2007 Calvin Awards: Best Director

February 16, 2007

Scorsese gets enough booze ready to prepare him for his inevitable Oscar night loss.

The Best Director category is among our most competitive this year. No fewer than seven different men received first place votes, exemplifying how many great film creations there were in 2006. In the end, the same three people we believed to produce the top three films of the year stood out as the best directors. The order, however, was slightly re-shuffled from Best Picture.

Living legend Martin Scorsese is our choice for Best Director. While The Departed is edged out in the Best Picture category by a small amount, there is no disputing the fact that it's a masterpiece of criminal drama. Scorsese faced an uphill battle in transferring a novel Chinese tale of planned betrayal and moral ambiguity into a version North American audiences would accept. He resisted the temptation to dumb down the intrigue Infernal Affairs possessed, instead ramping up the number of characters in order to heighten the tension. Both double agents became that much more likely to be discovered. Their difficulty is greater due to the number of clever people they had to fool in order to pull off their deception. A lesser director could have been easily overwhelmed by the complicated story as well as a cast featuring some of the biggest names in the industry. In the hands of master such as Scorsese, however, these elements simply enriched already stellar proceedings. The result is one the most engaging explorations of the criminal underworld since Goodfellas. Scorsese finished fourth in the 2005 Calvins for The Aviator and now lays claim to being the best of 2007.

What BOP's staff admires most about Alfonso Cuarón is his willingness to try entirely different projects rather than be pigeon-holed in one style of filmmaking. He introduced himself to North American audiences with 1995's The Little Princess, a shockingly adult film disguised as a children's tale. His project prior to that was a Spanish language sex comedy that dealt with the fear of AIDS. His follow-up project dealt with sex-obsessed teens and their attempt to seduce an older, married woman. His most famous work was the third work in the Harry Potter series, Prisoner of Azkaban. What does a man who has done a children's film, an ostensible children's film, and two tales of sexual misadventures do for his next story? He takes away mankind's ability to procreate as a starter, creating Children Men, a dystopian future where people wage war since they have nothing left by way of hope. Masterful director that Cuarón is, however, he doesn't stop there, introducing unexpected story elements into the plot that make the viewer hope for a better tomorrow in spite of themselves. I saw over 160 wide releases in 2006. Children of Men was not just the best, but it was the best by a wide margin. A lot of that success is due to the deft touch of Cuarón, a director who has proven time and again that he may take any type of film premise and turn it into a masterpiece.

Stephen Frears made a name for himself in the late '80s with Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters. In the '90s, his greatest claim to fame (well, infamy) was Mary Reilly, a film that set Julia Roberts' career back several years. In the 2000s, he has returned to greatness. He was a nominee for Best Director in our initial Calvins in 2000 for his work on High Fidelity. He also garnered votes for Dirty Pretty Things and Mrs. Henderson Presents. This year, he achieves a creative high with what will probably be remembered as the finest work of his career, The Queen. The film tells the behind-the-scenes story of how an out-of-touch monarch was forced to come to terms with the modern era as eroding public support. Frears went to great lengths to re-create the events surrounding the death of Princess Diana, spending countless hours interviewing Buckingham Palace people in the know. Frears somehow manages to make his titular lead arrogant, callous and heroic all at the same time. He coaxes Helen Mirren into the performance of the year while directing the best film of the year. What more needs to be said about his achievements in The Queen?

Paul Greengrass made one simple request in agreeing to make The Bourne Ultimatum, a sequel to his marvelous work on The Bourne Supremacy. He requested that Universal Pictures greenlight a tiny $15 million production, a pet project of his. The subject matter was controversial, focusing upon the 9/11 attacks that led to the destruction of New York City's World Trade Center. There was a concern that it was too soon to recreate the events of that fateful day. Greengrass was undeterred, though. He had a vision for how to demonstrate that there was heroism in the face of terrorism on 9/11. In order to prove this, he took the story of the doomed flight, United 93, and showed that some people willingly sacrificed their lives in order to prevent more horror from unfolding. The results speak for themselves. United 93 is the most critically lauded release of calendar 2006, earning more end-of-year Best Picture recognition than any other release. Greengrass manages to take a cast of complete unknowns and coax them into performances that will never be forgotten by those who have watched the movie. United 93 is difficult to watch due to the subject matter but there is simply no arguing the fact that Greengrass's directorial performances borders upon perfection.

Guillermo del Toro made a name for himself in Hollywood with comic book adaptations of Blade II and Hellboy. It was his lesser known work in Cronos and The Devil's Backbone that proved to be more representative of his next project, Pan's Labyrinth. del Toro wanted to tell a story that combined the brutal realities of war with the fantastical imagination of a young girl. The result is one of the sleeper hits of awards season as well as a potent depiction of the perils of fascism. Pan's Labyrinth has been a factor in almost every major category of this year's Calvins, and that speaks volumes about how great the direction is. How the same man can follow up the comedic styling of a character such as Hellboy with a man as villainous as Capitán Vidal is beyond me, but there is no questioning the result. Pan's Labyrinth stakes a claim as the most novel film of 2006, and almost all of the credit goes to del Toro for his vision.

Sixth and seventh place in the category are a mix of the new guard of direction and a now deceased master. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton came up through music videos, but their debut as major motion picture directors in Little Miss Sunshine is the work of a seasoned pro. The film manages to vacillate between the extremes of emotional failings and absurd comic moments at a reckless pace. Conversely, Robert Altman's final work, A Prairie Home Companion, is a masterpiece of measured character development. He tells multiple stories at once, utilizing music to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at who the singers are.

Rounding out the top ten are Kevin MacDonald, Neil Marshall, Robert De Niro, and James McTeigue. MacDonald's work on The Last King of Scotland was honored by our site as the Best Overlooked Film of the year. Marshall managed to take an oversaturated product, the horror genre, and offer a fresh spin with his sublime movie, The Descent. De Niro's return to the directorial chair is an epic three hour take on the sacrifices made by some in order to protect the country's safety. Tying De Niro for tenth place, McTeigue goes a different way, offering up a fascinating exploration of the benefits of anarchy. V for Vendetta is the rare comic book adaptation that offers a much more subversive message, a bold decision for a first time director.

Narrowing missing nomination are John Lasseter (Cars), Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly), Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo), Larry Charles (Borat), J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III), Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep), and Rian Johnson (Brick). (David Mumpower/BOP)

Top 10
Position Director(s) Film Total Points
1 Martin Scorsese The Departed 77
2 Alfonso Cuaron Children of Men 63
3 Stephen Frears The Queen 53
4 Paul Greengrass United 93 50
5 Guillermo del Toro Pan's Labyrinth 29
6 Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris Little Miss Sunshine 25
7 Robert Altman A Prairie Home Companion 17
8 Kevin Macdonald The Last King of Scotland 15
9(tie) Neil Marshall The Descent 14
9(tie) Robert De Niro The Good Shepherd 14
9(tie) James McTeigue V For Vendetta 14

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