The Ford On Film Awards 2017: Best Director
We are four days into the Ford On Film Awards 2017 and with the acting categories out the way (congratulations once again to Willem Dafoe, Allison Williams, Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Lawrence), it’s time to turn our attention to the Best Directors. What makes a great director? It could be shooting beautiful set pieces, working with actors to create outstanding performances, or dreaming up a unique vision and seeing it through to completion. Ideally, the best directors do all three.
This year’s Best Director award has been closely fought, with many brilliant visionaries being left out of the top five. To give an example of how competitive this category has been, the honourable mentions include Jordan Peele for Get Out, Paul King for Paddington 2, and David Lowery for A Ghost Story. All three films made my top ten of the year, but none of the directors finished in the top five. As with previous categories, no 2017 Oscar nominess are allowed to win (sorry Barry Jenkins, you know you’re still great), and I’m only looking at UK releases (Paul Thomas Anderson and Greta Gerwig will have to sit this one out). A great year of film always promises a list of great directors, and here are my picks for the finest directors of 2017:
Julia Ducournau – Raw
Narrowly beating Jordan Peele for the crown of best debuting director of the year, Julia Ducourna’s Raw is one of the most memorable and memorably strange horror films in recent years. Despite its low budget, Ducournau pulls off some impressive set pieces, while her character work and controlled pace are first rate. Whatever she ends up directing next, it’s bound to be one to watch out for.
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Following Sicario and Arrival, Denis Vileneuve continues his streak of excellent films with the brooding, beautifully-envisioned Blade Runner 2049. Though the film runs a little long and suffers from a tedious Jared Leto performance, Vileneuve crafts a unique, exciting blockbuster. As adept at crafting quiet, emotional sequences with star Ryan Gosling as he is staging epically long fight scenes between Gosling and returning star Harrison Ford, Vileneuve proves once again that he’s one of the best new directors of the decade, and his second collaboration with Roger Deakins proves he has excellent taste in cinematography.
Sean Baker – The Florida Project
Shaking off his reputation as ‘the iPhone director’, Sean Baker crafted a sunny, melancholic-but-hopeful portrayal of the American underclass with the stunning The Florida Project. Despite working with a larger budget than his previous films, Baker retains his scrappy, low-fi approach to filmmaking (sneaking into Disneyland for the film’s climax), while his work with non-professionals and child actors is superb. Coaxing incredible performances from seven-year-old Brooklynn Prince and Instagram model Bria Vinaite, Baker deserves an Oscar nomination for his delicate approach to a difficult subject.
The Safdie Brothers – Good Time
Who would have guessed the Safdie Brothers had a film as thrilling and stylish as Good Time in them? Previously known for downbeat realism, the brothers instead made a fast and furious thriller. Collaborating with Robert Pattinson to depict a character constantly moving to rescue his brother, Josh and Benny Safdie stayed true to their low budget roots even as they worked with a mainstream star, filming guerrilla-style on the streets and taking turns working the grip equipment to keep production costs low. Martin Scorsese is producing their next film – it’s sure to be a stunner.
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Never bet against Christopher Nolan; he’s proven himself as perhaps the defining director of the 21st century, and Dunkirk is yet another fantastic action film. Some have accused Nolan of being unemotional, but Dunkirk is a rousing, unashamedly patriotic World War II film that could make grown men cry. If movies are, as Orson Welles said, “the greatest train set a boy could have”, Nolan had the most fun of any director this year; huge aerial dogfights, tense underwater set pieces, and beautiful Imax shot landscapes. However, he never loses track of the emotional stakes, injecting every moment of spectacle with melancholy. It might not be his greatest film – possibly not even top five, given how many greats he’s released – but it’s certainly the finest direction of 2017.
Congratulations Christopher Nolan, yet again getting behind the camera and teaching the rest of Hollywood how it’s done. Tomorrow, I’m turning to my favourite category of the year – Best Scene. There have been so many greats over the last year, who knows what will come out on top?
By Harry J. Ford
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