Our Best Director category this year shook out like several of our other categories - dominated by two films that had a back and forth battle for first place that wasn’t really decided until the final votes were cast.
2017 Calvin Awards: Best Director
By Kim Hollis
February 24, 2017
The Calvin Award for Best Director goes to Canadian director Denis Villeneuve for the magnificent, thoughtful Arrival. A science fiction film for people who like the genre to be smart, Arrival is challenging much in the way that Solaris was in 2002, but somehow in a much more accessible manner. Even if you don’t enjoy movies about aliens, you’ll find something to appreciate here. From stellar effects and performances to a transcendent, existential story, the parts and pieces of Arrival come together perfectly in Villeneuve’s skilled hands. This movie is one that keeps viewers talking and pondering for some time after viewing it, and Villeneuve is a deserving winner alongside the movie itself winning for Best Picture.
The last time this director had a movie in release, he finished in sixth place in our voting for Best Director. That was two years ago, and the movie was Whiplash. Now, Damien Chazelle moves up to second place (and isn’t far off from a win) with the delightful La La Land. Every element of this film comes together for a perfect modern Hollywood musical, from the story to the performances to the set pieces to the costuming and cinematography. With Chazelle at the helm, all of these pieces fit together perfectly.
Our third place director is Barry Jenkins, for directing Moonlight from his own screenplay. Moonlight is unlike anything we saw in theaters in 2016, and the reason why is Jenkins’ compassionate, deeply personal direction. The story explores the lives of people that we are generally unable to see in cinema, and paints a sympathetic and stereotype-busting portrait of connection and identity.
David Mackenzie takes the fourth place spot for his deliberate, measured direction in Hell or High Water. This thoughtful Western thriller breaks from the norm by crafting in-depth, complex characters whose motivations make sense even if they might be coming from an iniquitous place. Not only is the film stunningly acted and brilliantly scripted, but it also evokes a real sense of a West Texas where the residents have been left behind.
We round out our top five with Manchester by the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan, a director we’ve loved going all the way back to the first film he directed in 2000, You Can Count on Me. It’s great to see him receiving the recognition he deserves, this time for a film that takes an honest look at how we grieve. In real life, that sadness is interspersed with silly moments, happy moments, times when we laugh. Lonergan understands that and gives a slice of real life that even though it is rooted in sorrow, energizes us.
Sixth and seventh go to the king of the buddy film and brothers who elevated the superhero ensemble. Shane Black returned to the buddy genre with The Nice Guys, this time with detectives instead of cops. He improves on the lessons he learned from the Lethal Weapon series and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to provide a big-screen experience that both diverts expectations and transports viewers to the ‘70s. Also providing escapist fare for audiences were Anthony and Joe Russo, the men at the helm of Captain America: Civil War. They were able to take a multitudinous cast and give every person their due, all while delivering a sharp, exciting action film that pitted two of Marvel’s greatest characters against each other.
Our final selections feature a director of a small, indie picture, a helmer of an animated flick, and the man behind the biggest domestic release of 2016. We’ve been enjoying John Carney’s films since he enchanted us with Once, and he’s just kept on going since then with Begin Again and now with Sing Street. This wonderful musical film transported us to the ‘80s with ease, building genial characters and giddy tunes. We also adored Travis Knight’s work in Kubo and the Two Strings, as it was clearly a painstaking labor of love that included handmade costumes and even visual effects. Finally, Gareth Edwards gave us a standalone Star Wars film in Rogue One that was by turns thrilling, touching and honorable to the franchise.
Directors who didn’t quite get enough votes to land in the top ten include Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some!!), Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) and Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane).
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music