In the Academy's 88 years, only a couple of filmmakers have won back-to-back Best Director Oscars; John Ford in the 40s and Joseph L. Mankiewicz in the 50s. Since then... Not even close. But that all looks to change this year.
Having scooped The DGA for the second straight year (plus the BAFTA one year after they opted for Richard Linklater instead), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu sits firmly in poll position for pulling together the gargantuan and troubled production that was The Revenant. Indeed, the appeal for Oscar voters seems to be the degree of practical difficulty involved in the making of the wilderness epic, which is nothing to sneeze at even if you don't gel with Inarritu's artistic decisions.
The question is, will his year-old triumph for Birdman steer some members towards tossing their support elsewhere? If so, The Big Short helmer Adam McKay stands to benefit, as director of the other Best Picture frontrunner. Even if his movie's popularity isn't enough to overcome the more obvious DIRECTING of The Revenant, he can sit comfortable in the foreknowledge that he's a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Also assured of a writing award should he not win here is Tom McCarthy, whose disciplined construction of Spotlight is among the picture's most undervalued assets. His nomination is a credit to his keen dramatic eye and attention to detail. As fine a winner as he'd make, willfully subtle direction has a hard time winning here. If anyone's going to push him through, it may be the sizable actors section of the Academy, who'll no doubt appreciate the SAG winning work he massaged out of his cast.
We know who would be winning if the media were in charge. George Miller, mad genius behind Mad Max: Fury Road, took home more honours from regional critics groups than anyone else this past December. Some braver pundits may still entertain the hopeful delusion of him winning the Oscar, but the industry seems to have made it clear that they just aren't ready to go there. Will pure action movies (or at least the excellent ones like this) ever receive their rightful due?
The surprise inclusion in the field this year, and incidentally least likely to win, is Lenny Abrahamson, the skillful dramatist behind Room. Taking the spot that many had chalked up to Ridley Scott may have disappointed some, but this is an upgrade if you ask me. Room simply would not have worked had he not shot it so effectively and helped coax such a marvelous performance from young Jacob Tremblay. Kudos.
Will win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Runner-up: Adam McKay, The Big Short
Should win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should be nominated: Denis Villeneuve, Sicario