Just spittballin here, so bear with me..
The academy has given the Oscar to the directorial technical achievement the past five years (Life of Pie, Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant, La La Land), and no one can deny that Dunkirk is that film this year. All are original or feel it(LoP is adaptation I know). All were big hits and made about the same amount of money, besides Birdman which still made $100 million, and all were made by Directors who are accomplished and respected in the industry. So what gives?
It’s not even like there’s a Mad Max or Boyhood that one could argue is just as impressive or more so this year. The one movie some people could argue, BR2049, isn’t even nominated. So why in all likelihood, is Nolan going home empty-handed this year?
I get the inclination around the academy, and the industry in general, that since Nolan is so massively popular and that films are so successful, he doesn’t need to win, or at least not now.
These previous Directors that have won, as good as they are, can’t just market a movie on their name alone. They needed starpower to do it. Nolan literally just put out an experimental blockbuster, that doesn’t involve the U.S., where there is almost no dialogue, and put a 19 year old kid who was washing dishes no less than a year ago, front and center, and made it the highest grossing WWII ever.
He’s quite literally the STAR of his own movie now. He has creative license from a major studio, to ask for $100+ million dollar budget for any idea that pops into his head and everyone knows it will be a hit, no matter how abstract the movie. And in way, that probably makes people feel less inclined to owe him something. Unfortunately, I think going forward as long as Nolan is in the position that he is, voters will look for any arbitrary reason to try give the award elsewhere.
And btw, I’m not trying to knock the other filmmakers. I think PTA, and del toro are great. Peele and Gerwig feel like fresh up-in-coming directors who no doubt have bright futures. I’m just pointing out an observation.
Anyway, I’m probably totally wrong, and he’ll win for his next movie, who knows.