Best Picture Winner: Rebecca
Some of the Director-to-Picture differences on this list are tough to call, others are easy. This Hitchcock classic matched against a Ford masterpiece belongs in the former. I value both films tremendously, but in the end, The Grapes of Wrath deserved Best Picture wholeheartedly.
John Huston – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Best Picture Winner: Hamlet
I love the passion and conviction Laurence Oliver brought to Hamlet, but in my book, it doesn’t come close to Huston’s treasure.
George Stevens – A Place in the Sun (1951)
Best Picture Winner: An American in Paris
I know many consider An American in Paris an American masterpiece of musical theatricality. But nothing knocks the wind out of me like A Place in the Sun (or another 1951 nominee, A Streetcar Named Desire). I’m still amazed that Stevens was even able to get A Place in the Sun made. It is so damn bold.
George Stevens – Giant (1956)
Best Picture Winner: Around the World in 80 Days
Another George Stevens classic, this time against a bloated mess of a film. I’ve seen Around the World in 80 Days once and will likely never encourage a reason to watch it again. So perhaps my judgment is hazy. Either way, you can bet Giant will never leave my mind.
Mike Nichols – The Graduate (1967)
Best Picture Winner: In the Heat of the Night
This was an insanely strong year for the Best Picture category. The award could’ve easily gone to Bonnie and Clyde or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I’ve always wished that Nichols was able to take home two awards that night. In the Heat of the Night is a hugely impactful film, certainly. But this is The Graduate, man.
Oliver Stone – Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Best Picture Winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Yeah, I’ll never understand why Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture.
Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Best Picture Winner: Shakespeare in Love
Easily one of the most memorable Director-to-Picture differentials in Oscar history, the brothers Weinstein were rather outspoken about the way they stole Spielberg’s Best Picture win: by sending voting members lavish gifts for their vote. Even though the work netted a win, this one still feels like a joke.
Steven Soderbergh – Traffic (2000)
Best Picture Winner: Gladiator
I still don’t think Traffic had a decent shot at winning Best Picture. Too raw, too new, too… Soderbergian. So I’m happy to consider Best Director Traffic’s grandest consolation prize.
Roman Polanski – The Pianist (2002)
Best Picture Winner: Chicago
I’ll never forget watching this Oscarcast. First Adrien Brody upset Best Actor, then Ronald Harwood stunned Best Adapted Screenplay, then the infamously absent Roman Polanski shocked Best Director. For a second there, I really thought The Pianist was going to take it all the way. Damn shame.
Ang Lee – Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Best Picture Winner: Crash
By far the most notorious inclusion of the Director-to-Picture discrepancies of all time, I suppose it was foolish to write off Brokeback Mountain as a solid lock. Given the Academy’s core demographic, it’s easy to see why the “gay cowboy” movie rubbed voters the wrong way. But still… Crash? That film comes in at a long fifth place among its competition.
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