Best Director Home Stretch: 25 to Go



Nearly there! So far, this quest has yielded one outright masterpiece and a handful of minor classics, trailed by a string of enthralling visions, bold adaptations, and startlingly fresh commentaries. I’ve learned a few things in the process of writing these posts: first of all, that very few of these directors are unworthy of their nomination.  It’s easy when comparing the nominees to each other or, heaven forbid, their snubbed competition, to find the flaws and deficiencies in any movie.  However, each individual film on this list shows a remarkable amount of work, often against tremendous odds or with a rare gift for style or commentary.  Invariably, I’ve found myself more invested in each film after tightly concentrating on its directorial vision.  Elements of Sam Wood’s choices in Kings Row that I initially resisted became crucial in understanding the film’s strange energy, the roughness of Elia Kazan’s filmmaking crystallized into moments of compelling clarity when, months later, I dug into my memory to write up my viewing experience.  All told, these have been an incredibly rewarding 25 movies, from the ones I would have probably seen anyway to the ones I never would have sought out, and I’m looking forward to the second half of the journey!

Twenty-five directors remain, spread across nine decades of Academy history. As with last year’s final Best Actress countdown, it’s a disparate crowd that made it to the end of my list. Films like The Mission and The Thin Red Line I’d hoped to catch on the big screen (and still hope to, one day!); while I could never motivate myself to watch others, including War and Peace and The High and the Mighty, until I had nothing else to watch. Some films are large-looming Oscar winners (Traffic) while others barely left a ripple (Alice’s Restaurant). Some are movies I know barely a thing about, like Skippy or David and Lisa, while the reputations of films like Lifeboat and Last Tango in Paris have already planted vivid images in my mind. For that matter, I still get to add a new Hitchcock, a new Polanski, and a new Malick to my list, and have my first encounters with the work of J. Lee Thompson and Richard Rush in any form at all. And of course, it’s time to crank this into high gear: I may miss this mark, but I’ll be trying to get two-dozen viewings and (much terser) posts in by next weekend’s final screening at the Billy Wilder Theater. Wish me luck!

But first, let’s pause for a moment and take a quick inventory of the films that pave the home stretch:

1927/28 – Herbert Brenon for Sorrell and Son

1928/29 – Frank Lloyd for Drag (probably a lost cause, but still looking!)

1930/31 – Norman Taurog for Skippy

1942 – John Farrow for Wake Island

1944 – Alfred Hitchcock for Lifeboat

1945 – Clarence Brown for National Velvet

1947 – George Cukor for A Double Life

1954 – William A. Wellman for The High and the Mighty

1956 – King Vidor for War and Peace

1961 – J. Lee Thompson for The Guns of Navarone

1962 – Frank Perry for David and Lisa

1966 – Richard Brooks for The Professionals

1969 – Arthur Penn for Alice’s Restaurant

1969 – Costa-Gavras for Z

1972 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Sleuth

1973 – Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango in Paris

1980 – Richard Rush for The Stunt Man

1980 – Roman Polanski for Tess

1985 – Hector Babenco for Kiss of the Spider Woman

1986 – Roland Joffe for The Mission

1988 – Alan Parker for Mississippi Burning

1993 – Robert Altman for Short Cuts

1996 – Scott Hicks for Shine

1998 – Terrence Malick for The Thin Red Line

2000 – Steven Soderbergh for Traffic


7 thoughts on “Best Director Home Stretch: 25 to Go

  1. ConMan says:

    Wait, are you honestly going to try to watch 25 new films in a single week? I consider myself lucky if I get to watch 2 new films in a week, I have no idea how you’re gonna accomplish it.

  2. whoiscliff says:

    Fortunately I’ve got a pretty open week, but I know it’s a tall order. I’m gonna try!

  3. Jerome says:

    good luck – I don’t want to oversell, but I loved Tess and the Mission and they both deserve HUGE SCREEN.if you don’t like them, reserve final judgment given design scale. Skippy is charming.
    And to really help with low expectations (movies are usually better that way anyway), I remember walking out of short Cuts just confused as to why this was a big deal although my friend, Brett, was close to tears and related to it in a very deep way. As well,Mr Geoffrey’s repetitive tic in SHINE gave me a manner in which my anger and mockery could find a voice when I was still pissed off at his lauded performance lo these many months and years later. And although I found TRAFFIC problematic, i really liked it until I saw the BBC (?) TV version which had all the good parts and none of the awful parts of it.
    (the Stunt Man is a great ride on the Big Screen. I sincerely hope it carries over on a smaller viewing platform. THese are mostly great movies and you will have a serious blast watching these. I antiicpate no burn out unless there’s a three film marathon of Last Tango, Shine, and Short Cuts all in one sitting. And I worry that DAVID AND LISA will not have aged well in the half-century since its release).

  4. Bob Verini says:

    Nominating JLT for The Guns of Navarone was inspired on the Academy’s part. Personal cinema it ain’t, but for its time it was as impressive a directorial achievement as Alfonso Cuaron’s for Gravity. As for The Mission….good Christ.

    • Jerome says:

      I saw THE MISSION when i’d rented a big screen tv for jeopardy watching parties during the UToC. While i had it, thought i’d use it and saw the Cinematography Oscar winners that i’d missed. I think it would lose a lot on a small screen, but it’s a beautiful piece of filmic photography – as was Legends of the Fall. BUT I think they both need a LARGE LARGE LARGE screen.
      it’s not chamber drama by any means.

  5. whoiscliff says:

    I’m sure the missionaries would agree with that sentiment.

  6. […] Los Angeles story tomorrow night.  The list, even as I’ve whittled it down from fifty to twenty-five to ten, remains an incredible spectrum of filmmaking.  The nominated individuals range from 32 to […]

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