Little-known directors may contend for Oscar
05:00 AM, Oct 05, 2013
October’s hardly begun, but the Oscar race is well underway. And this year’s a little different not only because there seems to be an unusual number of serious contenders for best picture, but also because many of these films are directed by people you’ve probably never heard of.
Yes, there’s all the usual suspects Martin Scorsese’s got The Wolf of Wall Street, while David O. Russell, who charmed last year with The Silver Linings Playbook, is back with American Hustle. And the Coen Bros. appear to have a critical and audience favorite with Inside Llewyn Davis.
But what do you know about Steve McQueen? Or J.C. Chandor? How about Jean-Marc Vallee? Not to worry; here’s Indiewire’s handy cheat sheet for six of the Oscar-contender directors you may never have heard of.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
He’s been writing and directing movies for more than 20 years with a versatility few can match. Cuaron’s first English-language feature was the 1995 children’s adaptation A Little Princess, but he really made his mark six years later when he abandoned the big-budget Bruce Willis drama Hart’s War in order to make the microbudget and sexually explicit Spanish-language romance Y Tu Mama Tambien. And with Gravity, he’s earning acclaim for nothing less than redefining filmmaking.
Director: Steve McQueen
12 Years a Slave
If nothing else, this will be the year when people no longer automatically think of the blonde, blue-eyed and long-dead actor when they hear this director’s name. The London-born McQueen was an excellent soccer player (he went out for Bermuda’s team, St. George’s Colts) but instead attended art college in London, where he trained as a fine artist. By the time he made his first film in 2008, Hunger, he was already an acclaimed visual artist. He initially found his audience in galleries, where he exhibited his short films as well as sculpture and mixed-media works. He won Britain’s best-known award for visual artists, the Turner Prize, in 1999; in 2006 he went to Iraq as an commissioned U.K.“war artist.”
Director: Ryan Coogler
This is the debut feature for writer-director Coogler, who also won the grand jury prize at Sundance this year for his drama based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by police at a BART station. However, he originally went to college on a football scholarship, only to transfer twice before he wound up at USC’s acclaimed film school. He was still a student when he brought the idea for Fruitvale Station to producer Forest Whitaker and he hadn’t yet written the screenplay. The film is also generating a lot of love for stars Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
This Quebecois filmmaker made his English-language debut with Prisoners starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman (who’s getting the best notices of his career). However, this wouldn’t be the first time he received awards notice: He was 23 when his first short film won a prize in a youth film competition. Since then he’s directed six films and his French-language drama Incendies received an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 2010 and his last three films received best picture Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars).
Director: J.C. Chandor
All Is Lost
Chandor picked up a screenplay Oscar nomination last year for Margin Call, which he also directed. However, the All Is Lost script has almost no dialogue just Robert Redford, lost at sea. Before Margin Call, he was a director for hire on documentaries, on commercials and anything else that would pay the bills.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Dallas Buyers Club
The Montreal-born Vallée made his first film, the French-language Liste noire, nearly 20 years ago, but he gained notice in America with his first English-language drama, The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt as the Victorian queen. (It also received three Oscar nominations, including a win for costume design.) His next film, Cafe de Flore, received the most nominations of any film at Canada’s 2012 Genie Awards. However, he achieved the near-impossible by being the director to bring Dallas Buyers Club to the screen: the antihero AIDS drama has been long known in Hollywood as one of the best unmade screenplays.