entry for the Best International Feature Film but did not make the shortlist, yet that doesn’t mean Ducournau herself is out of the running completely for a Best Director nomination, as the directors branch is known to make unconventional picks from time to time, and its international makeup means their more willing to look beyond American auteurs.
7 Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car
Japanese drama Drive My Car has become a bit of an unexpected success on the critics circuit, winning Best Picture with both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Likewise, after winning the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival, writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has had a ravishing run in the Best Director race as well, scooping up nominations (and wins) left and right.
Every year, the Academy’s directors branch typically nominates at least one international nominee, reflecting the diverse makeup of the branch’s voters. In recent years, Paweł Pawlikowski, Bong Joon-ho, and Thomas Vinterberg have benefitted from the branch’s interest in international features. With the acclaim and attention he’s already received, Hamaguchi has positioned himself as a strong contender to nab that spot in this year’s line-up, and he’s one to certainly watch out for.
6 Guillermo Del Toro – Nightmare Alley
Nightmare Alley may not have lit the box office on fire, but critics are still honoring writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s dark noir drama, with the feature receiving mentions from both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the ten best films of the year. Additionally, it’s earned eight nominations from the Critics Choice Awards and two from the Hollywood Critics Association – with Del Toro recognized by each voting body.
Guillermo del Toro is certainly no stranger to awards success – having first been honored in 2006 for Pan’s Labyrinth and winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water a decade later – so it’s safe to say he’s a name on voters’ minds this season. Nightmare Alley isn’t quite as much of a major contender as a few other pictures on this list, but it’s foolish to ever fully count out a former nominee.
5 Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Licorice Pizza instantly established itself as a firm favorite in this year’s awards race following its November premiere, and little has changed that love in the month since. After receiving four nominations at the Golden Globes, eight at the Critics Choice Awards (including one for Anderson), one from the Hollywood Critics Association, and sweeping the top prizes at the National Board of Review (Best Film and Best Director), it’s clear that the coming-of-age comedy is a top contender.
Anderson has been an Academy fave for awhile now – earning four Oscar nominations for writing, two for directing, and two for producing – but many are looking to Licorice Pizza to perhaps be his best chance at a win in quite some time. Though his chances may be stronger in the Original Screenplay category, he still seems solid to pick up his third directing nod this year, especially as such a directors branch darling.
4 Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
West Side Story burst onto the scene at the end of November to establish itself as a potential Oscar frontrunner in a number of categories – from Best Supporting Actress for breakout star Ariana DeBose to Best Cinematography for former two-time winner Janusz Kamiński – and its already performed quite well at the precursors, having been cited as one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute and receiving four nominations from the Hollywood Critics Association, four from the Golden Globes, and eleven from the Critics Choice Awards – with director Steven Spielberg recognized by the latter three voting bodies.
As such, it seems likely that Spielberg is set to earn his eighth Best Director nomination – and perhaps his third win, as well. Formerly prevailing for 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg truly stretches himself here by helming his first movie musical, and by all accounts, he seems to have knocked it out of the park. With West Side Story poised to pick up upwards of 10 nominations on Oscar nomination morning, it’s almost unfathomable that Spielberg isn’t included in that recognition.
3 Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Since it won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Belfast has been seen as the film to beat in the Best Picture race, and since its racking up noms with nearly every major awards body, it continues to show its strength. Like many other films on this list, it was named one of the top ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review and it received a special mention from the American Film Institute, and, in addition, it’s picked up nine nominations from the Hollywood Critics Association, eleven from the Critics Choice Awards, and seven from the Golden Globes, with director Kenneth Branagh recognized by all three voting bodies.
Given that the film is inspired by Branagh’s childhood, it makes sense that he’s been the recipient of most praise so far, contending this year in both the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories. While he does face some tough competition for a win here given the stature of the directing stars he’s up against, he’s a former nominee (for 1989’s Henry V) and he at the very least seems fairly secure for a nomination.
2 Denis Villeneuve – Dune
Dune is, by many accounts, “the cinematic event of the year,” and awards bodies have clearly felt the same as cinephiles, as it’s sweeping up nominations from almost every major precursor. Aside from being a critical darling, it’s earned ten nominations from the Hollywood Critics Association, three from the Golden Globe Awards, and ten from the Critics Choice Awards (with writer-director Denis Villeneuve receiving recognition), in addition to being called one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute.
Much acclaim is afforded to Villeneuve, who’s shepherded this project since the beginning and whose singular artistic style is essential for the epic being as effective as it ultimately is. Following in the footsteps of blockbuster auteurs turned Best Director nominees like James Cameron (Avatar) and George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Villeneuve’s place in this race seems fairly secure at this point.
1 Jane Campion – The Power Of The Dog
Like almost many of the other top contenders for Best Picture, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog was named one of the top ten best films of the year by the American Film Institute, and it – and Campion – have received recognition by the Hollywood Critics Association (with six nominations), the Golden Globe Awards (with seven nominations), and the Critics Choice awards (with ten nominations).
However, in addition to all of these nods, Power is also pulling off an almost unprecedented sweep with the critics awards, with Campion far outpacing any other Best Director contender this year and her film itself emerging as a frontrunner for the top prize. Thanks to Power‘s overall quality and the groundswell of support for Campion coming back to film after a 12-year absence, she’s found her way to the front of the pack in this yea’s Best Director race.
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