Oscars 2018: Best Director
With a trio of veteran filmmakers and a duo of directorial newcomers, this year’s Best Director category is undoubtedly the tightest one to call, and whilst Guillermo del Toro seems to be the named favourite after picking up awards at both the BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes, any of the five nominees stand a more than plausible chance at walking away with the top prize. Whilst del Toro himself more than deserves at least the slightest of Academy Award recognition after failing to win the Best Foreign Language gong for Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2007, no one can seriously question the remarkable directorial skills of Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk, and whilst many may see Nolan’s wartime masterpiece as more of an technical exercise than that of a classical historic drama, the chance for Nolan to finally win an award after being royally snubbed previously for the likes of Inception and The Dark Knight is a mistake that may indeed come full circle. Elsewhere, Paul Thomas Anderson is a equally prestigious and remarkable filmmaker who has seemingly bypassed the Oscar award fever, and whilst Phantom Thread is an outstanding work of melancholic brilliance, the chance to succeed may indeed seep by once again, but for the likes of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele for their work on Lady Bird and Get Out respectively, the Academy does deserve some form of applause for attempting to widen its’ cinematic scope when it comes to choosing films worthy of such a prestigious award, and whilst snubs for the likes of Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049 and Darren Aronofsky for mother! prove that that they can’t get it right all the time, at least the Academy are slowly catching up.
Winner – Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Personal Favourite – Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Nomination Snub – Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
“There’s No Hiding From This Son, We Have A Job To Do…”
The release of a new Christopher Nolan movie is always the time for utmost rejoice, a filmmaker who fundamentally adores the classic ways and means of cinema, and more impressively, a director who, like a modern incarnation of Steven Spielberg, is a guaranteed win for both box office and critical success, something of which each and every one of his films have achieved since his early work all the way back in 2000 with Memento. After the brilliance of Interstellar, a film which although may have been slightly divisive with critics, undoubtedly remains up there with the best work Nolan has offered up so far in terms of spectacle, the London-born filmmaker returns this week with Dunkirk, a live-action blockbuster focusing on the infamous titular evacuation which took place during the early stages of the Second World War and a movie which holds extra levels of kudos for being filmed in the heart of my very own hometown in sunny, sunny Dorset. Whilst you can expect nothing less than a movie with many different levels of wonder from a director such as Nolan, Dunkirk still manages to exceed the already vertigo-esque levels of anticipation which preceded it, and to put the experience of watching Dunkirk into words is a staggering undertaking in itself but what Nolan has ultimately accomplished can only be regarded as a masterpiece of spectacle, sound and sumptuous levels of tension, resulting in the best film to be released so far this year.
Avoiding completely the notion of a stereotypical, singular, character-driven wartime epic in the vein of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Nolan’s determined decision to focus on the triage of land, sea and air narrative threads means that although we are in the company of many different characters throughout each of them, their really isn’t time to discover backstory for any of the respective characters before the real power of the movie starts to come to fruition. From the first opening shot, screeching bullets and the tick-tock of Hans Zimmer’s unbelievably stunning soundtrack grip you in a contortion of spellbinding unrelenting tension, with the face of Fionn Whitehead’s youth-inflicted Tommy at the heart and centre of peril for most, if not all, of the time you share his particular journey of death and destruction, all caused by the unseen entity of the enemy soldier. Whilst Zimmer is renowned for being the brains behind classic musical soundtracks of the past, Dunkirk is undeniably up there with his best work to date, using Nolan’s own personal fob-watch at the heart of the metronome-esque piece of music which fuels the rising anxiety which encompasses the main thrust of the narrative, and by utilising his work hand in hand with the simply stupendous sound design, Dunkirk is the type of movie which is crying out to only be watched on the biggest screen possible in order to truly experience the craft at the heart of it.
With the film’s cinematography being left in the hands of Hoyte van Hoytema, whose previous works includes Her, Spectre and Nolan’s own science fiction epic, Interstellar, it comes as no surprise that Dunkirk is absolutely beautiful to behold, and although the particular screening in which I was in was the normalised digital approach to projection, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to witness Dunkirk in IMAX 35mm or 70mm, take it, with scenes of tantalising air to air battles and sweeping camera shots of soldier infested beaches showcasing an artist at the top of his respective game. Whilst pretenders such as the likes of Michael Bay believe the best use of IMAX cameras is to showcase how endless amounts of pointless explosions look within the format, thank god for the likes of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who is grounded completely in the epic grittiness of practicality and more importantly, a director who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of film. Dunkirk isn’t simply just a movie, it is a masterstroke of spectacle and a work of artistic tendency, and a film which not only results in the best blockbuster of the year and perhaps, even the past decade, but is the finest of examples of why cinema is so darn integral and important to those who truly love to witness a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Nolan is just that, and in spades.