Oscar Director Race: Can Jane Campion Pull it off?

Fresh off the heels of Chloe Zhao sweeping the Oscars with Nomadland, Jane Campion enters the awards conversation with a prestige western The Power of the Dog. Character driven, methodically paced storytelling from Campion mirrors a similar tone to Zhao’s work, however, the two diverge with the central conflict. The Power of the Dog can be empowering, but most of the film is spent in a cesspool of toxic masculinity, reaffirming machismo. It’s a muddled and complex rendering of Thomas Savage’s novel, showing these characters as brutish and consciously flawed.

Even more is The Power of the Dog is the heavy favorite in adapted screenplay. Campion positions herself nicely in three categories: director, screenplay, and picture, showing real strength overall, enough strength to possibly push her across the finish line in multiple categories. Not to mention, the potential performance nominations from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee and the Johnny Greenwood score that will undoubtedly land a nomination. All these elements will give the film a chance to be a nomination leader and legitimate threat to win best picture. Is this the Netflix awards horse they’ve been waiting for?

The Sleeping Giants

Although the film does have strong prospects, Campion’s vision can be a bit alienating and might leave AMPAS voters divided. In terms of winning over the directors branch, Jane Campion was previously nominated in 1993 for The Piano, where she went on to lose at the Oscars but win for original screenplay. Directors and actors respect her alike, and if the film garners attention, she’ll be the one getting majority of the praise.

However, she’s not the only one with DGA credit, with Steven Spielberg and West Side Story set to release soon, and Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up with a raucous reception to a group of voters that love his work in general. Spielberg, on the one hand, has three DGA wins alone, 11 total nominations, and a lifetime achievement award. Anytime he’s in the race, he’s a big threat for a win at the DGA’s and West Side Story looks to be a major directorial achievement above writing or performance.

Searching throughout the rest of the field reveals three strong directors – Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza) and Denis Villeneuve (Dune). All three have a shot at winning both a DGA award and an Oscar and present a serious challenge to Campion’s twisted melodrama. All three also play a huge hand in the film’s grand vision and impressively bring to life periods of time, new solar systems and planets, and it shows these directors can execute any story. These three plus Campion show pieces of art that couldn’t have worked without the central voice guiding the picture along the way.

Looking at these films individually, Belfast presumably has a leg-up on the competition with BAFTA being in love with Brannagh, as a former winner in director (Henry V, 1993). Moving over, Paul Thomas Anderson has the most legitimate claim to overdue narrative in the field, with two previous nominations in both director and picture as a producer. Lastly, Denis Villeneuve enters with the headache inducing endeavor of adapting Dune and Denis doing an excellent job. Villeneuve does have precedent with the DGA, securing a nomination for Arrival in 2016. Again, the three names here are juggernauts with zero Oscars between them. It suddenly becomes the most stacked directors race in years.

The Others

In recent weeks, I removed Reinaldo Marcus Green for King Richard. It’s a well made film,  but doesn’t stray too far from the standard structure to differentiate itself from any of these other films. Guillermo del Toro and Nightmare Alley is still a massive question mark, as it could be an awards player or fall off that map entirely. Guillermo is always a threat and Nightmare Alley will likely get below the line nominations. Underestimate GDT at your own violation, he’s not currently in my five but that could change soon.

Two adored names with surrealist films bring up the rear as dark horses: Palme d’Or winning director Julia Ducournau with Titane and Joel Coen (not with Ethan) and his adaptation of Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth. The academy has been on the verge of letting more international directors into the discussion, but Titane might be too weird for AMPAS voters. Conversely, if Macbeth lands with Oscar voters, Joel Coen could make a meteoric rise, but the art house stylings could dissuade traditionalist Oscar voters.

Truly, it’s a season without a clear frontrunner and one might not form until critics and precursors start (this week) to land. The thought process is Jane Campion will likely have the nomination lead and it’s undoubtedly her best work since The Piano. But if you asked me to wager, I’d likely go with one of the higher profile directors. The current favorite on everyone’s favorite award site GoldDerby is Jane Campion, with Keneth Branagh in second. My current pick is Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza, as he has a groundswell of overdue narrative action headed his way and a more laid back film, according to reviews, that will land with voters over his normal alienating (albeit best version) self.

Award season starts this week

One thought on “Oscar Director Race: Can Jane Campion Pull it off?

  1. I really liked Power of the Dog. The strength of the movie for me was the character development. The main characters all appeared to be quite stereotypical, but turned out to be different than you expected them to be.


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