2019 Calvin Awards: Best Director
By Kim Hollis
February 24, 2019
Up until this year, only two people had ever won multiple Calvin Awards for Best Director. This year, a new hero joins their ranks, and he does so handily. Not only does he beat the runner-up in a romp, but also the first and second place nominees are far and away our favorites.
A previous winner in 2014 for Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón is our easy choice for victory this year in the Director’s race for his sublime helming of Roma. David Mumpower and I had joked that we should rename this award after Cuarón because it feels like he wins so much, but then I went back and looked and realized that Peter Jackson is actually our big champ here with three wins (Christopher Nolan also has two, for Dunkirk and The Dark Knight).
The good news is that we’re a little bit less fanboyish than we once were, though we’re not hesitant to reward a quality pop culture-driven superhero film or fantasy flick if it’s deserving. What you should know is that Cuarón spaces out his films over a number of years. Before Gravity, his previous project was Children of Men (Cuarón was runner up in the Best Director Calvin that year) and prior to that he directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (he got sixth place then). I think it’s safe to say that we really, really like Cuarón and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
We loved Roma, awarding it Best Picture, Best Director, Best Overlooked Film, Best Scene, and Breakthrough Performance. Cuarón is the true reason it succeeds, as the story springs from his mind and he is responsible for the story, the look, the feel, the atmosphere, and the performance he draws from his lead.
If you’ve been following the rest of our awards this year, our runner-up won’t be a surprise. This season, BOP pretty much loved Roma and BlacKkKlansman, with the latter film winning four awards and getting attention in three other categories. So naturally, Spike Lee is our second place selection for Best Director, and nobody really comes close to him or Cuarón after that in the voting. It’s such a dramatic drop-off that I’d really be within my rights to stop writing here and call it a day, but we know you’re interested in those directors that received more scattered support, too. Lee’s story of an undercover police officer who manages to go undercover in the KKK even though he’s black is hilarious, disturbing, thoughtful, and timely. Any other year, Lee would dominate the votes.
Coming in a distant third is Ryan Coogler, a director we feel is bound to win one of these someday. I mean, Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther pretty much put the guy at three for three as far as his career goes. Black Panther is a masterpiece of a superhero movie but also functions almost as a fun James Bond-esque story, with awesome gadgets and toys along with over-the-top supervillains. The only thing missing is the typical Bond girl, and that’s because Coogler goes another way with it, making the women of Black Panther strong and smart and not needing to be rescued by a man, thank you very much. It’s good stuff, and we know he’ll be a great caretaker for Black Panther 2 and his next collaboration with Michael B. Jordan, Wrong Answer.
Fourth place belongs to yet another director that we’ve come to quickly admire during his short career. First Man’s Damien Chazelle has previously seen nomination in this category for Whiplash, which earned him sixth place, and La La Land, which gave him the runner-up spot. He dips a bit with First Man, perhaps because many view it as a clinical film without the same heart of his first two projects. For me, I see it as the saddest of the three, with a protagonist (Neil Armstrong) whose melancholy is so pervasive on the screen that it goes home with you. Oh, and the film looks amazing, too.
Yorgos Lanthimos seems to be one of those directors who either inspires or confounds, depending on your point of view. In the past, he’s received notoriety (if not much attention from the BOP staff) for movies like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster, and Dogtooth. The Favourite is his most accessible film to date, though I’d still say it’s off-putting to the majority of the movie-going public. A dark comedy about ruling and ascending and power, it’s a perfect exploration of a mannered society where the behind the scenes machinations are as cunning as they can be.
Our sixth and seventh place director choices give us a first in Calvins voting history – half of our nominations go to minorities. I’d give us a huge pat on the back, but none of our selections are women this year (we did have two last year). I hope that says more about Hollywood than it does our staff. Sixth place belongs to John M. Chu, who helmed Crazy Rich Asians to a super fun, super hilarious, super romantic pile of money. He manages to bring together a lot of moving parts and pieces for a cohesive, delightful whole. Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk is much more subtle and less kinetic, but has a dreamy, effervescent quality that serves its story well. His style of movie-making is distinct and gorgeous. Jenkins has a series based on Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad in the works, and we can’t wait to see it.
We close out the top ten with… three white dudes. Bradley Cooper made his directing debut with A Star Is Born, and what a debut it was. A devastating examination of fame, the story of Ally’s rise and Jackson’s simultaneous fall will have you thinking about art and artists. Ready Player One’s Steven Spielberg is pretty much old reliable in this category – he’s been nominated five times before for The Post, Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, Minority Report, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but never won in the Calvins before. Not far behind him in past noms is our tenth place director, Wes Anderson, who is here thanks to his fabulous stop motion animation piece Isle of Dogs. His previous nods include The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums.
Directors who just missed inclusion are Debra Granik (there’s our woman!) for Leave No Trace, John Krasinski for A Quiet Place, Christopher McQuarrie for Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo for Avengers: Infinity War, Morgan Neville for Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and Carlos López Estrada for Blindspotting.
2019 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
|| Alfonso Cuarón
|| Spike Lee
|| Ryan Coogler
|| Damien Chazelle
|| Yorgos Lanthimos
|| Jon M. Chu
||Crazy Rich Asians
|| Barry Jenkins
||If Beale Street Could Talk
|| Bradley Cooper
||A Star Is Born
|| Steven Spielberg
||Ready Player One
|| Wes Anderson
||Isle of Dogs