Oscar nominee profile: Steven Spielberg (‘West Side Story’) could score 3rd directing win of his career

Following nominations for blockbusters “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), Steven Spielberg achieved his first Best Director Oscar win for “Schindler’s List” (1993). Five years later, he nabbed a bookend trophy for “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and thus became the 17th of 21 double directing champs. Having since earned bids for “Munich” (2005) and “Lincoln” (2013), his category nomination total has now risen to eight with his new one for “West Side Story.” This gives him another shot at joining the exclusive club of triple Best Director award recipients, which, since 1960, has consisted of just three members: Frank Capra, John Ford (who later won a fourth time) and William Wyler.

SEE 2022 Oscar nominations: Full list of nominees in all 23 categories

Spielberg’s challengers in this year’s contest are Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”), Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”), Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”). Anderson has been recognized here twice in the past for “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “Phantom Thread” (2017). Branagh and Campion are each on their second directing bids following respective ones for “Henry V” (1989) and “The Piano” (1993), while Hamaguchi is on his first.

Adapted from the classic Broadway musical of the same name, “West Side Story” is a reworking of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1950s New York City. Standing in for the bard’s young romantic leads are Manhattan native Tony (Ansel Elgort) and recent Puerto Rican immigrant Maria (Rachel Zegler), who are connected to rival street gangs rather than dueling families. Working from a script by Tony Kushner (who also wrote “Munich” and “Lincoln”), Spielberg helms a fresh, respectfully tweaked take on the well-known tragic love story which consistently exhibits a palpable sense of passion.

SEE 2022 Oscar predictions for Best Director

“West Side Story” is up for a total of seven awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Sound. As one of its producers, Spielberg is also included in the Best Picture lineup alongside Kristie Macosko Krieger. This is his 11th nomination for the top honor and solidifies his position as that category’s most-recognized individual, which he has held since 2016. His sole producing victory to date came for “Schindler’s List.”

Spielberg is now the first person to compete for Best Director in six different (and consecutive) decades and for Best Picture in five. At 75, he is the ninth oldest directing nominee ever and is just four years younger than present record holder John Huston (“Prizzi’s Honor,” 1985). If he finishes first in this race, he will supplant 74-year-old Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby,” 2004) as the category’s oldest champion.

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