Best Director: 2011 Oscar Odds

LW’s Oscar prognosticator, Rex Okpodu, and I chat every week about the state of the current Academy Awards races. (One day we’ll get around to making these conversations into podcasts.) The other day, we talked about the Best Director race. Rex summarized our thoughts:

It is often said that the director is the star of the best picture race. Previously, this category was easier to predict since majority of the directors of the Best Picture contenders often corresponded to the directing category. However, the expansion of the Best Picture category means the directing race is harder to predict as their contenders remain restricted to five. Oscar predictors this year are evenly split between Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Steven Spielberg (War Horse) in the Best Director category. Spielberg has better odds than Payne because of greater support among members of other Guilds from other technical film categories. Oscar history was made in 1993, when Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park shared ten Oscars between them at the 66th Academy Awards. This might be repeated this year if Tintin and War Horse prove box office as well as critical hits.

Both Payne and Spielberg are former Oscar champions. Payne won for his screenplay of Sideways (2004) and was also nominated for his direction in the same year. Spielberg won for directing Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Another two-time directing champ, Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) – may not have the backing of other Guilds but he is a close second behind Spielberg for his helming J. Edgar, scheduled for release in early November. If either Spielberg or Eastwood were to win again, he would be the only modern-day director to have three Oscars. Another wild card in this race is a director whose last three films have earned him nominations in this category, Stephen Daldry. Nominated for directing Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2003) and The Reader (2008), Daldry is expected to be mentioned for his direction of the hard-to-remember titled 9/11 film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Most top-flight directors in the modern era have an Oscar each, except Milos Foreman and Oliver Stone. The former won two, for directing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984). Oliver Stone’s two directing wins were for Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of july (1989). Contrary to what most people think, Francis Ford Coppola’s only directing Oscar win was for 1974’s The Godfather Part Two. He famously lost the directing category two years previously to Bob Fosse’s Cabaret despite the first Godfather winning Best Picture.

During Hollywood’s golden age, John Ford was Oscar’s best director champion with four wins in this category: The Informer (1935),The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952) while William Wyler and Frank Capra each won three. The former won for Mrs Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (19460 and directing one of Oscar’s all time best picture winners, Ben Hur (1959). Frank Capra won his three Oscars for directing It Happened One Night (1934), Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can’t Take It With You (1938).

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