2014 Calvin Awards: Best Director

By Kim Hollis

February 14, 2014

I like to torture my actors for fun and profit!

Our winner in Best Director is a runaway. Not only did it have more than twice the votes of the second place finisher, but it also earned more than second and third place combined. Clearly, it was an easy choice.

Our winner by a landslide is Alfonso Cuarón for the awe-inspiring and tension-filled Gravity. Our of 21 first place votes, Cuarón received a remarkable 16. Never before in the history of the Calvins has there been such a lopsided victory in the category. It’s Cuarón’s first win after having finished in sixth place in 2005 for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and second in 2007 for Children of Men. Needless to say, we’re fans of the director’s work.

He does make it easy for us to admire him, though. Gravity is a true masterpiece, the kind of film people will still be talking about decades from now. Of course, the effects are at the centerpiece of the film. Gravity makes the viewer feel almost as though they are in space themselves as we share Dr. Ryan Stone’s viewpoint. Through her eyes, we feel the awesomeness, sublimity and strange peacefulness of her work. When things quickly take a turn, the viewer is in a constant state of panic, claustrophobia and anxiety. Just when you think Cuarón might relent, he brings on a new set of perils.


And yet, the film is more than just a story about a person struggling to survive in space. Through her experience, Dr. Stone fights through feelings of dejection and loss to emerge as a brand new person (in a symbolic rebirth). Any film that leaves us this breathless deserves to be lauded, and Cuarón is our rightful winner of the Calvin.

Way, way back in second place is Steve McQueen, who crafted an oppressive 1850s Louisiana in 12 Years a Slave. Like Gravity, this is a story of survival, and it’s every bit as brutal and challenging as the ordeals faced in Gravity, and perhaps more so. 12 Years a Slave takes a frank approach to the storytelling, and it’s important that it do so because it reveals precisely how horrific life as a slave was. There are no moments of humor and nothing is whitewashed. Your heart breaks for both the main character, Solomon Northup, and the other slaves who pass in and out of his life. Even the “kindest” slave owner gives Solomon over to a man who is known for beating his slaves in the name of the Bible. 12 Years a Slave is not an easy film to watch, but it shouldn’t be. McQueen understood this.

Third place goes to Spike Jonze, who created a believable near future in which humans become so disconnected from one another that they begin to develop relationships with operating systems. Production design is kept minimal, allowing the story to be fully in focus. Most impressively, Jonze seamlessly integrates the performance from Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson, with natural, believable conversations and conflict. It’s a shockingly believable romance.

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