2011 Calvin Awards: Best Director

February 18, 2011

He *likes* this award.

This year's Best Director award was one of the closest and deepest races ever for the Calvins, with four helmers coming down to the wire for the prize. Each of these directors below combined technical savvy with skill in handling actors, bringing out the best in the material they were given.

Leading the way is David Fincher for The Social Network, who perhaps had the most difficult job of any of the major contenders this year. Turning Aaron Sorkin's hyper-literate screenplay, devoid of anything you'd call a traditional action scene, into something approaching a heist film is an amazing achievement. Half the film is spent either in boardrooms or with people typing into computers, but these scenes still crackle, and we're on the edge of our seats. Combine that with the great performances he wrested out of some actors that were considered marginal talents at best going in, and we've got a directorial effort for the ages.

Losing by just one first-place vote is Christopher Nolan for Inception. A winner two years ago for The Dark Knight, Nolan repeated his dazzling imagery for this film, which took us on a mind-bending trip through several layers of a man's subconscious, all the while making the amazing and fantastic seem like the most logical possible thing that could be happening. His skill in guiding the audience through different layers of time and space in the film can't be overstated, giving us the greatest thrill ride of the year.

Third place finds its way to Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit. The Coens faced a huge struggle in bringing this classic western re-adaptation to the screen, in finding a way to make it feel like their own work instead of a retread. Taking us on a ride through desolated Oklahoma badlands, the Coens find a way to make it feel like a trip to another world. Add in some sweeping directorial flair like the final gunfight scene and the midnight ride, and we're thoroughly dazzled by their work here.


Darren Aronofsky is the hard-luck loser in this race, placing fourth by just 20 points (by way of comparison – fourth place last year was 50 points out and his total this year would have missed by just six points last year) for his amazing work with Black Swan. There's a ton to enjoy here in his effort, from the bravura performance he wrenched out of Natalie Portman (reportedly pushing her to her physical limits) to the nightmarish environment he created to torment her character, with split-second visions just on the edge of vision, making you never quite sure what you just saw. Moreover, he made ballet fascinating and gripping to multiplex audiences, and is that a sentence you ever thought you'd see?

After that, the points table falls off a little cliff to Ben Affleck in fifth for The Town. But then, five years ago, would anyone have believed this possible? Shaking off the sophmore jinx, Affleck proved that he's a really, real for realsies capital-D Director with this second Boston crime story, which reminded us of nothing so much as Michael Mann's Heat, but sharper and more concise. Affleck has a natural feel for how insular communities work, and at least while he's working in this genre, has a potential to become “Ben Affleck, the Director” instead of “Ben Affleck, the guy who starred in Paycheck and Reindeer Games”.

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