We talk so often about the films and the performances that were robbed of an Oscar but what about the directors ? So many great directorial achievements went unrewarded through the years and it is still happening. In fact some of the greatest directorial achievements in the history of the movies have been ignored as Best Director! Each year it seems a strongly directed picture loses the Best Director award! Here are my choices for the thirty directors and their films which were robbed of Best Director.
And yes it is true that Howard Hawks, Charles Chaplin, Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet did not win competitive Oscars, which is a crime. You will not (and this important) ever find me bemoaning Hitchcock not winning an Oscar….not a fan, never have been. To cold, too detached, too calculated.
So here are the 30 directors (chronologically ordered) I feel have been robbed of a Best Director Award, and yes I am fine with directors or anyone winning more than once if they are the best then be awarded accordingly.
1. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CITY LIGHTS (1931): Refusing sound in his films, believing audiences wanted his tramp to remain silent, he created this comic masterpiece, still among the most moving and hilarious films ever made. And that last moment between the flower shop girl and Chaplin….that smile….heartbreaking.
2. VICTOR FLEMING, THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939): Fleming won in 1939, but for the wrong film, winning for Gone with the Wind (1939). The road to Tara was indeed magnificent, but the journey down the yellow brick road is a touchstone for one generation after another…and my God the performances.
3. ORSON WELLES, CITIZEN KANE (1941): For the innovations alone he should have won, for his command of the art form, he should have won but for the sheer originality of this audacious work, and the storytelling….he should have won. Any way you cut it Orson Welles deserved Best Director.
4. BILLY WILDER, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944): In creating the atmosphere for this picture, in guiding the performances, in creating a startling film noir with nasty undertones he should have won.
5. BILLY WILDER, SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950): One of the greatest directorial achievements of all time…perfect. Black, haunting and perversely funny if your sense of humor is dark. Gloria Swanson deserved the Oscar she did not win.
6. ELIA KAZAN, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951): One of the most astounding achievements in direction ever put on the screen…the acting, direction, editing, everything about the film is perfection and brilliant.
7. JOHN FORD, THE SEARCHERS (1956): Magnificent. A dark troubling western in which John Wayne portrays a deeply scarred, psychotic war veteran searching for his niece who has been taken by Indians. Wayne is ferocious in the film, his work merged perfectly with the anger and rage of the landscape. Ford won four times, he should have won once…for this one.
8. STANLEY KUBRICK, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968): One of the most ground breaking films in the history of the cinema the film sprawls over centuries, is filled with metaphors, and superb visual effects. Kubrick was nominated often…he won a single Oscar…for visual effects.
9. STANLEY KUBRICK, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971): His masterpiece…the New York Film Critics Circle gave him Best Director…they got it right. Forty years later the film is still as fresh and powerful as it was back then.
10. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, THE GODFATHER (1972): He directed the finest American film of its time, it won Best Picture, he won the DGA but then lost the Oscar to Bob Fosse for Cabaret (1972).
11. GEORGE LUCAS, AMERICAN GRAFITTI (1973): For this wonderful nostalgic study of youth in America in the sixties, Lucas made his mark and earned a nomination. He should have won, and his career might have been very different, because this was the kind of film he always wanted to make….small stories.
12. ALAN J. PAKULA, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976): Perfection. Pakula took a well-known true story from the recent headlines and turned it into a tension filled journalistic drama with top-notch performances and writing. To this day the best film about journalism ever made.
13. HAL ASHBY, COMING HOME (1978): Again an under valued filmmaker now considered one of the best of his time. The first film to deal openly and honestly with the war in Viet Nam and the impact on the men and women who fought it. Superb performances are the highlights, but Ashby plunges us into their world.
14. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, APOCALYPSE NOW (1979): An astonishing achievement for Coppola. Enough said. He made Viet Nam a surrealistic nightmare and one of the most astounding films experiences of all time.
15. MARTIN SCORSESE, RAGING BULL (1980): Is there a living director out there today who does not look to this as one of the greatest directed films ever made? The opening titles tell us what we are going to see…a man fighting himself all his life and never understanding why he keeps losing out of the ring.
16. STEVEN SPIELBERG FOR E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982): On his way to winning his Oscar for Best Director for Gandhi (1982), Richard Attenborough stopped and whispered to Spielberg, “this belongs to you”…but then accepted it. True words…it did belong to Spielberg for creating a dreamscape of a film.
17. STEVEN SPIELBERG, EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987): Majestic, haunting and beautiful, it was no contest in 1987….and then they gave it to another…this is among Spielberg’s very best and yet failed at the box office.
18. MARTIN SCORSESE, GOODFELLAS (1990): If Scorsese is our greatest director, and this is his his greatest film, does it make any sense at all that he lost the Oscar? Every single critics group gave him Best Director…and the Academy blew it.
19. QUENTIN TARANTINO, PULP FICTION (1994): Like Scorsese before him, all the major critics groups honored Tarantino, and then the Academy gave it to another. He has never equalled his second film, he likely will not.
20. RON HOWARD, APOLLO 13 (1995): We all knew the story, we watched it unfold on TV in the seventies. Yet Howard gave it mystery, tension, brought to it a boldness that had not thought to be there. Nicely written, and brilliantly acted by Hanks, especially Harris, and Quinlan.
21. DANNY BOYLE, TRAINSPOTTING (1996): A brilliant black comedy that is also a tough study of drug addiction and what heroin does to you. A dirty, gritty little film with powerhouse performances, wild cinematography and editing. He hurls you into this toilet board of a world and never lets up.
22. DARREN ARONOFSKY, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000): Again a tough film and I get why they did not go for it, but was there a better film that year? Ands it should be about awarding the best right? So Aronofsky’s dark film about addiction deserved to win and he should have been holding the Best Director award.
23. PETER JACKSON, THE LORD OF THE RINGS – THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001): Yes Jackson won for the third film, which was really honoring all three films, but the truth was he should have won for both the first and especially the third. One set the tone, set it all up and the other finished it all….superbly. He should have won.
24. TODD HAYNES, FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002): In a year populated with many great films and string work from directors, the best for me was this fine homage to the fifties work of Douglas Sirk, and the so-called women’s films. Haynes superbly creates the atmosphere and tone, but brings a jarring realism to the fairy tale gone wrong. Outstanding performances.
25. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007): Angry, spiky and brilliant they will be talking about this for years to come. Amidst the empty oil fields, is the raging performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who the director knew to place at the center of his masterwork.
26. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008): This director turned a comic boon adaptation or super hero film into art, serious art. From the stunning world he creates, through to the astounding performance of Heath Ledger and his Batman willing to be the bad guy in the cause of the greater good….brilliant.
27. DAVID FINCHER, THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010): Working from a perfect screenplay with the perfect actors, Fincher perfectly directs this timely…perfect film with a confident, perfect hand.
28. KATHRYN BIGELOW, ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012): The first woman to win the Academy Award for directing The Hurt Locker (2009) should have won again for this even better directorial job. The story of the CUA operative who found Bin Laden and had him brought down is an alarmingly intense work with a ferocious performance from Jessica Chastain.
29. MARTIN SCORSESE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013): How does this man lose for bringing the rollicking, crazy story of Jordan Belfort to the screen, both wildly funny and intensely dramatic? He should have won, no question and so should his actor. One of his very best.
30. RICHARD LINKLATER, BOYHOOD (2014): Academy really missed an opportunity to reward one of the most original directors working today and a torch-bearer of independent cinema for last 25 years. I am not sure they are going to be provided this opportunity ever again. What a miss!
Read More: Best Hollywood Directors of All Time