Nominees: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917), Todd Phillips (Joker), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Will Win: Sam Mendes (1917)
Runners-up: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Should Win: [TIE] Sam Mendes (1917) and Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
Runners-up: Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
My Choice: [TIE] Sam Mendes (1917) and Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
My Nominees: Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Joe Talbot (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
Honorable Mention: Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), Josh and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems), Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life), Dave Eggers (The Lighthouse), Pedro Almodóvar (Pain and Glory), Alma Har'el (Honey Boy)
During my entire theatrical viewing of 1917, I was in awe of the immensity of the circumstance of filming not only a single battle, not only the dramatic tension involved in a singular soldier’s nightmare mission, but an entire warfront of separate battalion entities in various locations before and beyond No Man’s Land—simultaneously. It was in the first segment of interconnected moments of our two young soldier protagonists’ journeys across enemy lines, where the camera follows them like the ghost of failed past attempts from trenches packed with infantry to vast, exploded emptiness to claustrophobic tunnels brimming with rats and tripwire mines to beautiful groves of cherry trees and bovine pastures that I realized I was witnessing from Sam Mendes an immense feat in directing not seen since Peter Jackson in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). Never before have I felt the energy of past shots bleeding so impactfully into subsequent scenes. I could still feel the energy of soldiers shuffling in the trenches in the wake of our protagonists’ brave push forward into the Front, mostly because these soldiers were still engaged in their roles even while offscreen. The effect of this choice in directing is a battleground experience of vibrating, non-stop tension for the viewer. The viewer is subconsciously aware of the unending gunfire, soldier suffering, mine explosions, and machine ignition and malfunction in the periphery of each focused moment, quiet or chaotic, with the protagonists. The scale and synthesis of this dramatic action is nothing to be scoffed at from a directing standpoint, even as many of the film’s story elements fail to generate the desired anti-war effect on viewers (a supreme flaw with the film that should ideally prevent it from being Best Picture quality). However, I have a hard time ignoring Mendes’ mastery of scale in his film, an experience that truly leaves the viewer stranded in No Man’s Land seeking an escape route through the violent, bloody chaos.
In many ways, Bong Joon Ho’s directing in Parasite is more intimately aware of story development, symbolism in production design, and character dynamics than Sam Mendes. His ability to infuse his cast with passion in their performances and his management of editing to underscore the systems of manipulation and oppression in the film's arc is memorable. Such an ambitious film would have surely fallen flat without the determined vision of a auteur filmmaker like Bong Joon Ho, who brought his skills from the craft in genre films and integrated them into the mold of tragic comedy.