The celebrated director of 'Inception' gets passed over for a directing nomination -- again. What's the deal?

By Jeff Jensen
January 28, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST
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Did someone plant some bad ideas in the minds of Academy voters about Christopher Nolan? The Inception director — now prepping his third Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises — earned some of the best reviews of his career for his artfully trippy summer blockbuster and had been considered a shoo-in for a Best Director nod for months. In your dreams! While the movie did receive eight Oscar noms, including two for Nolan (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay), the snub in the director category was noteworthy. Nolan himself declined to be interviewed, but his Oscar-nominated collaborators were stunned, if not angry. ”I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without Chris’ leadership and guidance. I was surprised he wasn’t singled out for his part in it,” says cinematographer Wally Pfister. Adds composer Hans Zimmer, another Inception nominee: ”I want to kick some tires.”

This isn’t the first time the Academy has overlooked Nolan; many admirers believe he should have been nominated for his direction of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Theories abound regarding his latest rejection. Inception hit theaters in July; perhaps Nolan’s competitors were fresher in voters’ minds. Nolan may have also been a casualty of the unexpectedly strong showing for True Grit, whose 10 nominations include a directing nod for Joel and Ethan Coen. (In a possible wink at the Nolan snub, the notoriously sly Coens issued a statement acknowledging their film’s nomination haul: ”Ten seems like an awful lot. We don’t want to take anyone else’s.”) One longtime Oscar strategist suggests members of the Academy’s directing branch simply might have been befuddled by Inception. ”I suspect that since he was the writer-director, they blame him for their not understanding a single thing that was going on,” says the insider. ”They admire the craft, but they consider him Comic-Book Boy still.”

Then there’s this theory: Academy directors have great respect for Nolan’s gifts but happened to like five other films at least a smidgen more than his. Still, it’s not as if Oscar completely ignored Inception or Nolan’s contributions to it. As Pfister notes, ”I’m sure being nominated for best screenplay and Best Picture is a thrill for him.”

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