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Rotten Tomatoes' Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions: Best Director

Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon-ho, and more lead early buzz for this year's awards season.

by | August 16, 2019 | Comments

Continuing with our Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions series, we move on to the visionaries who occupy the director’s chair. The Best Director Oscar category has always been one of the most hotly contested races of the season. It goes without saying that filmmaking is a director’s medium; as television is the medium of writers. Under the guidance of producers — though many on our list act as producers, too — directors sculpt the script and project their interpretation of the words onto the screen in the most captivating way possible. Cinematography, editing, production design, costumes, scoring, and, most importantly, performance all live or die by the director’s vision. This why Best Picture and Best Director nominations often go hand in hand.

Featuring names like Scorsese, Tarantino, and Soderbergh, this year’s contest is poised to pit some of our generation’s most iconic filmmakers against each other for end-of-year accolades. Rotten Tomatoes whittled down the names in contention to a list of the five strongest contenders using Tomatometer scores, scripts, early screenings, and the thoughts of pundits and critics. Whether we like it or not, the campaigns are quietly underway, and the conversation has started – and we’re now ready to join it. Of course, if history tells us anything, it is that some of these names won’t make it to Oscar night, but we’re pretty confident a few of them will be right up there in awards chatter. So read on as we break down our ridiculously early picks for 2020 Best Director contenders.

Don’t agree with our picks? Have at us in the comments.


Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019) 85%

Quentin Tarantino would invariably rank high — if not at the top — of just about every list of iconic contemporary directors. The ’70s-junkie pop-culture aficionado released his ninth studio film earlier this year, and following the lackluster response to his last effort, The Hateful Eight, the Los Angeles native is back and enjoying his best reviews in years. With Steven Soderbergh, James Mangold, and Martin Scorsese likely populating the category, star power could be the thing that differentiates each film in this highly competitive field. Soderbergh has Queen Meryl Streep, Mangold will have Damon and Bale, and the trifecta of Pesci, Pacino, and De Niro are with Scorsese for The Irishman; but as impressive as all of those are, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood boasts LEO AND BRAD! They gave two of the most universally acclaimed performances of the year – even if the movie they were featured in has divided some critics. Adding in Tarantino’s signature style, there doesn’t appear to be anything standing between the Pulp Fiction director and his third Best Director nomination.


James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari (2019) 89%

James Mangold managed to pull off a shock on Oscar nominations morning in 2018 when he, along with American Gods writer Micheal Green and Scott Frank, garnered an Oscar nomination for Logan. The Wolverine saga’s climax still remains the only comic book superhero film to earn the honor, and though Mangold has previously directed Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie to Oscar wins, Logan marks his sole nomination. Ford v. Ferrari looks to change all that, telling the true-life tale of how the Ford Motor Company worked tirelessly to build a car that could beat racing powerhouse Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966, with Matt Damon as famed Ford car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as racing legend Ken Miles. If Mangold can spin a perfect mix of car-racing adrenaline and sports movie passion, he may just catch the eye of Academy voters.


Greta Gerwig, Little Women (2019)

Little Women released its first trailer earlier this week and set social media on fire. Watching the internet’s boyfriend Timothée Chalamet profess his love for indie princess Saoirse Ronan on a wind-swept hill looks set to be more than enough to guarantee the period drama will be a hit with audiences. Moreover, the fact that Greta Gerwig is adapting a previously Oscar-nominated novel also could work in her favor for Oscar accolades. Some considered her choice to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the eighth time a slightly uninspired way to follow up Lady Bird, but when Gerwig can command a cast that includes Chalamet, Ronan, Chris Cooper, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep, you can’t fault her for wanting to put her own spin on the story of the March ladies. With nearly 35 Oscar nominations between the cast and crew, Little Women is a juggernaut of talent that cannot be denied. Adding in the fact that the director branch’s most influential member, Steven Spielberg, is a fan of Gerwig, and that she is likely the only female director in contention — well, odds are she’ll make the cut.


Martin Scorsese, The Irishman (2019)

Thankfully The Departed gave Martin Scorsese his first directing win after 25 years and five nominations, so the pressure is off slightly, but the 76-year-old director is still hungry for more. Boasting a stacked cast and the use of new technology, Scorsese’s The Irishman is set to be a major player come Oscar time. During last year’s ceremony, as Netflix was racking up multiple wins from its 15 nominations, the studio opted to play a teaser for The Irishman. It was a mic drop moment to be sure, and while the trailer showed no footage or even an official image, the names plastered on the screen were enough: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Martin Scorsese. Using technology unlike what we’ve seen in the MCU, or will see in Ang Lee’s The Gemini Man starring Will Smith, The Irishman has positioned itself for multiple, possible double-digit nominations in technical and above-the-line categories, including potential nominations for its three leads. Add in the script, which has been said to be incredible, and the fact that this is Scorsese’s return to his mob roots, and it’s hard to see him not getting a nod. We broke down all we gathered from the trailer and all we know about the film so far, and though much is still steeped in secrecy, Scorsese’s likelihood for a nomination is undeniable.


Bong Joon-ho, Parasite (Gisaengchung) (2019) 100%

Many will argue that Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma threw the floodgates wide open for international directing on Hollywood’s biggest night – Cuarón was the first director of a foreign language film to win the Best Director Oscar. However, his fellow directing nominee Paweł Pawlikowski’s nomination for Cold War equally tells the tale of shifting tastes in the Academy Directing branch, as Pawlikowski beat out hopefuls Bradley Cooper, Barry Jenkins, and Bo Burnham for the coveted fifth slot on the nominations stage. This is why we are confident enough to place the “frontrunner” tag on Bong Joon-ho,for his social-political satire Parasite, the story of two families who reflect the evils of wealth, inequality, and class discrimination. The South Korean director’s follow-up to 2016’s Okja is an instant critical darling that earned overwhelmingly positive reviews and the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival — an award that was handed out by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Pawlikowski, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Alice Rohrwacher, among others. Still currently at 100% on the Tomatometer, Parasite could also be helped along by its relevant political commentary at a time when Americans are wrapped up in politics.


Also in contention:

  • Sam Mendes, 1917
  • Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
  • Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life
  • Scott Z. Burns, The Report
  • Steven Soderbergh, The Laundromat
  • Dee Rees, The Last Thing He Wanted
  • Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse
  • Hirokazu Kore-eda, The Truth
  • Jay Roach, Fair and Balanced
  • Pedro Almodóvar, Pain & Glory
  • Lulu Wang, The Farewell
  • Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman
  • James Gray, Ad Astra
  • Destin Daniel Cretton, Just Mercy

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