Director Jane Campion had already cemented her place in the cinematic history books with classic masterpieces like The Piano and An Angel at My Table. But this year, she outdid herself with The Power of the Dog. Her first feature film in over a decade, Power released to critical acclaim and has turned into the award season favorite. The film has picked up countless Best Picture and Best Director awards in the lead-up to the 94th Academy Awards where it sits as the most nominated film of the night.
Should Campion follow in Chloé Zhao’s footsteps and get the gold, it would mark the first instance of two women winning back-to-back Best Director Oscars. The industry hasn’t always been kind to female directors, but seeing names like Zhao and Campion make Oscar history points to a positive shift in who gets to tell their stories.
8 The Hurt Locker – 3.68
The Hurt Locker is a war film following an Iraq War Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. The team is thrown for a loop when the reckless unpredictable Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is appointed as their new leader.
In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman to win Best Director and direct a Best Picture winner. User Firequackers compliments the film’s documentary-style cinematography, providing “a certain level of roughness and intimacy.” Scarlett Worthington agrees, saying that the film immerses the viewer in the debilitating human experience of war, “an exploration into the masculinity and how war has the possibility to destroy you in a way that seems to slowly gnaw you down to nothing.”
7 Promising Young Woman – 3.72
Carey Mulligan stars in Promising Young Woman, the story of one woman’s search for justice for her late best friend, Nina. Mulligan stars as Cassie, a woman seeking revenge on the men who sexually assaulted Nina and the many people who were complicit with the life-altering crime.
Emerald Fennell’s dark thriller is a controversial film with polarized review after polarized review. User 🌻 lindsay 🌻 notes “I really don’t know how to feel about this movie. I think I actually did enjoy it overall.” One consensus is the love for Mulligan’s performance, one of her best, with user holli describing, “she holds it together and is absolutely ravishing.” Along with fellow nominee Chloé Zhao, this would be the first Oscar ceremony with two female Best Director nominees.
6 The Power of the Dog – 3.75
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel of the same name. The film follows the power struggles in a 1925 Montana household when Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) feels threatened by his brother’s new bride and stepson.
Twenty-nine years after her previous bid, Campion became the first woman to receive two Best Director nominations. Once again, she has crafted a layered masterpiece colored by the subtlety in its choices. User muriel sums up Campion’s talents, “her ability to combine what’s nuanced with what’s unrestrained so effortlessly, so much is expressed in the unexpressed.” Cumberbatch has received raves, theriverjordan says his role “is more a walking disease than he is a man; an embodiment of what happens when the bubonic plague meets anthrax.”
5 The Piano – 3.78
The Piano is a period drama that explores an unusual love triangle between Ada (Holly Hunter), Alisdair (Sam Neil), and George (Harvey Keitel), a mute woman, the man she’s sold to wed, and their neighbor who grows close to Ada.
Arguably the greatest work in Campion’s catalog, The Piano is a stunning display of the magic of cinema. User josh lewis compliments the various components, “some of the most beautiful music ever written for a film, and very rich, expressive images that say everything the lead character can’t.” Similarly, Jade. adds “Campion forgoes dialogue and employs the power of image and sound to craft her narrative.” Campion may have lost her first bid for Best Director, but she did pick up the prize for Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.
4 Nomadland – 3.87
Nomadland tells the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who transitions to a nomadic lifestyle after losing everything in the Great Recession. This never-ending road trip follows her existential adventures and the many warm faces she meets along her travels.
With her Oscar win, Chloé Zhao became the second woman and first woman of color to win Best Director. In casting many non-actors and real-life nomads, the film takes on a naturalistic feel. User Lucy describes the sensation, “this truly feels less like a movie and more like a fond but hazy memory.” Additional praise heralds the leading performance with fran hoepfner noting “I’m not sure if we have a better nod-and-smiler than Frances McDormand.”
3 Lost in Translation – 3.88
Forgotten movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and a hotshot photographer’s ignored wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves equally lonely during their time in Tokyo. The two connect and the two lost souls form a special bond in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
Translation holds up as one of Coppola’s best releases. Although she lost Best Director, she did win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Part of the film’s beauty is its ability to capture the pain and magic in little, quiet moments of life. As user ZaraGwen puts it, “I am in awe that such a simple movie can be so beautiful.” The result is a hypnotic trance. Marcissus puts it simply, “Melancholy never looked so good. Melancholy never felt so good.”
2 Lady Bird – 3.90
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age dramedy following a Sacramento teenager (Saoirse Ronan) in her senior year at Catholic school. On her road to discovering herself, Christine (who goes by the titular pseudonym Lady Bird) tests her relationships with her mom, dad, brother, and best friend.
Greta Gerwig joined an elite group of filmmakers when she became the first woman to receive a Best Director nomination for her directorial debut. As soon as it was released, the film earned its status as an instant classic. User davidehrlich praises the film’s pitch-perfect tone, calling it “beyond being hilarious, unflinchingly honest, and performed to perfection…” demi adejuyigbe declares it “A perfect movie. Every scene, every line is flawless and eminently quotable.”
1 Seven Beauties – 3.95
Lina Wertmüller’s Italian drama follows Pasqualino Frafuso (Giancarlo Giannini), a man who is arrested and sent to join the army. He goes AWOL and finds himself in the middle of WWII Germany. Pasqualino ends up in a concentration camp and does anything he can to survive.
In 1977, Wertmüller made history as the first woman ever nominated for Best Director. User Zoë 🐝 compliments the detailed specificity of the film, which culminates in”sobering reminders that Nazi atrocities are not a work of fiction and that the reality was likely even worse than what happens in this fictional film.” Seven Beauties proves to be so unforgettable and impactful that user forelavy will be “pondering over this one for the rest of my life.”
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