Nominees: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Gus Van Sant, Milk; Stephen Daldry, The Reader; Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Prediction: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
In sluggish, slapdash times for movies, Boyle's films have always had energy and style to spare, from his early drug-addled Trainspotting to the psy-fi 28 Days Later ... and kid fantasy Millions. He pours all his practiced zazz into this tale of a poor Mumbai boy who scores improbable wins on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Directors' Oscars rarely go to folks who've never worked in the States. But the movie's great vibe could sweep Boyle onstage Feb. 22.
Preference: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
An impossible project, with a huge budget ($150 million) and no inherent suspense: a man is born old, gets younger, dies. Somehow Fincher, mostly associated with slick, grisly thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac, pulled it off, lavishly showering attention on each minute detail of story, acting and technique while keeping his eye on the big picture and making it better than big. But don't take my word for it. I spoke last week with a director who spoke of his unbounded admiration for Fincher's films. It was Boyle.
Robbed: Jon Favreau, Iron Man
O.K., so The Dark Knight was shut out of the Picture and Director categories. Dommage. But in a terrific year for superhero films, the smartest, cleanest one, Iron Man, was also ignored. Robert Downey Jr., nominated for his blackface parody in Tropic Thunder, created a complex, virtually human action figure in the repentent munitions baron Tony Stark. The special effects buttressed the picture instead of overwhelming it. And Favreau's direction was lean, clean and suave, up there with old Hollywood adventure films by directors like Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh movies that never got awards, but which we watch with undiminished pleasure today.
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