Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top 10 Films that Won Oscars for Best Director but Not Best Picture

Of the 85 films that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, 62 have also nabbed Best Director. Those are damn good odds, but often, when the Academy awards two different films in these categories, it is widely considered a major fault, especially with the benefit of hindsight. The list below represents the 10 best films that won Best Director but failed to ultimately win Best Picture.

John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
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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  1. God, Gladiator is total bullshit. Badly written, pompous, chest-beating bullshit. Oliver Stone made a nice point about it (along with Black Hawk Down and even the great Saving Private Ryan) capturing a particular mood in America at that time that eventually culminated in the invasion of Iraq. Traffic is infinitely more rewarding in every way, and is still relevant to the world today. Should've bagged Best Picture for sure!

    1. Agree, agree, agree. Gladiator was actually on HBO or something the other day. I caught it at the very beginning and tried to sit it out. Made it through about 30 minutes. Does absolutely nothing for me. Traffic, on the other hand... I watch that film once every few months.

  2. Nice list. Love that you included George Stevens twice. At least the Academy occasionally honors great directing, even if they miss in Best Picture.

    Oh, if it helps, Nichols won all the statuettes he could that night. Since Lawrence Turman was the only credited producer on The Graduate, Nichols was only up for Best Director. ;)

    1. Ha, yeah I knew Nichols wasn't technically up as a producer, I meant a Best Picture win more in spirit, ya dig?

      Crazy how much the Director/Picture winners differ over these last 15 years or so.

  3. I fucking hate Driving Miss Daisy. It's a bland, mawkish, bullshit film about some old white bitch hassling a brother who should've slapped the taste out of her fucking mouth. Oliver Stone deserved that Best Director Oscar for Born on the 4th of July but man, there was a lot of good films that year that should've been nominated over Driving Miss Daisy.

    I've never seen Giant but that lost to Around the World in 80 Days? It's an alright film but come on...

    Crash fucking sucks. Ang Lee should've gotten the Best Picture for his producers.

    Spielberg deserved that Best Director Oscar for Saving Private Ryan (though I really think it should've gone to Terrence Malick) but Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love? NO!!!!

    Oh, and I heard Harvey Weinstein is going to cut 20 minutes out of Bong Joon-Ho's new film Snowpiercer and put stuff like voice-over narration and stuff. FUCK HIM!!!!

    I will never work for that piece-of-shit motherfucker.

    1. Oh, and FUCK Gladiator too!!! Traffic should've won.

    2. Duuude that is BULLSHIT about Weinstein cutting up Snowpiercer. I mean, seriously, are American audiences really THAT uninterested? Really?

      Glad to hear we're in line with my picks. Driving Miss Daisy really is a total wash.

      And yeah, Traffic should've EASILY won over Gladiator.

    3. Oh and I agree, Malick should've won Best Director that year. And his film should've won Picture.

  4. I was just going to scream (via caps) THE SOCIAL NETWORK but then I remembered how friggin Fincher didn't win Best Director. Still hurts man.

    I wish The Pianist would have won too.

    Giant is just one of those movies that was too American for me to care about.

    1. Fincher losing definitely still hurts. That's just plain damn silly.

      I loved what you said about Giant. Made me laugh out loud. Hilarious.

  5. I will forever remain bitter that Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love. I just can't....no.

  6. I will never get over Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash. What a joke. I thought The Pianist was going to be a surprise win for Best Picture too, Chicago was great, but after watching all of those wins, I thought it had a chance.

    1. Brokeback losing to Crash certainly is a joke.

      I guess I don't really have anything against Chicago, but The Pianist... man.

  7. Great list - I just recently saw The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and what a superb movie! Almost one that makes you say "They don't make 'em like they used to!"

    1. Thanks! Terms like that were made for movies like that, no doubt. Glad you liked it!

  8. I had no idea this many great films bagged that Director Oscar but missed out on the big one. Wow, it's kind of shocking.

    1. Isn't it? Shame so many great flicks missed out on the top prize.

  9. Around The World in 80 Days is indeed pretty dire...I bought the DVD years ago sight unseen but wasn't completely bummed about the purchase - the extras contain the full version of "A Trip To The Moon". So I had that going for me...

    And looking through the entire list of winning directors without a corresponding Best Picture, it happened to John Ford 3 times!

    1. I do want to feel bad for Ford, but the dude did win four Best Director Oscars, so it's all good. Ha.

      I made the mistake of viewing a few Best Picture winners the same way you saw 80 Days. Bought the DVD sight unseen, usually to bad results. But oh well, looks good in my overall collection I guess!

  10. Nice list.

    I totally agree with you on "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," "Traffic," and especially "Saving Private Ryan."

    I can see both sides of it for "The Graduate." Like you mentioned Best Pic could've went a few different ways in '67 as all four you mentioned are classics.

    I totally disagree with you, and everyone else it seems, on "Brokeback Mountain." It's not that I thought "Crash" was so great, though I did like it. It's that I thought "Brokeback" was not very good at all. I don't think it's nearly as good as "Munich" or "Good Night, and Good Luck."

    Forgive me for going a little long, but whenever I say I dislike "Brokeback" I feel like I have to defend myself. This has nothing to do with the theme, it just felt overly long, drawn out, and not nearly as epic as it thought it was. Ang Lee often has that effect on me. In my opinion, there were two far better LGBT movies released that very same year: Transamerica (which earned Felicity Huffman an Oscar nom) and Mysterious Skin (hit the festivals in '04 but theaters in '05).

    Again, sorry for the rant.

    1. Hey man, you're new to commenting on my site, but I really only ask one thing of commenters: that they call it like they see it. You don't like Brokeback? Fair enough, please don't ever feel like you have to defend your opinion here. As I often say: we like what we like. Who am I to argue otherwise?

      So, while we differ on our appreciation for Brokeback, we definitely agree that Crash did NOT deserve to win Picture. I would've much preferred Munich or Good Night, and Good Luck as well (or, for that matter, Capote).

      Mysterious Skin, now that is a goddamn doozy of a film.

  11. I disagree with you about The Grapes of Wrath deserving Best Picture over Rebecca. I think Rebecca is a perfectly made, suspenseful, brilliant film. Whereas Grapes of Wrath had a masterful story, but had its faults. I also think In The Heat of the Night was a much better film than The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, but I'm in the minority on that one.

    The Treasure of Sierra Madre was clearly the best picture of 1948. Hamlet is good, but I've seen better productions on stage. I wasn't taken with A Place in the Sun because of Elizabeth Taylor's one dimensional character. I thought A Streetcar Named Desire and The African Queen were more worthy of the award than An American in Paris.

    As for Traffic, I think it's a great movie. I do however 'Get' Gladiator, which still holds the second best picture of 2000 (IMO). I'd give the top prize to 'In the Mood for Love' had it been nominated.

    I think Shakespeare in Love is a fine film, but it's inferior to Saving Private Ryan, Elizabeth, and my personal favorite of the year, Life is Beautiful. The Pianist is great, but Chicago is one of the greatest musicals of all time. I don't get the hate for Chicago.

    Ahh, just had to get that off my chest. Great list though! :)

    1. Well, as I said, The Grapes of Wrath-Rebecca showdown was arguably the hardest to call from the list above. I love both films, buts Grapes gets the edge for me.

      Other than that, I guess it's pretty clear that we rarely agree on who should have or should not have won Best Picture Oscars. Fair enough. Ha.

    2. Who would you have picked for Best Picture 1957? 12 Angry Men, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Witness for the Prosecution, Paths of Glory, or The Seventh Seal? I'm really curious! :)

    3. Oh man, that's a damn tough year. But my heart almost always goes with Bergman.