2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Director (Updated August 14, 2017)

One of the big questions about the 2018 Oscars is whether or not there will be a split between the winners of Best Picture and Best Director, as we’ve seen in four of the last five years. Before the academy reintroduced the preferential ballot for Best Picture in 2009, such divides were fairly rare. Now, they are the rule rather than the exception at the Academy Awards. (Scroll down for the most up-to-date predictions for this year’s Best Director race.)

Why is this?

Unlike every other Oscar category, which are decided by a popular vote, the winner of the Best Picture award is determined by a weighted ballot. Voters rank their choices from first to last, and if one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place vote, it automatically wins. If, however, no nominee can meet that threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes gets eliminated, with its ballot getting reapportioned to the second place choice. This process continues until one nominee reaches 50% plus one vote. The goal, says the academy, is to award the top Oscar to a consensus choice.

So while Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”) and Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) all won the Best Director Oscar, their films lost to “Argo” (2012), “12 Years a Slave” (2013), “Spotlight” (2015) and “Moonlight” (2016) respectively. Given the two different voting systems, it’s easy to understand how this can happen.

Indeed, this was a fairly common phenomenon between 1934 and 1945, when Best Picture was first determined by a preferential ballot. “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937), and “Rebecca” (1940) all won Best Picture but their helmers lost to “The Informer” (John Ford), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (Frank Capra), “The Awful Truth” (Leo McCarey) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (Ford) respectively.

Inarritu also won Best Director for a film that took the top Academy Award: “Birdman” (2014). As with “The Revenant,” this too was a bravura directorial achievement and had strong support throughout the creative categories. Indeed, all five of the most recent films that won Oscars for helming also took home the lensing prize. When it comes to Best Director, bigger is better. So, who is making that kind of movie this year?

UPDATED: August 14, 2017

Christopher Nolan has never been nominated by the directors branch but that should change with “Dunkirk,” which details the British retreat from France during the darkest days of World War II.  His film, which captures the chaos of that evacuation with IMAX cameras, earned rave reviews. These translated into an impressive 93 at Rotten Tomatoes, which classifies reviews on a pass/fail system and 94 at MetaCritic, which uses a sliding scale. It has made $153 million in the US and Canada  and another $210 million worldwide (as of Aug. 13).

Patty Jenkins‘ “Wonder Woman” ranks as the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman, with takings of more than $800 million as of Aug. 13. Her first film, “Monster,” won Charlize Theron the 2003 Best Actress prize. Now, with this acclaimed comic book come to life, Jenkins could reap her first Oscar bid. It opened on June 2 to an impressive score of 92 at Rotten Tomatoes (and 75 at MetaCritic).

Kathryn Bigelow made Oscar history as the first woman to win Best Director when she prevailed in 2010 for helming the Best Picture champ “The Hurt Locker.” She is back in contention with “Detroit,” a docudrama which recounts the 1967 police raid that lead to one of the largest citizen uprisings in US history. This Annapurna release opened in 10 markets on July 28 and scored 88 at Rotten Tomatoes and 78 at MetaCritic. It went wide on Aug. 4 and has made $13 million as of Aug. 13.

Steven Spielberg claimed the first of his two Oscars for directing a true-life story (“Schindler’s List,” 1993), which was set in WWII (as was his other winner, 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan”). This year he has teamed with two multiple Oscar-winning actors — Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks — to tell the story behind the Washington Post’s publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” a series of documents prepared for the Department of Defense about the US involvement in Vietnam after WWII.

George Clooney was nominated for directing “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2006), which was a Best Picture nominee when there were only five contenders. He could return to both races with “Suburbicon,” which was written by Oscar darlings Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo”). It’s a quirky crime drama starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac.

Please note: Only those films with confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while other are dropped due to delays or critical reaction.

UPDATED: August 14, 2017

Leading Contenders
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread” (Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features)
Darren Aronofsky, “mother!” (Paramount Pictures)
Kathryn Bigelow, “Detroit” (Annapurna Pictures)
George Clooney, “Suburbicon” (Paramount Pictures)
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight)
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Picture)
Stephen Frears, “Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features)
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.)
Richard Linklater, “Last Flag Flying” (Amazon Studios)
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
Alexander Payne, “Downsizing”(Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
Jordan Peele, “Get Out” (Universal)
Ridley Scott, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Steven Soderbergh, “Logan Lucky” (Bleecker Street/FilmNation Entertainment)
Steven Spielberg, “The Papers” (20th Century Fox)
Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros./Columbia Pictures/Alcon Entertainment)
Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)

Strong Contenders
Hany Abu-Assad, “The Mountain Between Us” (20th Century Fox/Chernin Entertainment)
Sean Baker, “The Florida Project” (A24)
Kenneth Branagh, “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox)
Bill Condon, “Beauty and the Beast” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Sofia Coppola, “The Beguiled” (Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures)
Simon Curtis, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Garth Davis, “Mary Magdalene” (Universal)
Dan Gilroy, “Roman Israel, Esq.” (Columbia)
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, “The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
Michael Gracey, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Michael Haneke, “Happy End” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Michel Hanzanavicius, “Redoubtable” (Studio Canal)
Todd Haynes, “Wonderstruck” (Amazon Studios)
Reginald Hudlin, “Marshall” (Open Road Films)
Peter Landesman, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Doug Liman, “American Made” (Universal)
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouriv (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Dee Rees, “Mudbound” (Netflix)
Andy Serkis, “Breathe” (Bleecker Street/Participant Media)
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game” (STX Entertainment)

Possible Contenders
Tomas Alfredson, “The Snowman” (Universal Studio/Working Title Films)
Woody Allen, “Wonder Wheel” (Amazon Studios)
Margaret Betts, “Novitiate” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Stephen Chbosky, “Wonder” (Lionsgate)
Destin Daniel Cretton, “The Glass Castle” (Lionsgate)
David Gordon Green, “Stronger” (Lionsgate)
Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Andrew Haigh, “Lean on Pete” (A24)
Jason Hall, “Thank You for Your Service” (Dreamworks)
Azazel Jacobs, “The Lovers” (A24)
Angelina Jolie, “First They Killed My Father” (Netflix)
Joseph Kosinski, “Only the Brave” (Lionsgate/Di Bonaventura Pictures)
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (A24)
James Mangold, “Logan” (20th Century Fox)
Roger Michell, “My Cousin Rachel” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
David Robert Mitchell, “Under the Silver Lake” (A24)
Matt Reeves, “War for the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Fox)
Taylor Sheridan, “Wind River” (The Weinstein Company)
Wim Wenders, “Submergence” (Lionsgate)
Edgar Wright, “Baby Driver” (TriStar Pictures)

We will be predicting all 24 of the competitive categories at the Oscars. Click on the linked categories below to read our previews of each of these races.

Best Picture | Best Director | Best Original Screenplay | Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Actor | Best Actress | Best Supporting Actor | Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography | Best Costume Design | Best Film Editing | Best Production Design
Best Makeup & Hairstyling | Best Sound Editing | Best Sound Mixing | Best Visual Effects
Best Original Score | Best Original Song
Best Animated Feature | Best Documentary Feature | Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Short | Best Documentary Short | Best Live-Action Short


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