Directors are the backbone of film. Not only do they interpret the writing within a screenplay, but they must also work with disparate actors, set designers, costumers, effects artists, sound designers and more to craft what will hopefully become the ideal representation of their vision. This year, we found plenty of such visions that were worthy of recognition.
2016 Calvin Awards: Best Director
By Kim Hollis
February 26, 2016
We missed having a repeat winner by a slim margin of just nine points. You can probably ascertain by this statement that Alejandro González Iñárritu did not finish in first place for The Revenant. Instead, we selected the great George Miller as our Calvin winner for Best Director. We’ve long been fans of his gonzo, eclectic style, dating all the way back to the original Mad Max days in the late 1970s. Of course, since then he’s done a lot of varied projects before returning the the franchise where he got his start, including such films as The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, and both Happy Feet films. To say that Miller is unpredictable is a bit of an understatement.
There had long been rumblings of a Mad Max resurrection, and with Miller back at the helm, he took Fury Road in madcap and extreme new directions to suit our current era. The set pieces and the effects are seamless and elaborate, while the story itself has such a feminist bent that many viewers wondered why the film was even called “Mad Max” in the first place. It was a refreshing reexamination of the post-nuclear universe where survivors are driven to extremes simply to exist. No director could have handled this with the audacity that Miller did, and we’ll be forever grateful that he came back for another go.
With Miller in the top position, that means Iñárritu finishes in second. After winning last year for Birdman, it would have been an impressive feat indeed to claim two in a row. Peter Jackson will stay safe as our only repeat winner ever (he won for all three Lord of the Rings films). Iñárritu wowed us this year as he went from coloring outside traditional Hollywood lines with Birdman to a true big-time Hollywood production with the revenant. Not only does it have a huge budget and feature one of the biggest stars in the industry (Leonardo DiCaprio), it also has awe-inspiring special effects and a classic Western-style tale of revenge. It’s impossible not to watch the movie and pause at moments to revel in its artistry. Our top two selections for director really do make for an amazing one-two punch.
Next up in third place is Adam McKay, who managed to take a hard non-fiction book in The Big Short and turn it into a captivating film that is simultaneously hilarious and devastating. That it comes from the man previously responsible for such stuff as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby only makes this feat all the more remarkable - those movies are terrific, but not what we typically consider when we think of “award worthy.” The Big Short makes the housing collapse of the 2000s easier to comprehend, and even as it’s making us sick over what happened, the film is still entertaining to watch.
Another film that entertains even as it covers disturbing subject matter is Spotlight, from director Tom McCarthy. We’ve long enjoyed McCarthy’s work, going back to the delightful Station Agent and followed by The Visitor and Win Win. With Spotlight, McCarthy takes what could effectively be a simple procedural and turns it into a compelling depiction of a newsroom and their in-depth investigation of child sexual abuse by priests. As someone who has spent nearly two decades in the newspaper industry, I was deeply appreciative of the realistic portrayal of the business. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a film that got it so right. There’s not a false note in the film - performances are perfect, the writing is crisp, and the pacing is spot on. Spotlight may not employ fancy special effects or employ crafty nods to the camera, but that doesn’t mean that a straightforward story told flawlessly is undeserving of notice.
Closing out the top five is the venerable Ridley Scott for his marvelous work on the sci-fi story of human ingenuity known as The Martian. It could have been so tempting for Scott to focus solely on Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his experiences on Mars as he waited to be released. After all, the blueprint had been successful for Gravity only a few years ago. Instead, The Martian spends time both with Watney and his compatriots on Earth and on a spaceship flying back to their home planet. The film celebrates people working together, and along the way, it manages to be pretty funny, too.
Sixth and seventh go to a couple of directors of 2015 indie darlings. Alex Garland, who had previously written screenplays for 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina, a science fiction film about a programmer who is selected to perform a Turing test on a humanoid robot. It’s big on ideas and appeals to our cerebral side. The independent film in seventh place is Room, a novel adaptation that was brought to life by Lenny Abrahamson. He does a spectacular job of conveying both the claustrophobia of room and the overwhelming nature of the wide world. Also, when children deliver fantastic performances, I always like to think that the director has a lot to do with that happening.
We close out our list of favorite directors of 2015 with Creed’s Ryan Coogler, Steven Spielberg for Bridge of Spies, and Carol’s Todd Haynes. Coogler is responsible for our Best Overlooked Film from two years ago, Fruitvale Station, and he reunites with that film’s star (Michael B. Jordan) to bring Creed to life. It’s a nice passing of the torch from Rocky Balboa to Apollo Creed’s son, and we’re excited to hear that Coogler plans to take some risks with the impending sequel. Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a restrained, subtle film that is compelling and sharp. It’s an engaging story with strong performances at its center. And finally, Todd Haynes returns to explore sexuality and identity with Carol, a movie that takes advantage of its 1950s setting to evoke colors and images that juxtapose intriguingly with its themes.
Directors who just missed our top 10 include Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation), J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight), and F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton).
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music