A Changing of the Guard
A growing trend of the last several awards seasons has been the increasing amount of recognition for new-school filmmakers such as David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, P.T. Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Darren Aronofsky, and others. All of these guys have been directing films for at least a decade, and a few of them are approaching twenty years of service in Hollywood, so I hesitate to refer to them as new-school, but it's certainly something of a new era in the grand scheme of things.
David Fincher's breakthrough film was 1995's Seven, and he followed that up four years later with Fight Club. Both films were received warmly by moviegoers and critics, but neither were nominated for any major awards. Skip ahead to 2011, and Fincher already has one Oscar nomination for his directorial work in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. His new film, The Social Network, has been racking up all kinds of awards and nominations over the last month or two. To say that it's the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars this year would be like saying that Charlie Sheen loves hanging with pornstars and doing coke... it's quite obvious.
Directors such as Danny Boyle, Chris Nolan and Tarantino have also been enjoying mainstream success over the last few years. Boyle dominated the Oscars in 2009 with Slumdog Millionaire, and Tarantino got a well-deserved directorial nomination for Inglorious Basterds last year. Chris Nolan pretty much single-handedly caused the AMPAS to expand their best picture field from five to ten films last year, as an overwhelming amount of The Dark Knight supporters voiced their dissent over the film's 2009 Oscar snub. Nolan did score a DGA nomination in 2009, however.
Now that these guys have established themselves as major players in the film industry, the nominations have been coming much less sporadically. Looking at the films of Boyle, Nolan, Fincher and Tarantino, it's clear that their tendencies toward divisive filmmaking is now not only less divisive, but also largely mainstream accessible. I'm pretty confident that films such as Seven, Fight Club and Memento would have no problem receiving major nominations in this day and age.
There's also a clear disparity in the way that these newer directors are making films compared to old-school directors such as Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Clint Eastwood, etc. New generations of moviegoers are just not as interested in the old-fashioned sensibilities of filmmaking. They'd prefer something more visceral, blunt and stylish. The AMPAS is comprised of many older voters, so there's still going to be some favoritism going on with names such as Eastwood, Scorsese and Spielberg -- and don't get me wrong, those guys are still pretty relevant. However, as the always eminent Hollywood hype machine continues to be overrun by young critics, bloggers and fanboys, a changing of the guard seems inevitable at this point.
So, looking at the DGA nominees for this year (Fincher, Hooper, Aronofsky, Nolan and Russell) it's pretty exciting to see a whole lineup of fresh faces. Also interesting to point out is that all of these guys were recognized in favor of old-time favorites such as Scorsese, Polanski and Peter Weir. Granted, Scorsese's Shutter Island and Polanski's The Ghost Writer were released way earlier in the year, but both have carried a decent amount of buzz into oscar season.
As far as the Oscars go, I see it playing out much like the DGA. I have Fincher, Nolan, Aronofsky and Hooper as virtual locks for director noms at this point. The fifth slot could very well go to David O. Russell, but I'm thinking it'll probably end up going to either Boyle or the Coen brothers. And get used to these faces, as you'll be seeing many of them on awards shows for years to come.