Looking at winners of the best-director category at the Academy Awards over the past decade is a study in extremes.
The film-makers have crafted either visual spectacles (Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, James Cameron's Titanic, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan) or intimate, character-driven dramas (Sam Mendes' American Beauty, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain).
There is no in-between.
Not that looking back is necessary for predicting this year's winner. Martin Scorsese should finally capture the prize that has eluded him for decades, despite having been nominated for such classics as Raging Bull and Goodfellas.
Scorsese's The Departed, about cops and mobsters outsmarting each other in Boston, is a return to the kind of gritty material that made him legendary. Come Oscar night, the sixth time should be the charm. (In a discussion of Oscar-winning movies coming in two sizes, large and small, The Departed would fall on the epic side.)
Honouring Scorsese also would uphold a long-time Oscar trend, says Tom O'Neil, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times' awards site TheEnvelope.com.
"The single most powerful factor at the Oscars is the overdue director syndrome," said O'Neil, who's written several books about awards shows. "We saw this happen a few years ago when Roman Polanski managed to surmount all his bad PR problems and woes to win best director (for The Pianist) over Rob Marshall, who directed the best picture of the year, Chicago.
"When they gave it to Ang Lee last year, is was partly the same thing. He was an overdue director," he added, noting that Lee directed 2000's foreign-film Oscar winner in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - which also was up for best picture that year. And when 2001's A Beautiful Mind won best picture, despite criticism that it sugar-coated the life of mathematician John Nash, it still won best director "because Hollywood was that determined to catch up with Ron Howard," O'Neil said.
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Robert Wilonsky, film critic for the Village Voice chain of weekly newspapers, said directors win the Oscar "for being great ringmasters of spectacles in a lot of cases."
"Someone like Clint Eastwood or Jim Cameron or Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) especially is someone who keeps tight control over what could be a chaotic and disastrous set," said Wilonsky, host of the movie show "Higher Definition" on HDNet. "Occasionally that's all a director does. A director doesn't determine how a film looks, that's the cinematographer. The director didn't write the thing. The director makes sure stuff doesn't fall apart. They're awarded for making sure the process doesn't break down, which is fine."
The directors who have won over the past decade have all been well-known and established, except for Mendes, whose American Beauty (1999) was his first feature.
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