Best Director: Adam Green for Frozen
Release date: February 5 (limited)
Best Achievement in Directing is a hard category to pin down. Exactly what is the director responsible for? He's not acting, but he's helping to shape the performances. He's not shooting the film (unless he's James Cameron or Robert Rodriguez), but he's working with the director of photography to plan out shots and create the film's look and feel. And so on. Since it's hard to know exactly what the director is responsible for, the natural conclusion is that if it's great he's a genius and if it sucks he's a failure. A director is like a little-league baseball coach: when the team wins, happy youngsters sing his praises over pizza and root beer, and when the team loses distraught helicopter parents pelt him with rocks and baseballs.
But there's another element of directing that isn't as glamorous: the realities of being on a set, working with your surroundings, surviving the elements, and pulling a ton of different people/effects/props/hobbits together against seemingly huge odds to make a good movie. The Best Director Oscars given to Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, and James Cameron for Titanic are, in part, due to their ability to succeed in this way (although it seems like they gave Cameron a pass on his lackluster storytelling in Titanic). So with this in mind, I give you this year's best director: Adam Green for Frozen.
>>READ: Adam Green talks to the Phoenix about Frozen<<
Frozen has the requisite great script, acting, costuming, special effects, music, sound effects, and cinematography necessary for any Best Director Oscar. The film is an astounding, gripping, terrifying portrayal of two snowboarders and one skiier — played by Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore, respectively — stuck on a chairlift after the mountain closes. And it's not opening for five days. As they dangle 50 feet in the air, they must figure out how to survive the freezing temperatures and hunger — and somehow get down without plummeting to certain broken limbs or being eaten by a pack of salivating wolves. The situation is terrifying, and the relationship between Bell, Zegers, and Ashmore is expertly written, well acted, and incredibly compelling. The situation is scary, but since you care about the characters the film attains a level of suspense that horror fans long for but so rarely find. I watched Frozen on a warm day in October, and I was freezing along with the characters — it's that good.
>>READ: Phoenix review of Frozen<<
And then I watched the bonus features. Holy crap — Adam Green and his crew are out of their minds. The filmmakers say that this was filmed for a low budget — they didn't reveal how much, but I think it's safe to say that it's not even remotely what Jackson, Speilberg, Cameron, or any other Hollywood heavyweight is used to working with. They didn't film any of the chairlift scenes on a green screen — no, the actors are really stuck on a chairlift 50 feet in the air on Snowbasin, a ski mountain in Utah (except for a few shots filmed later in a parking lot). They filmed mostly at night, the cast and crew standing in ass-cold temperatures from sundown to sunup. Every time that they got ready to shoot, the actors had to board the chairlift at the base of the mountain, and then ride it to the precise point where the lighting and camera were ready. If the chair went too far, they had to go around the entire lift again and re-position themselves. The actors endured endless nights being stuck on a metal chairlift, and if they look like they're freezing it's because they really were. This shoot is miserable under the best conditions; all those cold, isolated people could easily grow into an angry, frigid mob. But by all accounts the shoot was smooth, and Adam Green held the whole thing together — and created one of the best horror films of the past ten years. All the more reason to give Green the golden statuette.