Category Check: Best Director


So by process of elimination, Best Director will be the next category that I next set out to complete.  It feels more than a little odd to switch from the most feminist category, Best Actress, to the most male-centric of the major categories.  Still, I feel a great affinity for this category.  True, their choices aren’t quite as wild as the writers’, but those guys get two whole categories to squeeze in their edgiest picks (I sometimes wonder what we’d get if, say, the directors split into Best Writer-Director and Best Metteur-en-scene).  Nevertheless, the Director category has pretty reliably snuck a dynamic deviation or two (no gender bias intended) in with their Best Picture-mirroring slate, whether it’s a revered master who gets in at the expense of a young’un (Hitchcock over Brooks in 1960, Altman over Reiner in 1992) or a foreign master who edges out a blockbuster-riding demigod (Antonioni over Wise in 1966, or Almodovar over Jackson in 2002).  This is the *classy* category, counting just among the non-winners:

  • 5 nominations: Hitchcock, Altman, Vidor
  • 4 nominations: Fellini, Kubrick, Lumet
  • 3 nominations: Lynch, Bergman, Lubitsch
  • 2 nominations: Malick, von Sternberg, Tarantino
  • 1 nomination: Kurosawa, Cassavetes, Welles, Almodovar, Truffaut, Anderson, Hawks, Antonioni, Haneke…I could go on…

Of course, this is also an overwhelmingly white and male category, with a history of notable exclusions and snubs (Spike Lee, Barbra Streisand, Kathryn Bigelow).  Still, I can’t help but be impressed by an array of directing styles that ranges from David Lean’s minimal melodrama in Brief Encounter to Spike Jonze’s kinetic whimsy in Being John Malkovich, from John Sturges’ taut thrills in Bad Day at Black Rock to Julian Schnabel’s impressionistic reveries in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Granted, it’s a category that does place these brilliant films alongside the indulgent and lazy (even self-parodic), but one that I love for the wild array of expressions of a directorial vision.

Of course there is a well-known overlap with Best Picture, with 3/5 or 4/5 in a typical five-Best Picture nominee year, and a 5/5 overlap in years with more.  This close resonance has helped me get pretty darn close to finishing this category: at present I have seen 371 of the 421 nominated films, leaving a nice, round 50 films yet to be seen, including a mere three of the winners. (NOTE: the nominee and win totals include the winner and nominee for the Best Comedy Director category that existed for the First Academy Awards).  The remaining films are split fairly evenly between Best Picture nominees (many of which I mention here) and the lone wolfs.  Among the outliers are such extreme visions as Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ and Bernardo Bertolucci for The Last Tango in Paris, in addition to what I expect to be milder fare, like Jean Renoir’s The Southerner, and the usual unknown quantities, like Richard Brooks’ The Professionals).  This category is very much an insider’s club, but I’m particularly looking forward to the one-time nominees, like Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes and John Farrow for Wake Island.   I’m curious to see what kind of impact they can have on the collective definition of this category.

A minor note: for as much as it ostensibly represents the director as sole auteur, though, Best Director more than any other is bound to the other categories.  By my count, I can find only eleven films that earned their sole nomination for Best Director: Herbert Brenon for Sorrell and Son, Frank Lloyd TWICE for Drag and Weary River, King Vidor for Hallelujah!, Mark Robson for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Arthur Penn for Alice’s Restaurant, Federico Fellini for Fellini Satyricon, Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ (thanks to Bob for pointing this one out!), Robert Altman for Short Cuts, and David Lynch TWICE for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr.  Strong though the myth of the director might be, the rest of the honorees are still tied to the excellence of their collaborators.


4 thoughts on “Category Check: Best Director

  1. ConMan says:

    Hey, I just found you. I don’t know if I should be amazed or horrified at the amount of films that you’ve seen. Keep up the good work!

  2. whoiscliff says:

    Haha, thanks ConMan! I myself swing between the good and bad kind of disbelief when I look back on my progress. If you think that’s crazy, though, you should check out Adam! He’s tackling ALL the Oscar categories:

  3. […] of others. And yet, Scorsese alone received an Academy award nomination for this monumental work. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s exceedingly rare for a director’s work to shine so brightly as to earn a sole nomination […]

  4. […] Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, along with a few comments on the best of what I’ve seen and the work cut […]

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