So far, only five women have ever competed in this category in the Oscars’ 92 years of existence: Lina Wertmuller (1976’s “Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (1993’s “The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (2003’s “Lost in Translation”) and Greta Gerwig (2017’s “Lady Bird”) and Kathryn Bigelow, who won for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.”
At least three lady lensers could make the cut this year, with the added bonus of racial diversity attached. Meanwhile, three African-American helmers could be in the running. That includes Spike Lee, who is one of only six black filmmakers to ever make the cut, thanks to 2019’s “BlacKkKlansman.” The others are John Singleton (1991’s “Boyz N the Hood”), Lee Daniels (2009’s “Precious,”), Steve McQueen (2013’s “12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (2016’s “Moonlight”) and Jordan Peele (2017’s “Get Out”).
As for Asian auteurs, Taiwan native Ang Lee won the prize for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain” and 2012’s “Life of Pi”—becoming the first person of color to do so—while South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho became the second Asian to win the prize, thanks to 2019’s “Parasite.” Here is the rundown of this year’s front-runners for Best Director:
Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”): This Chinese filmmaker was previously praised for her debut feature, 2016’s “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” which focused on the bond between a Lakota Sioux brother, his younger sister and their extended family who live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her second film, “The Rider” (2018), starred a real-life rodeo rider who suffers an accident and no longer competes. Her latest film “Nomadland” won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the TIFF, becoming the first movie to claim both prizes. The movie’s greatest asset by far is its star Frances McDormand, who plays a feisty 60-something former plant worker who decides to sell most of her belongings and buy an RV to live in as she looks for job opportunities while connecting with her fellow vagabonds. Watching McDormand genuinely bond with her real-life nomad co-stars is an emotional road trip indeed, along with soul-stirring backdrops courtesy of Mother Nature and terrific cinematography.
David Fincher (“Mank”): Fincher, who was previously was nominated in this category for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and 2010’s “The Social Network,” ambitiously dips into the truths and myths about the making of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” (1941), which is considered one of best movies ever made. Instead of focusing on Welles, Fincher’s first feature since 2014’s “Gone Girl” zeros in on alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), whose main character is inspired by media mogul William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). Fincher, who usually has visual panache to spare, insisted on shooting “Mank” in black and white as an homage to the subject at hand. We will see if his nostalgic time-machine to Hollywood’s golden era finally snags him a win.