By Adam Spunberg

Nominations for Best Director and Best Picture often cling together like chewed-up gum and the bottom of middle school desks.  Rationally speaking, the symbiotic association makes a lot of sense; can a movie truly be Best Picture-worthy with amateurish directing?  Even a pizza with the most delectable cheese and tomato sauce, adorned by all sorts of extravagant toppings and exotic flavors, tastes unsavory if the dough strikes a lower standard.  At the zenith of Oscar consideration, the question is not “Delivery or Digiorno?” but “gourmet or epicurean?”  Pizza Hut need not apply (Italian bistro, really?).

2009 featured five mighty fine chefs, who each brought a unique gastronomic ingenuity to his (OR HER) concoction.  Yes, Kathryn Bigelow’s overpowering inclusion for The Hurt Locker has truly made this a gender-neutral award.  While perhaps not as monumental as women’s suffrage or Billie Jean King’s ceremonial filleting of Bobby Riggs, the feminist movement has something extraordinary to endorse.  Only the fourth female to be nominated for Best Director (Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1976, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993, and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003), Bigelow has a frontrunner’s chance to end the chauvinist stigma and claim one, deservedly, for estrogen.

What makes Bigelow’s exertions so intriguing is the masculine topic in which she triumphs: war, and specifically the machismo of war.  If it could be said that Leo Tolstoy had an uncanny understanding of women, then surely Bigelow has achieved the other side of the coin.  Few men have ever constructed such a well-received, visceral account of organized violence, which delves so profoundly into the inner psyches that drive men to lust for brutality.  The Academy may not be going full Amazonian, but consider Bigelow a sizeable favorite in the quest for Best Director.

Perhaps her prime competitor is none other than ex-husband James Cameron, whose otherworldly work (literally) sets the stage for a scintillating War-of-the-Roses type showdown, all for custody of one little statuette.  Avatar was groundbreaking on so many levels, but how much of Cameron’s brilliance spawned from great directing and how much from sharpest-of-the-cutting-edge technology?  I found myself gaping repeatedly at the vivacity of Pandora, and Cameron certainly deserves a nomination for his innovative techniques.  Rumors suggest that Bigelow will snag Best Director while Cameron’s Avatar just might overtake The Hurt Locker for Best Picture.  The Academy has never been a stranger to splitting votes around, and this year might do little to curb conservative complaints of Marxism in Hollywood.

Not to be forgotten in the shuffle is the ever talked-about Quentin Tarantino, known most notably for conjuring up unusual scenes where uniquely brilliant characters talk and talk about things.  Inglourious Basterds keeps to the formula of Pulp Fiction and other prior efforts, but the setting of Nazi-occupied France —  depicted unprecedentedly through revisionist history – leaves something of a new spice on the palates of eager consumers.  Tarantino was already nominated once for Pulp Fiction, but this is probably his magnum opus to date.  Every instant of the film is so exceptionally calculated, yet drawn out in these unpredictably-convoluted scenarios, that one almost has to anoint him as a cinematic legend.  The competition is probably too steep for Tarantino to win, but in my mind, this Quentin’s work is finest among the quintet.

While Cameron and Tarantino enter the scrum with extensive reputations and Bigelow years of experience, Jason Reitman is relatively new to the scene.  His two prior films, Thank You for Smoking and especially Juno, were met with tremendous acclaim, and he seems to have one-upped himself with Up in the Air.  Reitman is highly unlikely to garner serious consideration, but that should not take away from the quality of his efforts.  A remarkable film that fully encompasses the transitory nature of modern society, Reitman’s hand is ever present in sculpting a witty, but poignant perception of the status quo.  Never quite stating an agenda yet speaking volumes in candid imagery, Reitman has earned his vaunted place within this battle of leviathans.

Last of all, both in order and in likelihood to succeed, is Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. A complete stranger to the red carpet and the second African-American to receive a nomination (Best Director exclusivity has not been restricted to gender), Daniels’ presence is astonishing.  Some might argue that this fifth spot might be better filled by the Coen Brothers for A Serious Man or Lone Scherfig for An Education, but there is something refreshing about the Academy stretching beyond its usual scope and acknowledging a more unpleasant subject.  A polarizing film that has left some in awe and others less enthused, Lee Daniels truly accomplishes something by having his name mentioned beside the other four.  What Daniels chooses to do with his newfound fame is still to be determined, but he may be the happiest of the whole lot, just by getting an invitation.

Directing is always an essential component of high quality films, but these five movies in particular seem to rely significantly on the individualism of their directors.  So much distinct personality and sweat-dried travail oozes beyond each reel, all in pursuit of projects expertly executed and then ultimately realized, that the result is a first class presentation of fine, cinematic cuisine.  If Bigelow wins as projected, among such quality competition, then the legitimacy of her achievement stands irrefutable.  Misogynists, we bid you farewell.

Road to the Oscars series:

Podcasts – Kit Bowen, Nate Freiberg, Adam Spunberg, and Phil Wallace

February 4: Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

February 5: Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 8: Documentary Short Subject – Christa Youngpeter

February 9: Documentary Feature – Nate Freiberg

February 10: Foreign Language Film – Paul Popiel

February 12: Animated Film – Nate Freiberg

February 15: Sound Mixing – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Sound Editing – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 18: Visual Effects – Mallory Pickard

February 19: Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 22: Makeup – Christa Youngpeter

February 23: Costume – Steve Neumann

February 24: Art Direction – Christa Youngpeter

February 25: Film Editing – Steve Neumann

February 26: Cinematography – Paul Popiel

February 27: Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 28: Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

March 1: Supporting Actress – Marla Seidell

March 2: Supporting Actor – Phil Wallace

March 3: Actress – Marla Seidell

March 4: Actor – Kit Bowen

March 5: Director – Adam Spunberg

March 5: Picture – Kit Bowen

March 7: The 82nd Annual Academy Awards!