Capra? Coppola? Bigelow? Our chief film critic crowns one of five nominees the Oscar of Oscars champion – and reveals who you picked as your winner
After announcing the nominees last week, we begin our Oscar of Oscars all-time list with best director. In no other category has this choice been more painful, because, rightly or wrongly, the director is often seen as a film’s all-powerful creator: a film director’s authorial rights are even enshrined in EU law. The director liaises with the casting director and works with the actors, rehearsing them, shaping their performances. The director consults with the cinematographer, framing shots, and decides which take to use. The director makes decisions under pressure on set and on location about the look and feel of what is being shot. And of course the director accumulates prestige and respect — part of what an Oscar is there to offer.
So to the contenders. Frank Capra’s legendary lightness of touch was never more exquisitely judged than in his great early picture It Happened One Night from 1934. In its pre-Hays Code sexual daring and droll repartee, It Happened One Night set a rarely reached gold standard for romantic comedy – with a great script by Robert Riskin. It is not simply the dash and sweep with which Capra takes us from the initial, hilarious yacht escape to the intimate encounters in buses and motels, and then the extraordinary wedding finale; it’s his handling of the actors, too. When Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert fake being quarrelling marrieds in front of the detectives and burst out laughing when they’re gone, you can’t help but laugh with them, as if you have witnessed a real miracle: the icy heiress turns out to be a great actress, gamely going along with the gag. Then there’s the melting of the meet-cute ice and the growing love between them. Capra orchestrates these two alpha-stars with masterly flair.