Despite what many would claim was a weak field of films nominated for this year’s Academy for Best Picture, it was unarguably a fantastic year for the Best Director category.
We all know Kathryn Bigelow was one of a handful of women ever nominated (and the only one who ever won), but few recognize that Lee Daniels is only the second African American ever nominated.
And, putting aside identity politics for a moment, we can agree that all of the directors are incredibly talented. The field contained two up-and-coming directors, one film geek favorite, one incredibly underrated action director, and the most financially-successful director ever. So, what comes now? Some have projects lined up, some don’t. Let’s forget that.
In a dream world, the following would be the next project toward which these directors would turn their cameras.
Quentin Tarantino: Tarantino makes great, sometimes violent, films that are bound to pay homage to flicks you’ve never heard of. It’s something he’s very good at doing. So good, in fact, that we rarely get to see anything else. “Inglorious Basterds” was good, but it was far from original. The premise is based on the Italian film “Quel maledetto treno blindato,” which was based on “The Dirty Dozen.” That in and of itself is not the problem. It’s just that Tarantino is so damn good when he just tells a simple story, even when it twists and turns along the way. “Jackie Brown” — his underrated and, in my estimation, best film — was a great example of this. He doesn’t need to depend on the overly-excessive gore and the esoteric film knowledge to make a good flick. That’s why Tarantino needs to commit to a more personal project. Think Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.” Something that slows him down and forces him to strip bare his usual film motifs. Does he risk alienating some of his fanbase by doing so? Absolutely. But the risk could be worth it if it pays off with the accolades that have evaded him in some corners.
Jason Reitman: Jason Reitman has taken a lot of flack on the Internet for being celebuspawn. Because, God forbid, he couldn’t actually be a decent director. If anything, Reitman’s last three films have shown he is not only a better director than his father (Ivan Reitman), but can direct with the best of them. His films, while always funny, manage to make you feel intimately for their lead characters. But I think Reitman has more funny and quirky in him. Rather than make another “think piece,” Reitman needs to embrace the quirkiness and run full tilt with it. He is tailor-made to adapt the novels of fellow Canadian Douglas Coupland. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, go read “JPod.” Thank me later. Coupland’s novels are satirical juggernaughts, filled with more quirky losers and foolish hipsters than you could shake a hamburger phone at. His novels have long deserved the cinematic treatment and Reitman is cool and hilarious enough to handle it.
Kathryn Bigelow: Post-Oscar win, there was chatter that Bigelow only won her Oscar because the Academy wanted to be politically correct. Those people need to get their heads out of James Cameron’s butt and take a good look at Bigelow’s body of work. “The Hurt Locker” was a tightly shot, thrilling ride, but it is only the last in a line of great films Bigelow has directed. “Point Break” was hurt by the wooden acting of Keanu Reeves, but it has one of the best foot chases ever committed to film. And “Near Dark” was a damn-near perfect vampire film. So what should Bigelow direct next? I’ve made it no secret how badly I want a Wonder Woman film. And if Wonder Woman got a director who could take it seriously and direct great action sequences, it could make for an absolutely stellar superhero film.
Lee Daniels: Daniels is admittedly the director about whom I know the least. He produced the excellently-received “Monster’s Ball,” and prior to “Precious,” he directed “Shadowboxer,” which according to IMDb, is about an assassin with terminal cancer who decides to take on one more hit before she’s too ill. The only clear connection between all the three films is a strong black female in the lead. But I like that I know little about Daniels because, unlike the rest of the directors nominated, there’s no pigeon-hole for him. He isn’t fighting the expectations people have about him in the same way that Cameron or Reitman are. That, in combination with his newfound critical darling status, puts him in a perfect position to pursue an ambitious project. I would love to see him take on a historical figure, and there is one in particular I think he would do justice to: Harriet Tubman. Forget the boring story of Tubman you slept through in history class and learn more about her extraordinary life. I have thought for a long time her story would make great cinema, and Daniels would be ideally suited for it given his propensity for strong black female leads.
James Cameron: I saved the big kahuna for last. Cameron has the financial wherewithal to do anything he wants. That anything will most certainly be an “Avatar” sequel, and far be it for my lowly film critic self to say he shouldn’t do it. But, at the risk of angering “Avatar” fanboys, there are as many problems with Cameron’s films as there are revelations. His plots are often times recycled and predictable, and he re-vists the same clichéd characters time and time again. Thanks James, we all understand rich people are evil. His dialogue also suffers from the same clichés and sometimes just unbearably corny lines (unobtanium, anyone?). What Cameron does have in spades is vision. He has great ideas and can translate those ideas to the screen better than most other directors. So, what should Cameron do next? Ideally, I would like to see him mentor another young filmmaker the way that Spielberg often does. His input and experience could make a filmmaker’s career. But, barring that, I want to see Cameron paired with a screenwriter or even another director who has a keen eye for dialogue and plot development. Someone who could handle Cameron’s volatile nature and refine his films from bloated action flicks to something that works on a higher level.
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