15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

ben affleck 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Look, I like Ben Affleck. I’m happy for his success. I loved Argo. He did a bang-up job on it and deserves immense credit for helming a terrific movie. I thought Gone Baby Gone was a real accomplishment and one of the best movies of its year, and he has continued to produce quality work since then, even though I still consider that one to be his greatest work so far. He seems like a good guy and whatever issues I have with his on-screen work, he’s a tremendous talent behind the camera, which Argo further demonstrates. It’s to the point where maybe he did contribute to the Oscar-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting after all, which we all naturally assumed was primarily the work of his pal Matt Damon.

But honestly, best director of the year? And best film of the year? Maybe if this was 2005 there’d be a compelling case to be made. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately!), 2012 has been a remarkably great year at the movies. Like just outstanding. The quality of output from filmmakers this year has been top notch—the best year in a long while, according to what seems to be a near-consensus of critics. So awarding Argo and Ben Affleck with the top honors of the year, which the Hollywood Foreign Press did at least weekend’s Golden Globes, seems…inappropriate. It’s not one of those things where it’s like “WTF why did this terrible movie win!!?” but more like “yeah I really liked that one…but what about all these others??”

Now there’s a movement afoot to get Affleck the Oscar via a write-in ballot. This seems a bit much, no? There has been too much talent this year that naturally had to be overlooked. Any list of five directors was going to leave out some enormously skilled filmmakers who did great work this year. To prove it, here’s a list of directors whose work I would argue is more deserving of a Golden Globe statue or Oscar write-in vote than that of our dear Mr. Ben Affleck. And in the interest of fairness, I won’t include the five Oscar nominees, Michael Haneke, Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg, and Benh Zeitlin on this list, even though they all produced incredible works in the last year and deserve recognition. But these other names are in the same Oscar boat as Ben. Maybe think about writing them in, Academy members!

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1: Kathryn Bigelow

kathryn bigelow bin laden thriller zero dark thirty 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Kathryn Bigelow’s exclusion is the one so-called snub that many people consider possibly larger than the Affleck oversight, although Bigelow doesn’t have a Golden Globe trophy for her work this year. But come on. Zero Dark Thirty is a work of utter brilliance. There’s a reason more critics have placed it at the top of their year-end lists than for any other film. It’s both a force of tense action and a subtle analysis of an incredible protagonist—forceful in its momentum of information gathering through a variety of means, some ingenious and some horrendous, toward a beautifully executed climactic sequence at the Bin Laden compound; and subtle in its depiction of Maya, the CIA agent brought to life by Jessica Chastain, whose obsession and determination to locate the man responsible for unspeakable tragedy transcends her own moral compass and any interest in human relationship or office and gender politics.

In a way, this film has everything Argo has but operates in this higher dimension, presenting the beautiful and the despicable at the same time, detailing the complexities and compromises that made up the story of this intricate manhunt. It sews together hard research into this true story with drama and suspense captured and replayed before our eyes, giving us the feeling that even though we know it didn’t actually happen in this exact way, perhaps it could have. The realism and depth of analysis, and the subtlety with which this is done, is a testament to the outstanding work of screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow.

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2: Quentin Tarantino

QT1 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

The other big omission by Academy voters that many are up in arms about is the man who brought us the fantastic Django Unchained, the one and only Quentin Tarantino. I get that he’s kind of insufferable in person and if I was giving away awards at my house, I probably wouldn’t want to nominate him because then I would have to invite him. Having said that, he is an absolutely fascinating dude and his work as a filmmaker speaks in ways he only dreams his tongue and face ever could. Yes, the scene where he “acts” is, shall we say, offputting. Ok, it’s downright cringe-worthy. But consider all the greatness that comes before and after that.

The screenplay is one thing and his direction is another; I get that. And the screenplay here is some mad genius, both the formulation of the narrative sequencing as well as the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. It’s on the brink of annoying, but when it comes from Christoph Waltz it sounds like heaven. And that’s something a director deserves credit for, producing these performances from Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and Leo DiCaprio. He makes the dialogue operate in the rhythm it requires, and each scene establishes a tone with the right level of irony to match Dr. King Schultz’s pithy remarks. For every scene functioning at the highest level of tension—when Schultz shoots the Sheriff, or during dinner when Stephen pieces everything together—there is brilliantly placed comedy, most effectively during the Ku Klux Klan meeting, a terrific uppercut toward the racism of DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. It’s also QT’s most heartfelt film, because at its foundation is a love story between Django and Broomhilda, which is established in a short flashback sequence worthy of Pixar, albeit with more whips.

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3: Tom Hooper

tom hooper 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Tom Hooper’s nomination didn’t come, which was slightly surprising but with less outrage. Les Misérables has become a slightly divisive film, adored by audiences and showered with “meh”s from many critics. Well, allow me to provide compensation for this lack of outrage. Hooper deserves to be in there. If you’re asking me, I think he deserves the damn statue. It seems as though degree of difficulty is rarely considered in matters of award contention, but if you ask me, taking possibly the most beloved musical of all time and trying to adapt it for the big screen and contemporary audiences seems nearly impossible. Much harder than directing a spy film featuring the movie industry. In fact, the success of Les Mis might be the most astonishing feat in movies this year, along with the amazing adaptation of Life of Pi by Ang Lee (sorry, I know I said I would talk about the actual nominees).

Not only did Tom Hooper pull off this film; for me at least, he improved on the source material. By shooting all these (unfairly decried) close-ups, he was able to allow the performers to powerfully convey the intense emotions of this story. Musicals have to be about emotion; that’s the point of making them a musical. So allowing these characters to get their emotions across more effectively is a no-brainer. Close-ups worked toward this end, but so did the decision to record the singing live. Hooper deserves so much credit for this. Talk about degree of difficulty. And the effect is exactly what I’m talking about: maximizing the emotional punch of the music and conveying the depth of meaning behind the words as effectively as possible. The cast is able to set the rhythm of a scene themselves rather than try to lip-synch their emotions to a soundtrack. That results in fakeness. Hooper’s version finally gives us real feeling.

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4: Paul Thomas Anderson

PTA1 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

The Master is the best film of 2012 I think. Next to Zero Dark Thirty, it appears on the most critics’ year-end lists. For some reason, neither of these two facts translated into a Best Picture nomination at either the Globes or the Oscars, nor into either nomination for Paul Thomas Anderson. But does PTA give a damn? Not a single one.

I get that it’s not for everyone. I didn’t even like it the first time I saw it. But once you get sucked into the bizarre world and mind of Freddie Quell (astonishingly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix), you can’t escape it. The, shall we say, unorthodox friendship he develops with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Lancaster Dodd is one of the highlights and most wonderful mysteries of the movies this year. They have a sort of tense rivalry interspersed with severe personal affection for one another. The movie is a strange puzzle weaved together in a compelling and innovative way—so strange that it’s easy to toss aside and not know how to respond precisely. That’s exactly what makes it so much fun, though.

Like last year’s Tree of Life, its elusiveness makes it all the more enticing and its unique tone and rhythms tell us a story in a completely fresh and confounding way. Paul Thomas Anderson has a way of signaling that there’s a lot going on in the movie while making sure he’s not giving too much away so you can experience the joy of figuring it all out on your own.

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5: Christopher Nolan

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I’ve come to terms with the possibility that The Dark Knight was the best in the series, but The Dark Knight Rises rounds out Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga beautifully, and I think it’s going to play even better the more time passes. I have to go back to the degree of difficulty aspect again and reiterate how difficult it has to be to produce work that must answer to impossibly high expectations generated by starved fans.

The movie is solid throughout, but the opening and closing sequences are among Nolan’s best work. The mid-air plane heist, especially when viewed in the intended IMAX settings, is a marvel of action, giving us a scope of the madness and precision required to carry out a stunt like this (both for the characters and the film crew). It encapsulates the silent imposing presence of the Bane character and the sense of menace and darkness that runs through the film.

The closing sequence is a beautifully put together payoff of things that we didn’t realize were being set up: the cafe Alfred visits and the closing adrenaline-inducing shot inside the Batcave. All wordless, images pieced together to the booming pace of the soundtrack, indicating that the darkness has lifted momentarily for Gotham and conclusively for Bruce Wayne. Gorgeous.

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6: Wes Anderson

wes anderson 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Oh hey, speaking of gorgeous, Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson is so consistent in his weird visual style that sometimes it’s easy to reduce him to every Instagrammer’s wet dream, but his movies have real heart to match the uniqueness of the world in which his characters live. If you can get past the quirks and sometimes cuteness and roll with the spirit of the Anderson style there’s going to be a lovely reward for you, and if you can’t, I think even this one is sweet enough to win over anyone who possesses the capacity to feel.

If Anderson’s films just looked cool that’d be one thing, but he has a way of presenting these little dramas that tell us stories that seem oddly familiar and yet completely foreign. This is another case of a childhood romance that seems altogether new and strange but I can relate to it in a peculiar way. Maybe it’s because it’s mixed in the mad little details like a character known only as Social Services and lines like “Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop!” Many directors play this type of material with a note of irony but with Anderson that seems to be missing. There’s a sincerity that he is able to establish in a way that confounds me and that I can appreciate at least half the time. There’s no one else who can make movies like this.

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7: Sam Mendes

sam mendes09 6 4 header 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Roger Deakins is the recipient of the vast majority of awards attention directed at Skyfall, and rightly so. He’s long overdue for an Oscar statue; his work has been top tier for the past couple of decades. But Sam Mendes was tasked with righting the 007 ship after the writers’ strike shipwreck that was Quantum of Solace, and he delivered a meditation of obsolescence and relevance of dated tools in a digital era—in the context of a James Bond movie. Who else has managed that before?

Capturing all the classic qualities of a cheeky and exciting Bond film while assigning your movie serious credibility as a work of drama and character study is not easy, and pulling it off with style and grace like Mendes does here is tempting to overlook. He’s been one of my favourite directors for some time and it’s because he’s constantly surprising us with efforts like this one.

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8: Andrew Dominik

Dominik 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Andrew Dominik’s puzzling little film Killing Them Softly was a bit of a dud compared to The Assassination of Jesse James, his previous effort, but I found this one fascinating and affecting all the same. I understand the reaction people had to its political overtones. I’d think of these as providing vague harmonies to the story, though. I’m not sure the political message is as clearcut as many are making it out to be and if what he is trying to do is tell a parable, placing the story in the time period when politics was front and center in many people’s minds and literally on most public television sets anywhere you go is narratively justifiable.

There’s little details that I loved in this movie. The subversion of known crime characters previously played by James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta, the first reduced to an alcoholic mess and the latter to a blubbering coward, was a brilliant stroke. I’m not sure what it means precisely, but I get the impression that I will someday. Then there’s the portrayal of violence that I haven’t seen in a film before, specifically the sound of fists hitting skulls. It makes it more immediate and more affecting, adding a layer of realism that most films shy away from. Drive sort of touched on the stripped-down crime genre last year, and this one continues that stream of representation in a spellbinding and baffling way that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

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9: Richard Linklater

Linklater 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Richard Linklater has sort of quietly become one of the best directors working today, and he’s done so with movies like last year’s Me and Orson Welles and this year’s Bernie. It’s actually kind of odd that he isn’t even more well known and respected considering his résumé. Bernie is the type of film he seems to be specializing in more these days: you don’t think much of it at first but then it sneaks up on you and knocks you to the floor.

He administers a terrific performance from Jack Black as the enigmatic and multi-faceted Bernie, a man we’re not sure what to make of until the end of the film. Linklater does an amazing job establishing a sense of place in this Texas town, a strange (to me) environment that produces the strange (to probably everyone) character of Bernie, and contributes to all his repression, guilt, religious sensibilities, and genuine sweetness. Like Black’s performance, the film works simultaneously as this grand, over the top story but with a subtle undercurrent of menace and suppressed fury.

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10: Robert Zemeckis

%name 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Flight might be the most underrated movie of the year, to my mind. Much has been made of Denzel Washington’s performance as the heroic and destructive Captain Whip Whitaker, and rightly so. He portrays the delusional nature of severe addiction in a way that I had not witnessed before, playing off our preconceived impressions of someone who seems to have it all together like the great Denzel. His spiral into binge drinking and drug use is more devastating because of this.

But director Robert Zemeckis deserves enormous credit here. In an interview with Charlie Rose he describes how he had a fairly different film in mind, but upon seeing Washington’s performance and feeling the rhythm of the character as he was brought to life, he realized he had to completely change the way he wanted to cut the film so it lined up with the strange rhythm this character brought with him. I thought that was an excellent way to describe why this film feels like it’s working so well as we’re watching it, and may provide an explanation for why more rigid and stubborn directors often produce work that functions as though not everyone is on the same page. Zemeckis won’t get a lot of recognition for his work here, and that’s a shame.

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11: Judd Apatow

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I will defend to my dying day, or at least for the rest of this week, that the work Judd Apatow is doing right now is vastly underrated and hopefully finds appreciation later in what will certainly be a career that continues long into his life. This is 40 is the latest installment in a filmography that has developed much like a stand-up comedian’s act. Louis CK talks a lot about the maturation of a comedian, who can start out telling dumb jokes about themselves and their life, but then with each new set they have to go deeper and deeper until they’re faced with confronting their own fears and faults and shortcomings.

Apatow has steered away from his more light-hearted material of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and now he’s using comedy to examine some real issues he’s surely facing in his own life: getting older and maintaining relationships with his wife and children, who are also constantly changing. There’s some brilliant observational material in this new movie that can easily go unnoticed. I think people are expecting more laughs, which are still fairly consistent, but it’s the way Apatow directs the more serious moments that really catch my attention, and provide a dynamic contrast to his work that is rare for others who have tried to mix comedy and drama together.

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13: Marc Webb

Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield The Amazing SpiderMan 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

The Amazing Spider-Man was doomed before it was even released. First there was the talk of the studio’s desperate pitch to get it made so they could hold onto the rights for this character, and then there was the misguided promo campaign advertising the movie as “the untold story.” This wasn’t the untold origin story of Spider-Man; it’s just a better told story than the Sam Raimi version, even though I enjoyed the first two movies of that trilogy very much despite a third installment of which we shall not speak.

Marc Webb proved with 500 Days of Summer that he had a unique vision for presenting characters and relationships, and while he continued that in Spider-Man, with the awkward teenage chemistry of non-teenagers Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, it was his technical work that caught my attention. Moments like the arachnid-like shadows appearing behind Peter as he ventures into the sewer, the oversaturated blue scene conveying the wonderment of the lab where Peter suffers his fate, and just the way the red suit felt like it had an actual person inside of it as opposed to the cartoony CGI feeling of the previous movies. This is a project that would have been an embarrassment if places in the wrong hands, and instead I would insist that it was one of the best made superhero movies to date.

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14: Wachowski Starship

Wachowski Starship 15 Directors More Worthy Of Awards Than Ben Affleck

Ok, so I admit these folks are bonkers. But I also love them. The new team of the Wachowskis, Andy and Lana, and their new collaborator friend Tom Tykwer, is just a cauldron of crazy ideas and visual storytelling prowess. There are few other artists working today who can visualize rich concepts such as these in the way that these three can, for better or for worse. And when they work together they just go all out, as they have in Cloud Atlas.

I’m an ardent defender of this movie, as it’s another project that comes from seemingly impossible-to-adapt material. I’m not sure whether they pull it off to be honest, but to me, calling a film “ambitious” is not something that comes with qualifiers. Ambition is an end in itself, and to fulfill ambition is pure bliss for those of us who get to experience it. I feel like filmmakers who take real risks in their work are rarely appreciated for sticking their necks out the way the Starship crew does in Cloud Atlas. But like Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, I think this is a movie that will develop a real following ten years from now for its unique storytelling and visual realization of bold ideas, as well as its emotional power.

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15: Joss Whedon

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Ok, this one may be a bit of a stretch, but The Avengers was another movie the seemed impossible to make work, and the evil wizard that is Joss Whedon made it work. It’s a movie that was just about as awesome as Argo. Enough said.

By now hopefully my point is clear. I don’t mean to slag Ben Affleck’s fine work this year, but rather to point out that there are a number of artists who pumped out extremely high quality work that could just as easily been recognized by awards voters as being at the top of their class. There will always be great work excluded from recognition because that’s the nature of the business and the nature of human existence, but if we’re going to write a piece of work like Argo in stone as The One, that does a disservice to productions that were simply better, not to mention the many titles from 2012 that were on an equal level to this film. It was an extraordinary year and deserves an extraordinary beacon of a movie to represent the quality of material produced. I’m just not convinced Argo and Ben Affleck are the right choice to play that role.

What do you think? Were there other directors you thought were overlooked this award season? Do any of the ones listed here just seem like ridiculous choices to recognize? Have your say in the comment section below.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.tkachuk.5 Christopher Tkachuk

    Argo deserves damnation, not respect. It is a bastardization of the truth, a reimagining of events that could only be further from the truth if it had been Inglourious Bastards. Inglourious Bastards, however, didn’t purport itself to be a true story. The CIA came in at the last second to get them out. The Canadian Ambassador did far more work in the real story than the movie gives credit for, risking freedom and his own life to keep those people safe and get them out alive. The movie should have been about how that had played out, and not how some CIA agent came up with a harebrained scheme to get them out.

    The ambassador, Ken Taylor, himself said that the CIA was a junior partner in the events that took place. Canada played the role of the hero in those events, and the US just supplied some support for the endeavor.

    • http://www.facebook.com/efrain.sanchez.148 Efrain Sanchez

      Argo deserved it. Don’t start a stupid hate bandwagon.

      • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.tkachuk.5 Christopher Tkachuk

        Give me a reason that counteracts any of mine, and you might have a point.

  • Alex Lowe

    Great choice with Marc Webb. He brought a unique vision to the character and made an early reboot that many people were skeptical about (myself included) way better than the last Trilogy. Also almost every actor’s performance was spot-on which, while it was a great cast, speaks volumes to the ability of the director.