Best Director is a toughly contested competition between
promising newcomers and award-show veterans. The films range from
emotionally gripping drama, high-seas adventure, violent tales of
the underworld, journeys to a foreign land and a final trip to
Middle Earth. With films as diverse as these, the auteurs each
added their own unique touch to their works. However, every year
there is a frontrunner and Peter Jackson appears poised to finally
take home that golden statuette for his “The Lord of the
Rings: The Return of the King.”

Julie Pannuto
(Courtesy of Focus Features)
Julie Pannuto
(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Julie Pannuto
E.T. phone home. (Courtesy of New Line)

Fernando Meirelles came out of left field to secure a nomination
for his hardboiled depiction of Brazilian slums. “City of
God” was the surprise film the morning that the nominees were
announced, competing for four trophies. The movie is gritty and
brutal in its portrayal of crime and the gangster lifestyle. Unlike
films in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” Meirelles is
unflinching and shows bloodshed and drug use amongst even the
youngest of children. While beautifully shot, “City of
God” actually began appearing in theaters in 2002 in Brazil.
The rookie in the category has plenty of time to to claim his place
within the annals of Academy history, but 2004 is not yet his
year.

Veteran actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood returns to the Awards
12 years after taking home the statue for “Unforgiven.”
“Mystic River,” a hard-hitting drama based on a
best-selling novel, put Eastwood’s directorial skills back on
the map. However, for all of its achievements, “Mystic
River” is an actor’s movie. Deliberate pacing by
Eastwood enabled this Boston-set Greek tragedy to pull on the
heartstrings, but lesser directors could probably have succeeded in
his place. He has already taken home a trophy, so leaving
empty-handed on Oscar night will not hurt his legacy.

Three-time Best Director nominee Peter Weir receives a fourth
nomination for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the
World.” This literary adaptation features the well-cast
Russel Crowe leading a British battleship against the French in the
Napoleonic Wars. Beautifully shot and painstakingly detailed, Weir
captures the feeling of life on the high seas. While “Master
and Commander” is a quality film, it lacks that special
something which the rest of the pack seem to possess. Even though
it received 10 nominations, the film is the underdog in almost
every category and deservedly so. Best Director should prove no
different, as Weir will eventually return to the stage with another
quality picture that should have more hope than this epic
adventure.

Sofia Coppola, daughter of acclaimed director Francis Ford
Coppola, garnered her first nomination in this category for
“Lost in Translation.” The film served as a sort of
coming-out party for the filmmaker, whose previous work, “The
Virgin Suicides,” received a moderate reception. Her mastery
of evoking feelings of loss and love resonate in “Lost in
Translation,” which may be because of the
semi-autobiographical slant the story takes. Her work on this movie
is more likely to be recognized in the screenwriting category,
though she could serve as a dark horse to dethrone the
“Return of the King” juggernaut.

This year’s favorite, as he was back in 2001, looks to be
Peter Jackson. His work on “The Lord of the Rings”
trilogy is complete, and the Academy seems ready to finally reward
his work. Vast countrysides, vile creatures and epic battles
populate Jackson’s fictional world. Academy voters generally
overlook fantasy and science fiction works, but Jackson has created
the rare film that both critics and audiences praise. His likely
win will be well deserved. The finale may not be the best in the
trilogy, but a Jackson win would probably be in recognition of the
collective work of all three pictures.

Best Director often reflects Best Picture, and this year is no
different. “The Return of the King” will likely
triumph, much to the delight of Tolkien fans around the world. When
the acceptance speech is finally given, three films will be crowned
victorious through the win of only one. Peter Jackson’s
contribution to fantasy filmmaking should not go unheralded, and
Oscar may finally get it right.

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