After Oscar nominations were announced Feb. 8, the buzz seems equally centered on who was nominated and who wasn’t.
There’s an impressive roster of work in both categories. To the nominees, congrats. And to the also-rans, the Academy “snubs” are merely reminders that 2021 offered too many good contenders for Oscar’s handful of slots.
So as the dust settles from nominations, let’s pause and reflect on the year in film. One of the big takeaways this awards season is the number of new filmmakers.
First-time directors include Maggie Gyllenhaal, with the memorable “The Lost Daughter”; Clint Bentley, “Jockey”; Halle Berry, “Bruised”; Rebecca Hall, “Passing”; Stephen Karam, “The Humans”; Fran Krantz, for the powerful “Mass”; Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”; Jaymes Samuel, “The Harder They Come”; and Liesl Tommy, “Respect.”
That’s an impressive roster of freshmen for one year. As you’ll notice, the list includes lots of women and minorities.
Aside from newbies, 2021 included several directors who’ve made only a handful of films. The knockout “CODA” is only the second feature for Siân Heder, while a quartet are on their third film: Reinaldo Marcus Green, “King Richard”; Aaron Sorkin, “Being the Ricardos”; Potsy Ponciroli, “Old Henry”; and Julia Ducournau, “Titane.”
There’s another notable trend in the films of 2021: Directors with an immediately recognizable style, despite a relatively low output. “The Power of the Dog” is only the eighth feature film for Jane Campion. The list also includes Edgar Wright (“Last Night in Soho,” seven films); Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza,” nine); Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car,” also nine); Wes Anderson (“The French Dispatch,” 10); Denis Villeneuve (“Dune,” also 10); and Guillermo Del Toro (“Nightmare Alley”) who is the vet here with 11 movies.
It’s surprising to realize that each has become a “brand,” joining the ranks of such greats as Jacques Tati, who directed only six films, and Sergio Leone, only seven — but these were enough to put the two in the movie pantheon.
Compare them to Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 17 movies before everything clicked with the 1934 “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Ingmar Bergman directed 16 films before “The Seventh Seal” (1957). And, as consolation to the great directors who didn’t get a nomination this year, don’t forget that Hitchcock and Bergman both have distinct styles, but neither ever won a competitive Academy Award.
The 2021 lineup of films also includes such vets as Ridley Scott, both “The Last Duel” and “House of Gucci”; Pedro Almodóvar, “Parallel Mothers”; Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”; Joel Coen, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”; and Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story.”
Those five collectively have directed 114 narrative features. The average of 23 films seem low for this prolific group. But that’s just narrative films and doesn’t take into account their shorts, documentaries, segments in omnibus films, TV episodes, videogames, TV commercials and other areas.
Though they’re prolific, none is likely to match the tallies of such Old Hollywood directors as Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, who were under contract to the studios and each steered more than 100 movies.
Two other vets, Clint Eastwood and Steven Soderbergh, made films this past year that were expertly done and entertaining but didn’t get enough attention, with “Cry Macho” and “No Sudden Move,” respectively.
Again, congrats to the nominees, and congrats to all the year’s filmmakers and their teams. And for the also-rans, don’t forget that out of the 276 films that were eligible for the 94th Academy Awards, you were on the radar of film lovers. And it’s entirely possible that your films will be remembered after several of this year’s nominees are forgotten.