Nearly three decades ago, Jane Campion made history as the second female Best Director Oscar nominee after Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties,” 1976). The film that brought her this recognition was 1993’s “The Piano,” for which she ended up winning Best Original Screenplay. In the time since, Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” 2009) has blazed a trail as the first woman to win the directing prize, and Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland,” 2020) followed in her footsteps just last year. Campion’s current nomination for helming “The Power of the Dog” establishes her as the only woman with two in the category and could lead to its first instance of back-to-back female victories.
Campion’s challengers in the current directing race are Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”), Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”), Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) and Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”). All but Hamaguchi have been recognized here before. Spielberg boasts the longest resume with eight Best Director nominations and two wins for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Anderson has two past bids to his name for “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “Phantom Thread” (2017), while Branagh has one for “Henry V” (1989).
Adapted by Campion from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, “The Power of the Dog” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as 1920s Montana rancher Phil Burbank, whose jealousy is triggered when his brother, George (Jesse Plemons), marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst) and brings her to live with them. These deep-seated resentful feelings stem from his latent homosexuality and manifest in displays of wickedness toward his vulnerable sister-in-law until her college-age son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) joins the household and ignites Phil’s sense of desire.
“The Power of the Dog” has also brought Campion her first Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture notices, the latter of which she shares with co-producers Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian and Emile Sherman. The film is this year’s nominations leader with a total of 12, including acting bids for Cumberbatch, Dunst, Plemons and Smit-McPhee as well as mentions in the Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Sound categories.
The 28-year gap between Campion’s directing bids is the third largest in the category’s history, behind only those of John Huston (33 years between “Moulin Rouge,” 1952 and “Prizzi’s Honor,” 1985) and Branagh (32 years). Besides Bigelow and Zhao, the women who were nominated for Best Director during that 28-year period were Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” 2003), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird,” 2017) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman,” 2020). In addition to potentially becoming this category’s third female winner, Campion (67) would also be the third oldest recipient of the award after Clint Eastwood (74, “Million Dollar Baby,” 2004) and Roman Polanski (69, “The Pianist,” 2002).
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