The Ford On Film Awards 2016: Best Director
After giving Oulaya Amamra and Adam Driver my awards for Best Actress and Best Actor yesterday, I’m today turning behind the camera, to look over the best directors of the last year. There have been some stunning filmmakers in action over the year, from those who do tremendous work with actors to those with a flair for visuals and beyond. As always, I’m looking at films released in the UK that weren’t nominated for any Academy Awards (sorry Alejandro G. Innaritu, this is one award you won’t be winning).
Without further ado, here are my picks for Best Director:
Jim Jarmusch – Paterson
Sebastien Schipper – Victoria
Taika Waiti – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Jeremy Saulnier – Green Room
Lucile Hadzihalilovic – Evolution
One of 2016’s most underseen films, Evolution was a dark, disturbing mixture of hallucinatory atmosphere and Cronenberg body horror. Only Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s second feature (and her first in a decade), her subtle storytelling and ambiguous plotting turned Evolution’s hypnotic visuals into a waking nightmare.
Uda Benyamina – Divines
Bringing to mind the ‘throw everything against the wall’ mentality of directorial debuts like Mean Streets and La Haine, Uda Benyamina created a cinematic shot of adrenaline with Cannes-winner Divines. Visually playful (two girls drive around their estate in an imagined Mercedes), experimental (multiple aspect ratios, blasts of operatic score), and carefully balancing drama, romance, and comedy, Beyamina also deserves plaudits for casting her real life younger sister and directing her to the best performance of the year.
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Denis Villeneuve is fast becoming one of the greatest living filmmakers, and Arrival might serve as his arrival (pun intended) into the A-list. The year’s best blockbuster and a surprising smash hit across the world, Villeneuve proves he has the chops with awe-inspiring set pieces (Amy Adams’ first meeting with the aliens is the best ‘close encounter’ since Spielberg’s) and sparky performances, yet also provides more heart and emotion than any of his previous films to date. After Sicario and Arrival, will the upcoming Blade Runner sequel be another hit?
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
It’s been a long five years waiting for Andrea Arnold to return after her uneven Wuthering Heights adaptation; American Honey proved to be worth the wait. Sprawling across the USA in two and a half hours, Arnold once again draws tremendous performances from a cast of unknowns, and her regular collaborations with cinematographer Robbie Ryan pay off in some of the most gorgeously shot sequences of the year. Props to Arnold for reigning in Shia LaBeouf and getting one of his greatest performances to date.
Nicolas Winding Refn – The Neon Demon
Was The Neon Demon a perfect film? No. Was it the year’s most memorable film? Quite possibly. Nicolas Winding Refn is a director willing to push buttons and provoke; this is the man who followed-up his beloved Drive with the critically-reviled Only God Forgives. Despite being a flawed experience, there’s no denying The Neon Demon is one of the most breathtaking, unique cinematic experiences of 2016.
His eye for colour and lighting, his slow pulsing camera movements, his unique approach to stylised performance – The Neon Demon features Refn at the absolute top of his game, and while his tendency to repel audiences does come into play throughout the film’s controversial climax, you have to admire his fearlessness and willing to push audiences to the limit. To put it simply, no other director in the world could have made The Neon Demon, and no other director could make such a violent, unpleasant film so beautiful and appealing.
Congratulations to Nicolas Winding Refn for a deserving Best Director win. Tomorrow I’ll be handing out perhaps the most closely-fought award of 2016 – Best Scene.
By Harry J. Ford
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