Here’s an interesting turn in the Oscar race. After years of being ignored and snubbed in the Best Director field, there’s a strong chance that Christopher Nolan will be finally cited in the category for his work making Dunkirk. In fact, it’s hard to argue that at the moment, he’s the frontrunner to win the whole thing. Nolan has built up a reputation as one of the best filmmakers in the business, so he’s certainly overdue for a nomination. The Academy has never seen fit to vote for him in this one particular category. Some of it has been due to the competition. Some of it has been due to the films he’s made. Some of it is just plain bad luck. This year, however, he has a movie that’s the easiest sell to voters yet. Could that change the math for him? It does seem like it’s now his time, doesn’t it? Read on for more.
A quick recap of sorts, in case you’ve been living under some sort of rock for most of the summer. Nolan’s film is an historical war drama about the famous evacuation of Dunkirk. Allied soldiers from Belgium, the Britain, and France were surrounded by the German forces and needed to be evacuated from the small French town that gives the film its name. Here, the focus is on the 400,000 British troops and their risky evacuation. On the land, we spend a week with troops just sitting on a beach, being picked off by the Germans. There, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and others attempt to survive and be rescued. In the sea, we spend a day with a civilian boat headed to Dunkirk to aid in the rescue. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) are joined by Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan) in sailing from England to the beach for pickup, if that is, they survive. In the air, we spend an hour with RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and his fellow airmen as they try to keep the skies free of the enemy and give the men on the ground a fighting chance for survival. Nolan writes and directs, with the large ensemble cast also including Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, the voice of Michael Caine, and many more. Hans Zimmer contributes an iconic score, while the amazing visuals are courtesy of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Elsewhere below the line, frequent Nolan collaborators Lee Smith (editor) and Nathan Crowley (production designer) are back once again.
Once again, I can’t stress it enough…this is a near perfect movie. Nolan has a master’s grasp on the material, showcasing it from start to finish. In many ways, this is an experimental film too, nearly silent, dialogue wise, structurally ambitious, and all set to Zimmer’s brilliant ticking clock of a score. The case can be made that never before has the filmmaker had his own direction mix so perfectly with a flick’s cinematography, editing, and score. It’s all just brilliantly executed. This is a masterclass in how to tell a story without overusing dialogue. Some might call it another clinical effort from Nolan, but I think it goes way beyond that this time. It’s sheer brilliance. Arguably, it’s only increased in esteem since the initial viewing.
Previously, Nolan was seen as being snubbed in Best Director for both The Dark Knight (which was also snubbed in Best Picture), as well as Inception (which did in fact receive a Best Picture nomination). Initially, it seemed like Interstellar could have been his pony, but that turned into merely a below the line player. He always seems to be in contention for his screenplays, as evidenced by a pair of Best Original Screenplay nods (Inception and Memento), but his direction has never been cited, so far to date. This year, however a nom could very well be in the cards. If it doesn’t happen in 2017, it would be Nolan’s biggest snub yet. A war epic? That’s been the winning recipe for decades now.
In terms of his competition, it looks like he could see a prime opponent in the form of Steven Spielberg for The Papers. There’s also possible foes like Woody Allen for Wonder Wheel, Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit, Alexander Payne for Downsizing, and Joe Wright for Darkest Hour. That’s just a small sampling of the contenders in 2017. Aside from Bigelow, everyone is basically an unknown here, with her effort not getting near the love that his has received. Nolan has that advantage as well. His directorial mastery is well known already. Someone else could certainly come through and take the crown, but right now, how can you bet against him?
Nolan seems poised to at least score his first nomination for directing, if not win the category entirely. You’ve likely seen the updated predictions I put up at the end of last week, so it’s probably not a stretch to assume he’ll be prominently displayed in Best Director going forward. For the moment, there’s no reason not to have him in the pole position. Again, it may not stay that way, but Nolan is the smart bet at this early date. We’ll see what happens at the upcoming festivals, but for now, it just makes sense to keep him up top…
Stay tuned to see how Nolan ends up doing during the precursor season to come!