17 possible best director nominees for the 2023 Oscars

17 possible best director nominees for the 2023 Oscars

From giants like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg to indie darlings like Todd Field and The Daniels, the filmmaker field is loaded this year

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
2023 Oscar contenders for the Best Director prize
(Clockwise from bottom left:) Gina Prince-Bythewood on The Woman King (Ilze Kitshoff), Martin McDonagh on The Banshees Of Inisherin (Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures), Rian Johnson on Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (John Wilson / Netflix), Steven Spielberg on The Fabelmans (Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment), Jordan Peele on Nope (Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

There’s no Oscar category that’s more like comparing apples and oranges than Best Director. Should the Academy reward intimate, emotionally driven character studies—evidence that a director can masterfully guide their stars? Or should they go for impressive, “how’d they do that” spectacle? As this list of could-be and should-be nominees can attest, directing is a tricky thing to qualify. Read on for the 17 filmmaker contenders (technically 18, with double the Daniels in one slot) that may be in the mix at the 2023 Oscars and deserving of that shiny gold man.

Advertisement

2 / 19

James Cameron, Avatar: The Way Of Water

James Cameron, Avatar: The Way Of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water | Our Fortress

Handing out awards for filmmaking can feel arbitrarily silly (not that we’re complaining). But each year there’s a technically ambitious, massively budgeted blockbuster, it’s tempting to boil down the Best Director awards race to “OK but who did the most directing?” If sheer scope and logistics were the criteria, James Cameron would win in a landslide for his dizzyingly dazzling return to Pandora. You won’t hear us claiming there’s no quality alongside that quantity, too; The Way Of Water is undeniably more than impressive enough to earn Cameron a repeat Oscar nomination after the first Avatar.

Advertisement

3 / 19

Damien Chazelle, Babylon

Damien Chazelle, Babylon

BABYLON | Official Trailer (2022 Movie) – Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Tobey Maguire

With the Best Director Oscar category, bigger is often better, and best of all is a Hollywood movie that celebrates Hollywood movies. That’s why Damien Chazelle became the category’s youngest-ever winner for La La Land, which now seems like child’s play, a mere warm-up, given the ambition and excesses of this December’s release Babylon. Its logline mentions “decadence and depravity in early Hollywood,” and it’s thanks to Chazelle’s vision that both extremes cohere to stunning effect in his wild recreation of the roaring ’20s.

Advertisement

4 / 19

Chinonye Chukwu, Till

Chinonye Chukwu, Till

TILL | Official Trailer | MGM Studios

The thing about Chinonye Chukwu that makes her such a worthy directing contender this year is her sense of balance. Retaining the emotional intimacy she achieved with her actors in Clemency (the kind of indie that merits Spirit Awards, you could say) she went bigger and more mainstream on Till (the kind of Hollywood period piece that merits Oscars), guiding an exceptionally ambitious performance from Danielle Deadwyler to boot. And much like this profound Mamie Till-Mobley biopic doubles as a reminder of how scarce stories about history-making Black women are in Hollywood, Chukwu’s inclusion on this list can help Academy voters remember their track record with nominating Black women for Best Director. Let’s check the nominations tally—oh, that’s right. It’s zero.

Advertisement

5 / 19

The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Everything Everywhere All At Once

The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Everything Everywhere All At Once

Everything Everywhere All At Once | Meet the Filmmakers | Official Featurette HD | A24

Can the auteurs behind the year’s unlikeliest hit ride its momentum for almost a year to the Best Director ballot? We want to live in the world where Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, experts at filming flatulent corpses and dildos, are Oscar nominees. Anyone who’s seen Everything Everywhere All At Once (which, at this point, is everyone) since March can’t deny that what the Daniels accomplished on a budget of only $25 million is extraordinary in its ingenuity, boundary-pushing in its originality, and historically significant to Hollywood’s evolution.

Advertisement

6 / 19

Todd Field, Tár

Todd Field, Tár

TÁR - Teaser - October 7

Whew, trying to wrap one’s head around Todd Field’s directorial feat in Tár is tough; the writer-director’s character study about a beleaguered and beleaguering genius in the classical music world threads so many tonal and thematic needles with so many damn threads. He and his leading lady Cate Blanchett balance psychological thriller, astute social commentary, and even laugh-out-loud comedy, positioning this as the work of someone who’s so much more than just a film director. Field is simultaneously a painter, a chemist, and—duh—a composer, and assuredly a contender for top Oscars.

Advertisement

7 / 19

James Gray, Armageddon Time

James Gray, Armageddon Time

ARMAGEDDON TIME - Official Trailer - In Select Theaters October 28

Among the trends of 2022 cinema is the resurgence of thorny autobiographically inspired stories from writer-directors. While Steven Spielberg is being praised for taking his most literal approach to that with The Fabelmans, this James Gray guy has been around the genre’s block plenty. Armageddon Time isn’t (just) notable for its meticulous recreation of the filmmaker’s own 1980s Queens home, schools, and upbringing. It’s notable, and Oscar-worthy, for its overt unwillingness to see any of it through rose-colored glasses. How does one resist papering over their life while literally putting it to paper? Gray takes us on a cinematic journey seemingly through his very soul.

Advertisement

8 / 19

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths

BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths | Official Trailer 2 | Netflix

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar haul—nine nominations and four wins, a solid ratio—could stand to increase with his latest and seemingly most personal effort. Bardo centers on a Mexican documentarian whose return home becomes an uncannily cinematic existential crisis. It may not be as accessible as Birdman or Revenant, but it sure represents a bold new chapter for one of today’s most thrilling filmmakers, and includes some of his best flourishes. Bring on those loooong, complicated shots!

Advertisement

9 / 19

Rian Johnson, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Rian Johnson, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery | Official Trailer | Netflix

Has there ever been a sequel with higher expectations that stuck the landing this hard? Probably, but we can’t think of it. Rian Johnson came out swinging with his return to the hit Knives Out universe, going bigger, more star-studded, and somehow even funnier with Glass Onion. Casting is a skill, and one that Johnson has mastered; his pairing of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc and Janelle Monáe’s Andi Brand is the most delicious combination of gorgeous, goofy movie stars you’ll see this season.

Advertisement

10 / 19

Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick

Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick Director Joseph Kosinski | Interview

Did anyone know Top Gun: Maverick would be the record-smashing big-screen hit it was? Besides Tom Cruise, I mean; that guy is obviously a believer. But it took a director who’s as confident as he is shrewd to re-center this old-school movie star in a celebration of old-school Hollywood moviemaking, a reminder of the power of sheer spectacle. Throw in the technical prowess of making audiences feel they’re right there in those Super Hornets experiencing all eight G’s, and you’ve got an award-worthy director in Joseph Kosinski.

Advertisement

11 / 19

Martin McDonagh, The Banshees Of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh, The Banshees Of Inisherin

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures

Spinning a yarn about a friendship break-up—humdrum, yet profound, yet difficult to depict accurately and entertainingly—is something only a master of melancholic wit like Martin McDonagh could pull off. The In Bruges maestro was also smart to write with his favorite leads in mind; Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson come alive both individually and together under his direction. The Banshees Of Inisherin emerged as an Oscar contender the moment it snagged accolades at the Venice Film Festival and shows no signs of slowing its momentum.

Advertisement

12 / 19

Ruben Östlund, Triangle Of Sadness

Ruben Östlund, Triangle Of Sadness

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS Official Trailer (2022)

Festivals, independent film awards, and the BAFTAs have noticed Ruben Östlund’s deft, daring work. Could the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences be next? Triangle Of Sadness made quite the impression on audiences and critics alike; it’s hard for it not to, particularly given the symphonic explosion of bodily fluids that is its centerpiece. But Oscar voters recognizing a film that includes that much vomit would also confirm the exciting direction they’ve been leaning in, toward international and off-the-wall fare. Östlund is a worthy carrier of that particular banner.

Advertisement

13 / 19

Park Chan-wook, Decision To Leave

Park Chan-wook, Decision To Leave

DECISION TO LEAVE | Official Trailer | In Theaters Now & Streaming from December 9

Park Chan-wook is like fellow non-American filmmakers on this list, from Ruben Östlund to S. S. Rajamouli: audacious, original, and able to blend genres and cinematic homages. But he’s also in a mold-breaking league of his own, as the romantic crime thriller Decision To Leave proves. The Cannes Film Festival directing prize winner is certainly the kind of storyteller who remains several steps ahead of his audience, in a good way; he channels Hitchcock with his sense of mystery but retains the irresistible eroticism that made The Handmaiden a should-have-been-Oscar-nominee. The Academy now gets to right the wrong that is Park Chan-wook not yet being one of its anointed auteurs.

Advertisement

14 / 19

Jordan Peele, Nope

Jordan Peele, Nope

Nope (2022) - The Star Lasso Experience Scene | Movieclips

Jordan Peele’s Get Out Oscar win was for original screenplay, while for directing he only achieved the nomination. We’d argue that Nope deserves that the other way around; while his script is full of profound meaning within mysteries within comedies, it’s his depiction of the extraterrestrial force that haunts Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer’s desert ranch that deserves attention. Jaws, but instead of an ocean to fear, it’s the sky? An imaginative and ambitious concept, executed to nail-biting perfection.

Advertisement

15 / 19

Sarah Polley, Women Talking

Sarah Polley, Women Talking

WOMEN TALKING | Another Way Forward - A Filmmaker’s Vision

Any fan of Away From Her and Take This Waltz—which is any audience member who’s seen them—wouldn’t be surprised to hear Sarah Polley is riding the momentum of her behind-the-camera career to an Oscar shortlisting for Women Talking. The former actor harnesses a cast of emotional geniuses to tell the tale of a group of abused Mennonite women, well, talking. That premise shouldn’t make for such gut-wrenching, devastating, and even edge-of-your-seat drama, but it does.

Advertisement

16 / 19

Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King

Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King

THE WOMAN KING Vignette - Train Like a Warrior

Did the directors of Braveheart and Gladiator have to stage battle scenes amid a deadly global pandemic? I didn’t think so. Gina Prince-Bythewood channels those muscley historical epics to stunning effect with The Woman King, the rare film on this list that has the box office goods to back up its pedigree. Plus, Prince-Bythewood trained for hours a day with Viola Davis and that incredible cast, so give this woman her due!

Advertisement

17 / 19

S. S. Rajamouli, RRR

S. S. Rajamouli, RRR

Naacho Naacho (Full Video) RRR - NTR, Ram Charan | M M Kreem | SS Rajamouli | Vishal Mishra & Rahul

It’s not fair to call RRR one of this year’s most exciting out-of-nowhere hits, since for Tollywood fans, it’s not out of nowhere at all. But for American and other audiences outside India, S. S. Rajamouli’s tour de force has opened eyes to the wonder of—well, where to begin? N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan’s dazzling dancing? Their hilarious, heartbreaking chemistry as two based-on-real-life revolutionaries? That one shot where a bunch of tigers and bears emerge from a barreling truck to start wreaking havoc…? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, queue up Netflix because you’re in for a treat. And Academy voters: put Rajamouli on your shortlist, please.

Advertisement

18 / 19

Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans | Official Trailer [HD]

Last and nowhere near least—most, in fact—is the one and only Steven Spielberg. The case for his inclusion in this category could end right there, just stating his name. But let’s pull up the Oscar tally just to drive home the point: 19 total nominations, eight for directing and 11 for producing, including two just last year for West Side Story; three total wins, two for directing and one for producing. Nothing for his screenwriting—which could change this year! The Fabelmans, his most acutely personal film that ticks both prestige and crowdpleaser boxes, is the closest thing we have to a frontrunner at the 2023 Academy Awards, in this and most other categories. The ingenuity in Spielberg’s last shot alone is worth a truckload of trophies.

Advertisement

19 / 19