Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Oscars Breakdown: Best Director

My Oscar binge continues, this time with thoughts on every Best Director Oscar. Best Director and Best Picture have gone to different films 26 times in Oscar history, and I was interested to find that I far prefer the Best Director winners.

Please enjoy my thoughts and the trivia below, and be sure to share any opinions you have about these races as well!


1927/1928, Drama – Frank Borzage – 7th Heaven

1927/1928, Comedy – Lewis Milestone – Two Arabian Knights
Nominees, Drama: Herbert Brenon (Sorrell and Son), King Vidor (The Crowd)
Nominees, Comedy: Ted Wilde (Speedy)
Thoughts: For the Oscars’ first year, they split Best Director into drama and comedy categories. Two Arabian Knights is the best film here. It features some inventive camera compositions for its time.

1928/1929 – Frank Lloyd – The Divine Lady
Nominees: Lionel Barrymore (Madame X), Harry Beaumont (The Broadway Melody), Irving Cummings (In Old Arizona), Frank Lloyd (Drag; Weary River), Ernst Lubitsch (The Patriot)
Thoughts: Ernst Lubitsch should have an Oscar, but he ways always nominated in competitive years. If he was going to win, it likely would have been here.
Fun Fact: Not since The Divine Lady has a film won Best Director without being nominated for Best Picture.
1929/1930 – Lewis Milestone – All Quiet on the Western Front
Nominees: Clarence Brown (Anna Christie; Romance), Robert Z. Leonard (The Divorcee), Ernst Lubitsch (The Love Parade), King Vidor (Hallelujah!)
Fun Fact: Milestone was the first person to win two Best Director Oscars. Got that out of the way quick.

1930/1931 – Norman Taurog – Skippy
Nominees: Clarence Brown (A Free Soul), Lewis Milestone (The Front Page), Wesley Ruggles (Cimarron), Josef von Sternberg (Morocco)
Fun Fact: Taurog would hold the title of youngest Best Director Oscar winner for 85 years, bested by Damien Chazelle in 2016.

1931/1932 – Frank Borzage – Bad Girl
Nominees: King Vidor (The Champ), Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express)
Thoughts: Bad Girl is an audacious pre-Code movie about a husband and wife failing to understand each other during the woman’s pregnancy, but this should have gone to Vidor for his father and son boxing classic, The Champ.

1932/1933 – Frank Lloyd – Cavalcade
Nominees: Frank Capra (Lady for a Day), George Cukor (Little Women)
Fun Fact: According to Oscar lore, when presenter Will Rogers opened the Best Director envelope, he said, “Come up and get it, Frank.” Frank Capra ran to the stage to accept the award, and Rogers apologized and said he meant Frank Lloyd. I’m sure Capra’s disappointment was short-lived though, seeing as he would win three Best Director Oscars in the next five years.

1934 – Frank Capra – It Happened One Night
Nominees: Victor Schertzinger (One Night of Love), W. S. Van Dyke (The Thin Man)
Fun Fact: Capra became the first of three directors to direct a film to the Big Five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).

1935 – John Ford – The Informer
Nominees: Henry Hathaway (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer), Frank Lloyd (Mutiny on the Bounty)
Thoughts: Interesting that Ford’s small-scale film won over Lloyd’s Best Picture-winning epic, but this is a smart choice.

1936 – Frank Capra – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Nominees: Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey), Robert Z. Leonard (The Great Ziegfeld), W. S. Van Dyke (San Francisco), William Wyler (Dodsworth)
Thoughts: Good call giving this to Capra over Leonard, even though Leonard’s film won Best Picture.

1937 – Leo McCarey – The Awful Truth
Nominees: William Dieterle (The Life of Emile Zola), Sidney Franklin (The Good Earth), Gregory La Cava (Stage Door), William A. Wellman (A Star Is Born)
Thoughts: Another good example of the Academy giving Best Director to a smaller scale film and reserving Best Picture for a stuffy epic (in this case, The Life of Emile Zola).

1938 – Frank Capra – You Can’t Take It with You
Nominees: Michael Curtiz (Angels with Dirty Faces; Four Daughters), Norman Taurog (Boys Town), King Vidor (The Citadel)
Fun Fact: Capra became the first person to win three Best Director Oscars, which would soon be matched by John Ford.

1939 – Victor Fleming – Gone with the Wind
Nominees: Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), John Ford (Stagecoach), Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips), William Wyler (Wuthering Heights)
Thoughts: Strong year for film, led by Gone with the Wind, which was arguably the most widely known movie ever made at the time of its release.

1940 – John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath
Nominees: George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story), Alfred Hitchcock (Rebecca), Sam Wood (Kitty Foyle), William Wyler (The Letter)
Thoughts: It’s always been odd to me that The Grapes of Wrath and Rebecca split Best Director and Best Picture. Producer David O. Selznick campaigned heavily for Rebecca to win Best Picture, but apparently he forgot to lobby for Hitch.

1941 – John Ford – How Green Was My Valley
Nominees: Alexander Hall (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), Howard Hawks (Sergeant York), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), William Wyler (The Little Foxes)
Thoughts: Lot to dive into here. First, this was Howard Hawks’ only Oscar nomination, which is insane. And of course Welles’ loss here is a rather glaring one. But in my research, it was the shared opinion that Citizen Kane was too new, radical, and ahead of its time to be awarded so highly.
Fun Fact: Welles was the first director nominated for their debut film and the first person nominated for Best Actor and Best Director in the same year.

1942 – William Wyler – Mrs. Miniver
Nominees: Michael Curtiz (Yankee Doodle Dandy), John Farrow (Wake Island), Mervyn LeRoy (Random Harvest), Sam Wood (Kings Row)
Thoughts: Though far from Wyler’s best work, it makes sense that he won for the WWII survival film, Mrs. Miniver.

1943 – Michael Curtiz – Casablanca
Nominees: Clarence Brown (The Human Comedy), Henry King (The Song of Bernadette), Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait), George Stevens (The More the Merrier)
Thoughts: Absolutely no argument from me here (even though I adore The More the Merrier). Casablanca is a great achievement and deserved to be awarded as much as possible.

1944 – Leo McCarey – Going My Way
Nominees: Alfred Hitchcock (Lifeboat), Henry King (Wilson), Otto Preminger (Laura), Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity)
Thoughts: Hitchcock, Preminger, and particularly Wilder would’ve received my vote over McCarey, but Going My Way was the feel-good movie America presumably needed at the time.

1945 – Billy Wilder – The Lost Weekend
Nominees: Clarence Brown (National Velvet), Alfred Hitchcock (Spellbound), Leo McCarey (The Bells of St. Mary’s), Jean Renoir (The Southerner)
Thoughts: This is one of my favorite Best Director wins. Wilder dared to push the content of his films, of which The Lost Weekend is a shining example. It’s still one of the best movies about alcoholism that I’ve ever seen.

1946 – William Wyler – The Best Years of Our Lives
Nominees: Clarence Brown (The Yearling), Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), David Lean (Brief Encounter), Robert Siodmak (The Killers)
Fun Fact: This marked the sixth Best Director loss for Clarence Brown, who still has the most Best Director losses without a win. Poor guy.

1947 – Elia Kazan – Gentleman’s Agreement
Nominees: George Cukor (A Double Life), Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire), Henry Koster (The Bishop’s Wife), David Lean (Great Expectations)
Thoughts: A Double Life is a really fun movie, but Kazan deserved his first win here.

1948 – John Huston – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Nominees: Anatole Litvak (The Snake Pit), Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet), Fred Zinnemann (The Search)
Thoughts: I adore The Search, and Johnny Belinda is damn good, but this absolutely belonged to Huston, who won for Sierra Madre, but also released the great noir, Key Largo, the same year.

1949 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz – A Letter to Three Wives
Nominees: Carol Reed (The Fallen Idol), Robert Rossen (All the King’s Men), William A. Wellman (Battleground), William Wyler (The Heiress)
Thoughts: A Letter to Three Wives was one of the great surprises as I made my way through these winners. It’s tightly written, playfully acted, and perfectly directed. Check it out if you can, it’s delightful.

1950 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz – All About Eve
Nominees: George Cukor (Born Yesterday), John Huston (The Asphalt Jungle), Carol Reed (The Third Man), Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard)
Thoughts: Damn strong year, any of them could have won. I love that Mankiewicz won twice in a row, and All About Eve is pretty much perfect, but I would have been okay with a win for Reed or Wilder here.
Fun Fact: Mankiewicz is one of three directors to win consecutive Oscars, following John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath; How Green Was My Valley), and preceding Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman; The Revenant).

1951 – George Stevens – A Place in the Sun
Nominees: John Huston (The African Queen), Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire), Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris), William Wyler (Detective Story)
Thoughts: Another one of my favorite Best Director wins. Instead of giving it to Minnelli, whose film won Best Picture, they justly gave it to Stevens for his American masterpiece. If only it had won Best Picture, too.

1952 – John Ford – The Quiet Man
Nominees: Cecil B. DeMille (The Greatest Show on Earth), John Huston (Moulin Rouge), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (5 Fingers), Fred Zinnemann (High Noon)
Thoughts: I’d argue that High Noon is the best-directed film here, but I appreciate how much of a departure The Quiet Man was for Ford and John Wayne.
Fun Facts: (1) With this win, John Ford became the only director to win four Best Director Oscars. (2) In E.T., The Quiet Man is the movie E.T. watches that Elliot mimics in his classroom.

1953 – Fred Zinnemann – From Here to Eternity
Nominees: George Stevens (Shane), Charles Walters (Lili), Billy Wilder (Stalag 17), William Wyler (Roman Holiday)
Thoughts: Zinnemann finally wins his Best Director Oscar, among strong competition. Damn well deserved. From Here to Eternity holds up for several reasons.

1954 – Elia Kazan – On the Waterfront
Nominees: Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window), George Seaton (The Country Girl), William A. Wellman (The High and the Mighty), Billy Wilder (Sabrina)
Thoughts: I’ve always wanted more context for this award. Based solely on his work on the movie, yes, Kazan deserved to win this. But it’s odd to me that he would win just two years after his extremely controversial testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which ruined the careers of several people. Maybe it’s evidence that On the Waterfront is that good.

1955 – Delbert Mann – Marty
Nominees: Elia Kazan (East of Eden), David Lean (Summertime), Joshua Logan (Picnic), John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock)
Thoughts: Up until this point, Marty was unlike most any other movie that won Best Picture or Director. It’s lean, fun, and simply told. I love that it won.
Fun Fact: Mann was the first person to win Best Director for their debut film.

1956 – George Stevens – Giant
Nominees: Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days), Walter Lang (The King and I), King Vidor (War and Peace), William Wyler (Friendly Persuasion)
Thoughts: Another justified win for Stevens, even though Around the World in 80 Days beat Giant for the top prize (which remains a bad call).
Fun Fact: This was Wyler’s tenth nomination for Best Director, making him the most nominated director in history. He eventually landed 12 total Best Director nominations.

1957 – David Lean – The Bridge on the River Kwai
Nominees: Joshua Logan (Sayonara), Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men), Mark Robson (Peyton Place), Billy Wilder (Witness for the Prosecution)
Thoughts: Tough call. It’s Lean’s Technicolor epic verses Lumet’s single-location masterpiece. Both films are directed to perfection and haven’t aged a day. I prefer Lumet’s film, but a win for Lean feels fair.

1958 – Vincente Minnelli – Gigi
Nominees: Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones), Mark Robson (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness), Robert Wise (I Want to Live!)
Thoughts: Not the strongest year. Wise would have gotten my vote, with Kramer in second. But nominations for Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember), and/or Orson Welles (Touch of Evil) would have been deserved.

1959 – William Wyler – Ben-Hur
Nominees: Jack Clayton (Room at the Top), George Stevens (The Diary of Anne Frank), Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot), Fred Zinnemann (The Nun’s Story)
Thoughts: Room at the Top is my favorite film here, but I cannot imagine anyone but Wyler winning this. Ben-Hur was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made. Wyler put all those resources on the screen to classic results.

1960 – Billy Wilder – The Apartment
Nominees: Jack Cardiff (Sons and Lovers), Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho), Fred Zinnemann (The Sundowners)
Thoughts: I hate to take this away from Wilder, but I hate that Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t have an Oscar even more. I would’ve given this to ole Hitch, for what remains my favorite film of his.

1961 – Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins – West Side Story
Nominees: Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita), Stanley Kramer (Judgment at Nuremberg), Robert Rossen (The Hustler), J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone)
Thoughts: Fellini is my choice, but Wise and Robbins were destined to win.
Fun Facts: (1) Fellini’s nomination marked the first time a director was nominated for directing a foreign language movie. (2) Wise and Robbins were the first duo to be nominated for, and win, Best Director.

1962 – David Lean – Lawrence of Arabia
Nominees: Pietro Germi (Divorce Italian Style), Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker), Frank Perry (David and Lisa)
Thoughts: Another very worthy win for Lean. Can’t picture any of the other nominees knocking him out here. But for the love of God, Robert Aldrich should’ve been nominated for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

1963 – Tony Richardson – Tom Jones
Nominees: Federico Fellini (), Elia Kazan (America America), Otto Preminger (The Cardinal), Martin Ritt (Hud)
Thoughts: Joseph L. Mankiewicz should be here for making it through Cleopatra in one piece, but Fellini absolutely gets my vote for directing one of the most influential movies ever made.

1964 – George Cukor – My Fair Lady
Nominees: Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek), Peter Glenville (Becket), Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove), Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins)
Thoughts: The Academy has always had a fondness for musicals, epics, and epic musicals. And while musicals are far from my favorite genre, I appreciate the impact they had on film, especially during this time. Still, this should have been Kubrick’s, no question.

1965 – Robert Wise – The Sound of Music
Nominees: David Lean (Doctor Zhivago), John Schlesinger (Darling), Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes), William Wyler (The Collector)
Thoughts: Not the strongest year (depending on your taste); another win for Wise makes sense.
Fun Fact: Hiroshi Teshigahara was the first Asian nominated for Best Director.

1966 – Fred Zinnemann – A Man for All Seasons
Nominees: Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up), Richard Brooks (The Professionals), Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman), Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Thoughts: Zinnemann is a damn fine director, but this absolutely should have gone to Mike Nichols. I don’t think the Academy knew what they had.

1967 – Mike Nichols – The Graduate
Nominees: Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood), Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night), Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde)
Thoughts: It’s crazy that Brooks, Jewison, Kramer, and Penn never won an Oscar for Best Director (they were each nominated three times), and they likely all came close here, but this belongs to Nichols. Not only was it a make-up for last year, but it was damn well deserved for The Graduate alone.
Fun Fact: As of 2020, Nichols’ win marks the last time a film won the Best Director Oscar, and nothing else.

1968 – Carol Reed – Oliver!
Nominees: Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter), Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers), Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet)
Thoughts: Without reservation, this award should have been Kubrick’s. However, 2001 still feels ahead of its time, so there’s no way the Academy was ready for it 52 years ago.

1969 – John Schlesinger – Midnight Cowboy
Nominees: Costa-Gavras (Z), George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Arthur Penn (Alice’s Restaurant), Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
Thoughts: Sneakily strong year, as Gavras, Hill, and Pollack all deserved it, but Schlesinger’s win was not only just, it was important.

1970 – Franklin J. Schaffner – Patton
Nominees: Robert Altman (M*A*S*H), Federico Fellini (Fellini Satyricon), Arthur Hiller (Love Story), Ken Russell (Women in Love)
Thoughts: Altman could have won this, but I wonder if M*A*S*H was too disruptive for its time. Schaffner is the safe and more obvious choice for the Academy.

1971 – William Friedkin – The French Connection
Nominees: Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof), Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange), John Schlesinger (Sunday Bloody Sunday)
Thoughts: Now we’re stepping into the full potential that ‘70s American cinema had to offer. I love that Friedkin won this, but here’s a question for you: If Friedkin could only win one Best Director Oscar, would you give it to him for The French Connection or The Exorcist?

1972 – Bob Fosse – Cabaret
Nominees: John Boorman (Deliverance), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Sleuth), Jan Troell (The Emigrants)
Thoughts: I know Fosse has some loyal supporters here, but I can’t give him this win. It’d be Coppola first, and Boorman a close second.

1973 – George Roy Hill – The Sting
Nominees: Ingmar Bergman (Cries and Whispers), Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris), William Friedkin (The Exorcist), George Lucas (American Graffiti)
Thoughts: This is one of the strongest years for the Best Director category. And here’s the thing, I really like The Sting, it holds up damn well. Yet Hill would be my last pick here. My order: Bergman, Friedkin, Bertolucci, Lucas, then Hill. And again, not intended as a dig against The Sting.

1974 – Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather: Part II
Nominees: John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence), Bob Fosse (Lenny), Roman Polanski (Chinatown), François Truffaut (Day for Night)
Thoughts: Arguably a stronger year than 1973. Insane competition here. Coppola, Cassavetes, Polanski, and Truffaut all made films that are indelible to me. I think Coppola’s win is more than fair, but I wouldn’t have complained if any four of them won.

1975 – Miloš Forman – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Nominees: Robert Altman (Nashville), Federico Fellini (Amarcord), Stanley Kubrick (Barry Lyndon), Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon)
Thoughts: Wow. Cuckoo’s Nest vs. Dog Day is a battle I’ve been waging for a long time, in Picture, Director, and Actor. Lumet needed a Best Director Oscar, and it would have been appropriate here, but I can’t rob Cuckoo’s Nest of its Big Five wins. (And that isn’t even taking Altman, Fellini, and Kubrick’s amazing work into account.)

1976 – John G. Avildsen – Rocky
Nominees: Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face), Sidney Lumet (Network), Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties)
Thoughts: Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver. Ohh right, he wasn’t even nominated. This is Lumet’s win, with Pakula second.
Fun Fact: Lina Wertmüller became the first woman nominated for Best Director, which wouldn’t happen again for 17 years.

1977 – Woody Allen – Annie Hall
Nominees: George Lucas (Star Wars), Herbert Ross (The Turning Point), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Fred Zinnemann (Julia)
Thoughts: I know many people would choose Lucas here, but Spielberg would get my vote. Though John Badham should be here for directing Saturday Night Fever.

1978 – Michael Cimino – The Deer Hunter
Nominees: Woody Allen (Interiors), Hal Ashby (Coming Home), Warren Beatty & Buck Henry (Heaven Can Wait), Alan Parker (Midnight Express)
Thoughts: Definitely the right call, as Cimino’s work remains a towering war masterpiece. Odd that this was Ashby’s only nomination for Best Director. He should’ve been here at least two other times (for Shampoo and Being There, perhaps).
Fun Fact: Warren Beatty was the first person to earn acting, directing, producing, and screenwriting nominations for the same film.

1979 – Robert Benton – Kramer vs. Kramer
Nominees: Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now), Bob Fosse (All That Jazz), Édouard Molinaro (La Cage aux Folles), Peter Yates (Breaking Away)
Thoughts: Kramer vs. Kramer is a fine film, but its direction is nowhere near as accomplished as Apocalypse Now. Or All That Jazz, frankly.

1980 – Robert Redford – Ordinary People
Nominees: David Lynch (The Elephant Man), Roman Polanski (Tess), Richard Rush (The Stunt Man), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull)
Thoughts: While this remains one of most glaring mistakes in Oscar history (nearly as bad as what happened 10 years later), I do think it’s important to note that Ordinary People is a really good movie. It’s well made, impeccably written, and perfectly acted. It’s just no Raging Bull.

1981 – Warren Beatty – Reds
Nominees: Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire), Louis Malle (Atlantic City), Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond), Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Thoughts: I know this won’t make me any friends, but I think Beatty’s win was a just one. It feels right that Warren Beatty has a Best Director Oscar.
Fun Fact: Before 2009, there are only five years in Oscar history when the Best Director and Best Picture nominees were the same: 1957, 1964, 1981, 2005, and 2008. (In 2009, the Academy began allowing up to 10 Best Picture nominees, making this feat easier to accomplish.)

1982 – Richard Attenborough – Gandhi
Nominees: Sidney Lumet (The Verdict), Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), Sydney Pollack (Tootsie), Steven Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)
Thoughts: Gandhi is the type of big sweeping epic the Oscars love to award, so it’s no surprise that Attenborough took this. But my vote would’ve been for Spielberg, followed by Petersen, and Lumet.

1983 – James L. Brooks – Terms of Endearment
Nominees: Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies), Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), Mike Nichols (Silkwood), Peter Yates (The Dresser)
Thoughts: This would have never happened in 1983, but how lovely it would have been for Ingmar Bergman to win this, for one of the best-directed films I’ve ever seen.

1984 – Miloš Forman – Amadeus
Nominees: Woody Allen (Broadway Danny Rose), Robert Benton (Places in the Heart), Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields), David Lean (A Passage to India)
Thoughts: Amadeus is such an audacious achievement; I rewatched it a few weeks ago and that thing is so unapologetically unconventional. Forman rewrote history and worked on every level.

1985 – Sydney Pollack – Out of Africa
Nominees: Héctor Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman), John Huston (Prizzi’s Honor), Akira Kurosawa (Ran), Peter Weir (Witness)
Thoughts: Again, seeing how foreign-born nominees are rarely awarded Best Director, it’s no surprise that Kurosawa didn’t win here, but he really should have. I adore Sydney Pollack, but Out of Africa is one of his most forgettable films.
Fun Fact: Huston was 79 when he was nominated here, making him the oldest Best Director nominee ever.

1986 – Oliver Stone – Platoon
Nominees: Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters), James Ivory (A Room with a View), Roland Joffé (The Mission), David Lynch (Blue Velvet)
Thoughts: I love Blue Velvet, but the Academy made the right call in awarding Stone for his autobiographical, eye-opening war film. However, a Rob Reiner nomination for Stand By Me should be here.

1987 – Bernardo Bertolucci – The Last Emperor
Nominees: John Boorman (Hope and Glory), Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog), Norman Jewison (Moonstruck), Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction)
Thoughts: Pretty weak year. It would have been nice to see any of the following: James L. Brooks (Broadcast News), Brian De Palma (The Untouchables), Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket), Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride), and/or Joel Coen (Raising Arizona), but oh well.
Fun Fact: This is the first and only time all of the Best Director nominees were foreign-born.

1988 – Barry Levinson – Rain Man
Nominees: Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda), Mike Nichols (Working Girl), Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning), Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation of Christ)
Thoughts: The genre movie fun of 1988 certainly wasn’t reflected here (this was the year of Die Hard, Bull Durham, Big, Midnight Run, and Beetlejuice, to name a few), but Levinson’s win is a fair one. I would’ve given it to Scorsese, but his nomination was his consolation prize.

1989 – Oliver Stone – Born on the Fourth of July
Nominees: Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society)
Thoughts: Of the nominees, I’m fine with Stone winning his second in four years. But there is a very glaring omission here, and that is Spike Lee’s direction for Do the Right Thing. The fact that he isn’t here has aged very poorly.

1990 – Kevin Costner – Dances with Wolves
Nominees: Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather: Part III), Stephen Frears (The Grifters), Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas)
Thoughts: In one of the most stunning upsets in Oscar history, Scorsese was beaten yet again by an actor-turned-director who made an inferior film. With full context, I understand why Wolves won Best Picture, but it’ll never make sense that Scorsese lost here.

1991 – Jonathan Demme – The Silence of the Lambs
Nominees: Barry Levinson (Bugsy), Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), Oliver Stone (JFK)
Thoughts: This is one of the strongest years the Best Director race has ever seen. Each film is directed to near perfection within their respective genre; an argument could be made for any of the directors to win. Boyz n the Hood is my favorite film here, but JFK may be the best-directed film on this list. But does Stone need a third Oscar? Why not Scott, who doesn’t have any? But then we rob Lambs of its distinct Big Five honor (winning Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actress, and Screenplay). I’m fine with Demme winning, he directed a film that remains the highbrow of its genre.
Fun Facts: (1) John Singleton was the first black person to be nominated for Best Director (which wouldn’t happen again until 2009), and remains the youngest nominee, at 24 years old. (2) The Silence of Lambs was the first Best Picture to be released on home video before it won Best Picture.

1992 – Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven
Nominees: Robert Altman (The Player), Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman), James Ivory (Howards End), Neil Jordan (The Crying Game)
Thoughts: Both Eastwood and Altman’s films were comebacks for their directors, and Unforgiven still really holds up, I think Altman should have won here (especially if we know that Clint would win later). But my real wish list vote would be Spike Lee, Malcolm X.

1993 – Steven Spielberg – Schindler’s List
Nominees: Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Jane Campion (The Piano), James Ivory (The Remains of the Day), Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father)
Thoughts: I adore In the Name of the Father, but this was always Spielberg’s.
Fun Fact: Spielberg holds the record for directing the most Oscar wins for multiple films in the same year, after Schindler’s List won seven, and Jurassic Park won three.

1994 – Robert Zemeckis – Forrest Gump
Nominees: Woody Allen (Bullets over Broadway), Krzysztof Kieślowski (Three Colours: Red), Robert Redford (Quiz Show), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction)
Thoughts: Forrest Gump has always been a fun rewatchable, but Pulp Fiction changed cinema. This absolutely should have been Tarantino’s.

1995 – Mel Gibson – Braveheart
Nominees: Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), Chris Noonan (Babe), Michael Radford (Il Postino: The Postman), Tim Robbins (Dead Man Walking)
Thoughts: I’ve never gone all-in on Braveheart. It’s certainly well-directed, but I prefer Ron Howard’s direction of Apollo 13, which wasn’t even nominated. Another wish list nominee: Martin Scorsese for Casino. Of the nominees, Figgis made my favorite film, but Gibson is the safe choice.

1996 – Anthony Minghella – The English Patient
Nominees: Joel Coen (Fargo), Miloš Forman (The People vs. Larry Flynt), Scott Hicks (Shine), Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies)
Thoughts: Similar to Braveheart, it’s easy to see why the Academy awarded The English Patient so highly. But Fargo is such a tightly directed film, I can’t imagine anyone being mad if it won Picture or Director.

1997 – James Cameron – Titanic
Nominees: Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting)
Thoughts: This was the year I really started paying attention to the Oscars, seeing as many of the nominees as possible, and handicapping the winners as best I could. I can promise you that during the 1997 Oscar season, no name was remotely considered to win this award unless that name was James Cameron.

1998 – Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan
Nominees: Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful), John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), Peter Weir (The Truman Show)
Thoughts: Malick would have received my vote, but similar to Cameron the year before, no one was winning this over Spielberg.
Fun Fact: Benigni became the second director to direct himself to a Best Actor win (following Laurence Olivier for Hamlet in 1948).

1999 – Sam Mendes – American Beauty
Nominees: Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), Michael Mann (The Insider), M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)
Thoughts: Such a fun group of nominees, one that underscores how influential 1999 was for movies. Jonze would have been a fun winner, but The Insider is the best-directed film here. The older I get, the better it gets.

2000 – Steven Soderbergh – Traffic
Nominees: Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Ridley Scott (Gladiator), Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich)
Thoughts: I remember this race so vividly; it was so fun to track. Soderbergh’s double nominations, Lee’s runaway hit (that movie was everywhere), Scott’s presumed overdue win. Technically speaking, Traffic is one of the least traditional films to win this award, and I credit the Academy for awarding an experimental film so highly.
Fun Facts: (1) Soderbergh is only the third director to receive multiple nominations for Best Director in the same year, after Frank Lloyd in 1928/1929, and Michael Curtiz in 1938. (2) Four people won Oscars for Traffic, their first names are: Steven, Stephen, Stephen, and Benicio.

2001 – Ron Howard – A Beautiful Mind
Nominees: Robert Altman (Gosford Park), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), David Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down)
Thoughts: A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture was a lock, but this race was a little bit open. Lynch would’ve gotten my vote, but many thought Scott and Altman were overdue and could win. Ultimately, it was no major surprise when Howard took it.
Fun Fact: It’s very rare that a film’s only Oscar nomination is for Best Director. It’s only happened 13 times in Academy history, and Lynch is the only person that it’s happened to twice (with Blue Velvet in 1986, and Mulholland Drive here).

2002 – Roman Polanski – The Pianist
Nominees: Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Stephen Daldry (The Hours), Rob Marshall (Chicago), Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York)
Thoughts: The Pianist was not predicted to win any major awards, and it was so crazy to watch it quickly nab Adapted Screenplay, Actor, and Director late on Oscar night. Those wins (particularly Adrien Brody and Polanski’s) remain two of the biggest Oscar surprises I’ve ever seen.

2003 – Peter Jackson – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Nominees: Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Fernando Meirelles (City of God), Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)
Thoughts: I was high on the Mystic River train at the time, but today, I think Meirelles’ film is the best-directed one here.

2004 – Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby
Nominees: Taylor Hackford (Ray), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)
Thoughts: This was a fun Clint vs. Marty race early on, but by the time Oscar night rolled around, it was assumed Eastwood would win. Smart call.
Fun Fact: At 74 years old, ole Clint became the oldest director to ever win this prize.

2005 – Ang Lee – Brokeback Mountain
Nominees: George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck), Paul Haggis (Crash), Bennett Miller (Capote), Steven Spielberg (Munich)
Thoughts: I cannot overstate this enough, in late 2005/early 2006, it was a certainly that Ang Lee would win Best Director, and Brokeback Mountain would win Best Picture. No one even talked about these races, because they were so easy to predict. Lee winning made perfect sense. His film losing Best Picture still does not.
Fun Fact: With this win, Ang Lee became the first non-white Best Director winner.

2006 – Martin Scorsese – The Departed
Nominees: Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Paul Greengrass (United 93), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel)
Thoughts: This actually isn’t that black or white for me. I think United 93 and Babel are better-directed films than The Departed, but I obviously wouldn’t want to rob Scorsese of his only Oscar. However, Scorsese should’ve had at least two Best Director wins by this point. So, in this zany world of Oscar hypotheticals, if Scorsese had won before, I would have given this to Greengrass. But since Scorsese hadn’t won yet, I’m completely fine with this going to Marty.

2007 – Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Jason Reitman (Juno), Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
Thoughts: Great race in a great movie year. I can’t complain about the Coen brothers winning, but I do wish the wealth was spread a little bit. No Country and There Will Be Blood faced off for several Oscars, including Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Best Picture. No Country won all of those, but There Will Be Blood was equally, if not more, deserving to win at least one.

2008 – Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire
Nominees: Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk)
Thoughts: This was a weak category in a dull movie year. My winner would have been Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler, but he wasn’t even nominated. And although Fincher and Van Sant’s works were adored, Boyle was a lock here. I’m okay with it, even if I haven’t seen Slumdog since theaters.

2009 – Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Thoughts: It would have aged very poorly if Cameron won this, as many thought he would. Bigelow’s win was overdue for a few reasons; no argument at all from me about her win.
Fun Fact: Bigelow remains the only female to win this award. She’s only one of five women who have ever even been nominated. That’s insane.

2010 – Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), David O. Russell (The Fighter)
Thoughts: The biggest Best Director mistake since Costner/Scorsese in 1990. I’m not surprised that The King’s Speech won Best Picture, but it remains unfathomable to me that thousands of people thought The King’s Speech was a better-directed movie than The Social Network. This remains a seriously disappointing blunder.

2011 – Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Nominees: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Thoughts: As soon as The Artist premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, I assumed it would win Best Picture and Director. This movie was made to please the conventional Oscar voter. I’m not hating on The Artist, but it ain’t no Tree of Life.

2012 – Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Thoughts: Weak showing in a mediocre year. In my world, Haneke would be the only nominee here, the others perhaps replaced by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained).

2013 – Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Nominees: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Thoughts: I would’ve voted for McQueen or Scorsese over Cuarón, but I have no objection to Cuarón winning.
Fun Fact: Alfonso Cuarón was the first Mexican-born filmmaker to win Best Director.

2014 – Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Thoughts: Similar to the No Country vs. There Will Be Blood matchups in 2007, I would have preferred that Boyhood win either Best Original Screenplay, Picture, or particularly Director, over Birdman, but I’m not mad at Iñárritu’s achievements.

2015 – Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Nominees: Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Thoughts: No issue here. But Iñárritu’s second win really makes me wish Linklater had won the year before.
Fun Fact: Iñárritu became the first director in 65 years (and only the third director overall) to win back-to-back Best Director Oscars.

2016 – Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Nominees: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Thoughts: It’s still bizarre to see Mel Gibson here, given that he was one of the most controversial figures in Hollywood for nearly 15 years prior. Chazelle would have received my vote, followed by Villeneuve.
Fun Fact: At 32 years and 39 days old, Damien Chazelle became the youngest Best Director winner, knocking out Norman Taurog, who was 32 years and 260 days old when he won for directing Skippy.

2017 – Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Thoughts: You aren’t going to hear any objection from me concerning the Mexican-born dominance of this category recently, but my heart is with Anderson and Nolan here.

2018 – Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Nominees: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Adam McKay (Vice), Paweł Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Thoughts: Poor showing for the year. I’m thrilled that Lee was finally nominated, but it was 30 years too late. Lanthimos would have gotten my vote, but the Academy would have never gone for it.
Fun Fact: Alfonso Cuarón is the only person to win Oscars for Best Director and Best Cinematography, let alone in the same year, for the same film.

2019 – Bong Joon–ho – Parasite
Nominees: Sam Mendes (1917), Todd Phillips (Joker), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Thoughts: What a strong year. Tarantino should have a Best Director Oscar, and it would’ve been great to see Scorsese win for his passion project, but holy hell did I scream with joy with Joon-ho won. No objection whatsoever.

More Oscar Breakdowns
Best Actress (coming soon)
Best Actor (coming soon)
Best Supporting Actress (coming soon)
Best Supporting Actor (coming soon)
Best Original Screenplay (coming soon)
Best Adapted Screenplay (coming soon)

4 comments:

  1. OK, 1927-1950

    Lewis Milestone, Frank Capra for It Happened One Night, Michael Curtiz, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and John Huston were the right choices while I think John Ford should've gotten the Oscar for Stagecoach instead of Victor Fleming (and many others) for Gone with the Wind.

    1950s

    The two wins by George Stevens, David Lean, Elia Kazan, and Delbert Mann were the right choices while I think the Oscars should've gone to Billy Wilder for both Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, and Fred Zinneman for High Noon.

    1960s

    David Lean for Lawrence of Arabia and Billy Wilder for The Apartment are the only winners that got it right while Federico Fellini should've won twice for La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, Stanley Kubrick twice for Dr. Strangelove and 2001, Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes, Michelangelo Antonioni for Blow-Up, Arthur Penn for Bonnie & Clyde, and Costa-Garvas for Z.

    1970

    Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Pt. II, Bob Fosse for Cabaret,Michael Cimino for The Deer Hunter, and Woody Allen for Annie Hall were the right picks while Robert Altman should've won for M.A.S.H., Stanley Kubrick twice for A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now, Ingmar Bergman for Cries & Whispers and Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties should've won.

    1980s

    Warren Beatty, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Milos Forman were the right choices while Martin Scorsese should've won twice for Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, Steven Spielberg for E.T., Ingmar Bergman for Fanny & Alexander, Akira Kurosawa for Ran, David Lynch for Blue Velvet, and Woody Allen for Crimes & Misdemeanors.

    1990s

    Jonathan Demme and Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List were the right choices while Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas, Robert Altman for The Player, Krzysztof Kieslowski for Trois Coleurs: Rouge, Tim Robbins for Dead Man Walking, Joel Coen for Fargo, Atom Egoyan for The Sweet Hereafter, Spike Jonze for Being John Malkovich, and Terrence Malick for The Thin Red Line.

    2000s

    Steven Soderbergh, Roman Polanski, Ang Lee, and Kathryn Bigelow deserved their wins while David Lynch should've won for Mulholland Dr., Alexander Payne for Sideways, Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima, Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood, David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and of course... Sofia for THE BEST FILM EVER MADE!!!!

    2010s

    Alfonso Cuaron for his two wins, Bong Joon-Ho, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman were the right choices while David Fincher for The Social Network, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, Michael Haneke for Amour, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, and Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk should've won in their respective years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hell of an effort here, love this. My friend and I were talking the other day, and isn't it crazy that the Oscars even nominated Cries and Whispers for Picture and Director? It is such an emotionally brutal film, and so foreign, that I'm amazed they nominated it.

      Delete
  2. Wait, The King’s Speech won! THAT MOVIE!? Over Black Swan and The Social Network?! This is insane.

    I love how half of this decade's wins are by Mexican-born directors, and talented ones at that. Still think 2006 was way stronger for all three of these. Like Babel, Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth are just experiences not just movies.

    Wonder if Bong Joon–ho's will have an effect as powerful Cuarón's Gravity win. Park Chan-wook certainly is an auteur whom deserves some more recognition. Oldboy is one of the finest movies of the 2000s afterall.

    Nice to see more cinema from around the world pop up at the Oscars like Yorgos Lanthimos, whom I fell in love with Dogtooth years back.

    Great post, as always from you. Keep it up. Nice to read (re-read) some of those from time to time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, a lot of 2010 doesn't hold up well. I remember as those awards were given out, I was thinking, "This ain't gonna age well."

      2006 was such a strong year for those three friends. I love those three movies. I agree it'll be interesting to see what doors Bong Joon-ho's win opens. There are so many foreign directors (including Park Chan-wook) that are worth of recognition like this.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Delete