Fikri’s Take: One of the toughest of cookies, in my opinion, for this year’s Oscar Watch. I like all of the films made here very much, and I have a high amount of respect for each and every director lined up here. No matter what happens, though, it must be borne in mind that no director is an island. Every director lives and dies by each crew member he has at his disposal; he may be the captain of the ship, but he may not necessarily survive without his shipmates.
Moving on from the shipping metaphor, James Cameron makes the same move from ‘Titanic’ to ‘Avatar’ so many years on later. It’s about bloody time, too, I hasten to add. Out of all the directors on the list here, I don’t think any one of them is more forceful, more powerful, more crazy than James Cameron. I say that because he may well be one of the dying breed of screaming, hating, fighting directors that many stereotypes make out to be. A lot of director’s I come across today has a gentler style (and it is a fine style too, I might add), but once in a while, perhaps a man who drives a whole vision, whole worlds forward, is needed. A mark of a good director is the ability to delegate to the right people; an even better mark of an even better director, perhaps, is the ability to force his vision. How many other directors can claim the breadth of skill, expertise and experience that James Cameron has not just sitting in the director’s chair, not just to write the script, but also to grab the camera and run with it? To draw out his ideas, his own worlds, and animate and visualise them as well as he can? He needed to draw upon all of that skill for Avatar, because the end product is a fine product to be watched and enjoyed. I, however, enjoyed seeing the credits roll up by the end. “My God,” I had thought to myself, “look at the amount of people, the human hours who worked at this thing.” Of course, other films can claim a similar credit, but James Cameron, I believe, directed the balls off ‘Avatar’.
That is not to say that having a pair is a requirement for film directing. I suspect Kathryn Bigelow, on the set, got down and dirty with the rest of the cast and crew members. She shot everything on a smaller scale compared to the rest of the films. Smaller crew, smaller equipments, smaller pressures…maybe? I doubt whether the pressure she had on her was any less. Consider the fact that this is not an easy script to sell. No stars attached, not a popular enough subject to catch on with viewers (the Iraqi war), to actually go to the Middle East and shoot there…but all this she overcame. The challenges were different, but they were no less real. She coaxed strong performances from everybody, selected the best of 200 hours of footage, and piece together (with some help no doubt), a film that has thrill stamped on every corner of the page. In other words, she directed the balls of the film.
Moving from a set of formerly-married balls to another, Jason Reitman’s ‘Up in the Air’ seems like a movie that was made with relatively little fuss. Set in mainland America, shot in and around airports, with (I suspect) a relatively manageable crew and budget…in stark contrast to both of the movies above, in fact. With that in mind, it seems as if he had everything made for him. The book already deals with a compelling enough subject, while he had capable actors backing up the main star of the show that is Mr. Clooney. Throw in a couple of lines, and you’d think he’d be done, right? Wrong. For, while it seems like ‘Up in the Air’ slipped in under the radar comfortably to become a real hit with me, one extra factor that you have to consider was that this movie also bordered on the documentary side of things. There were bits of interviews with real people, people who had been laid off, and to be able to coax out real emotions about something that people may not necessarily want to talk about is no mean feat. In fact, it is something of a gift, and it is a gift that does not show itself through enough, I think. That said, it’s difficult to actually decide how well-directed a movie is, to be honest, and that problem lays itself bare here: how much of that was real life? How much of that was planned? To weave the two together almost seamlessly is a work of art, however brief these moments may be. The movie is also very, very funny in many parts. Comedy is difficult to do, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Comedy, however, is very far away from what Lee Daniels had in mind for ‘Precious’. His is an intention not to sugarcoat, but to expose, to rip at the wound, and to take as tough a subject matter as possible, and stick it on the screen. If I didn’t know better, I might think that the director himself has a mean streak. Handling such sensitive subjects like rape, incest, emotional and physical abuse, all while juggling the social statements you may or may not want to make, all of this takes a lot of courage. I wrote in another post that it’s easy to be a hero, but not as easy to be sinister and bad. In this context, it’s easy to direct a potential crowd-pleaser, but not so easy to make them look at abuse the way you want to show it. Not that easy to coax all that rage, anger, emotions and pity out of the actors and actresses either, and that should be appreciated.
But what if yours is a reputation as both a crowd pleaser and a maverick? What if you have a reputation, a brand that needed to be protected? In this case, Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’ showcased his ability to say, “Screw it,” and to do things his own way. With this film, we see not just this film, but also the culmination of all the years of those films put together. I see more than just a little bit of ‘Kill Bill’, of ‘Pulp Fiction’, of the rest of the crazy ideas he had and more. I see him taking a pretty established story, that of Jewish persecution, and turning it into an indelible fantasy. I see him coaxing a wonderfully scary performance from an unknown (to me, at least) actor in Christoph Waltz. I see him still making films the way he wants to, divulging the things the way he wants to, and expects us to enjoy it all the same.
Thus, what we have here are five different films from five different directors taking on five different challenges for different purposes. How, then, can we effectively measure one against another? For the sake of sticking my neck out, and this I do so with the greatest of caution, I’ll vouch for James Cameron to bring home the Oscar statue come Sunday night/Monday morning. But kudos to the rest, too.
Primary prediction: James Cameroon – Avatar
Secondary prediction: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Personal Favourtie: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Fazil’s Take: Although Quentin Tarantino is my all-time favorite director, I don’t think he has a chance at winning the Oscar this time. This year’s Best Director race is about the battle of the exes; James Cameron vs Kathryn Bigelow. Cameron had the challenge of directing his actors in performance-capture suits in front of a green screen whereas Bigelow had the challenge of directing under the hot sun in Jordan. Cameron also had the challenge of making sure that whatever expression or movement he sees on set, can be and will be translated well in post-production. For Begelow, she had the challenge of bringing out the emotionality and intensity of her actors in an uncomfortable filming environment. Both had their challenges can be deemed as an achievement in directing. But who will win? ‘Avatar’ might go on to win Best Picture but I feel that Best Director should go to Bigelow. Not only because she will be the first woman to win the award but because she is a woman, every man (and woman) out there has to respect her for this gruelling work that she has done for The Hurt Locker. I dare say no man could have done it better; How she manged to bring out so much from her actors, from brotherly love to leadership to high intensity. Like Fikri said, she knows how to make you hold your breath during a movie. So, sorry Mr. Cameron, this time we shall have a Queen of the World and coincidentally, she is your (ex) wife. Lol!
As for Tarantino, this might just be his masterpeice. A work that he should be awarded Best Director for. He managed to get the best out of his mostly foreign cast, who spoke in four different languages throughout the movie. An amazing accomplishment for Signor Tarantino. Damn the stiff competition. Lets not forget that there are two other nominess in the category; Jason Reitman and Lee Daniels. Lets just say they have no chance in hell but one has to acknowledge that these two youngsters are good at what they do. Later down the road perhaps, boys.
Primary Prediction: Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Secondary Prediction: James Cameron – Avatar
Personal Favorite: Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds
Fikri and Fazil need a life. But they’re enjoying their current one so much… 🙂