The Grouches have plowed their way through all of the films nominated for the big eight awards. Now we make the case for which film or performance we WANT to win. Doesn’t mean we think it will win or even have a shot at winning. But if we had a vote on the nominees, here’s who we would pick, and why:

BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Jason Reitman, (Juno), Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

ADAM

Winner: Joel/ Ethan Coen

Let me first say that I think it is a travesty that Tim Burton was not nominated in this category. Sweeney Todd was one of the best – if not the best – directed movie of the year. In fact, Tim Burton would have at least been number two on my ranking list, had he been nominated. With that in mind, the direction of Joel and Ethan Coen in No Country for Old Men was great. I think Brian had a lot of good points in his review in regards to this (if you completely ignore his utterly ridiculous comments about movie endings). Le Scaphandre et le papillon, despite being French, was a very good movie and the direction of it was also very good. John actually makes some good points in his post. Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, is number four on my list mainly because I thought the acting and screenplay were the driving forces of that movie. I think the other directors had less to work with to generate their movies – Tony Gilroy actually wrote Michael Clayton.

Ranking:

1. Joel/ Ethan Coen
2. Julian Schnabel
3. Tony Gilroy
4. Jason Reitman
5. Paul Thomas Anderson
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JARED

I don’t really feel qualified to make picks in this category. Where does the script, editing, acting, and cinematography end and the directing begin? Honestly, I don’t know. Is it possible to really dislike a movie but really like the directing (meaning the script and/or acting was atrocious)? Beats me. It therefore doesn’t seem fair to me to waste anyone’s time on this category, so I’ll just rank the movies in the order in which I liked them: No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood are all movies I could probably do without, I did really like Diving Bell, but Juno is my favorite of the bunch.

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BRIAN

This is the hardest category for me, mostly because I have difficulty understanding what I should be credited/blamed on the director, and what should be credited/blamed on the actors, screenwriters, cinematographers, set directors, producers, etc…

It’s especially true for me with Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a thoroughly original film that could have been dull. But because of the way director Julian Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminksi shot the film, especially as Bauby’s eye, was outstanding. But I don’t know who to congratulate on a job well done. Kaminski’s exceptional pedigree would bring me to praise him…but I dunno.

And I liked all the movies by the other nominated directors, but again, with problems of accreditation in mind, I recognize the scripts of Michael Clayton and Juno as the noteworthy aspects of those films, so my apologies to Tony Scott and Jason Reitman.

Then there are the two heavyweights, the Coen Bros. and Paul Thomas Anderson. On the basis of just originality and movie magic, I lean towards Anderson. There Will be Blood, as I wrote in my review, was unprecedented in its scope. I felt that I was left hanging at the end of No Country, and while I didn’t mind this, I wish I had been given some cues to pay better attention to Tommy Lee Jones’ penultimate monologue with the Sherriff. For a scene that explained the thesis of the whole film, it was too underplayed.

In the end, I give it to Schnabel. He made a fascinating movie out of difficult material…which gives him the slight edge over PTA for There Will be Blood.
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JOHN

I have a tough time figuring out what makes a well-directed film. Since the director is the steward for the entire film, shouldn’t a well-directed film be, well, good? Or at least improve upon the script? But it’s all a combination of casting, acting, editing, cinematography, etc… I know I disliked several of Sean Penn’s shots in Into the Wild. Does that make it poorly directed? I don’t know. So I guess I’m looking for style and tone.

It’s nice that it was my least favorite Best Picture nominee, Atonement, that was left out of the Best Director category in favor of Schnabel’s visually impressive The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. You have to appreciate the innovative camera work and well-told story. Michael Clayton is well-plotted and looks quite good for a thriller. The characters are the best part of the movie and that probably has a lot to do with the screenplay (also written by director Tony Gilroy).

Juno struck me as more of a writing and acting triumph. The dialogue and characters were great, placed into many well-crafted scenes. Reitman does do a great job of setting the tone just right. Everything about Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is grandiose: sets, scenes, characters, performances, score, story. I’m not entirely sold on the plotting and the whole thing was too relentlessly bleak. But there’s no denying its style is something to behold.

However it’s an easy choice for me: the Coen brothers for No Country For Old Men. It’s just overall technically genius with some pretty brilliant scene choices. Maybe a lot of the scenes and the ending in total were jarring, but what else would’ve worked better? And the disjointedness makes sense. The shots are incredibly well-crafted and the tension is expertly honed. It’s risky and it works.

Snubs: As far as films that fall into traditional Oscar bait genres, I would’ve loved to see some love for Tamara Jenkins’s bittersweet The Savages or Andrew Dominik’s beautiful and ponderous The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Moving outside Oscar’s usual comfort zone, why not Adam Shankman for the tightly choreographed Hairspray?