86 Best Director Omissions

Best Director Omissions 2

Once again, having surveyed all those honored by the Academy for excellence in directing, I’m ready to offer my own humble assessments of the field. But as I did last year, I’m pausing before casting my personal votes to consider the vast terrain of filmmaking outside the 214 filmmakers and 426 films in this column of Oscar history. The Directors Branch has frequently made inspired decisions, nominating the likes of Gillo Pontecorvo and Terrence Malick as well as Frank Capra and Woody Allen. I’m not a big fan of the word “snub,” though I concede its convenience as shorthand. Oscar nominations are a compliment to those who receive them and by no means an insult to those who don’t. Nonetheless, there’s only so much room in the finals each year, and the directors that cram into those five spots invariably squeeze out other admirable visions. I don’t begrudge the Academy voters their choices; I can see the merits in nearly every nominated effort, whether or not it’s my cup of tea. Still I guarantee that if I had the power, somebody would be making way for one of these personal heroes.

As with last year’s Best Actress Omissions, I’ve restricted myself to the period covered by the Academy Awards (1927 to present) and only one film per filmmaker. Even with those strictures, though, I found it difficult as always to whittle the list down to just 86, or an average of one candidate per year in the Oscar race. Many of these are among my absolute favorite films of all time, though I also considered some of the films I consider to be the most impressive directorial visions ever realized. The list ranges from rare misses by Oscar favorites (Wilder, Kazan) to those who never would have had a prayer at a nomination (Paley, Cocteau) except through the divine intervention I’m suggesting. They also wound up falling quite evenly among the decades and across a wide spectrum of production—unlike last time, feature animation and documentary are fair game.

What’s great about these lists in the first place is that they spur conversation as well as curiosity, providing a spark to engage with film history and exchange recommendations and insights and thoughts.  As you can see, the Academy voters got me doing just that!  Despite my attempts to create a diverse supplement, I’m sure most of you can find an absent favorite or two. Like any Oscar voter, I have my own blind spots and biases!  I’m curious to know what you might add to the Oscar rolls as well!

Abel Gance Napoléon 1927
Carl Theodor Dreyer The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928
Buster Keaton, Edward Sedgwick The Cameraman 1928
Dziga Vertov Man with a Movie Camera 1929
Fritz Lang M 1931
Rouben Mamoulian Love Me Tonight 1932
Ernst Lubitsch Design for Living 1933
Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack King Kong 1933
James Whale Bride of Frankenstein 1935
Charles Chaplin Modern Times 1936
Jean Renoir Grand Illusion 1937
Michael Curtiz The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938
George Cukor Holiday 1938
Howard Hawks His Girl Friday 1940
John Huston
The Maltese Falcon
Preston Sturges The Lady Eve 1941
Sergei Eisenstein Ivan the Terrible, Part I 1944
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger I Know Where I’m Going! 1945
Jean Cocteau Beauty and the Beast 1946
David Lean Oliver Twist 1948
Robert Hamer Kind Hearts and Coronets 1949
Nicholas Ray In a Lonely Place 1951
Billy Wilder Ace in the Hole 1951
Vittorio De Sica Umberto D. 1952
Kenzo Mizoguchi Ugetsu 1953
Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai 1954
Robert Bresson A Man Escaped 1956
Ingmar Bergman Wild Strawberries 1957
Elia Kazan A Face in the Crowd 1957
Clyde Geronimi Sleeping Beauty 1959
Alfred Hitchcock North by Northwest 1959
Satyajit Ray World of Apu 1959
Agnès Varda Cléo from 5 to 7 1962
Sam Fuller The Naked Kiss 1964
Bryan Forbes Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964
Pier Paolo Pasolini The Gospel According to Matthew 1964
Jean-Luc Godard Pierrot le fou 1965
King Hu Dragon Inn 1967
Frederick Wiseman Titicut Follies 1967
Jean-Pierre Melville Army of Shadows 1969
Robert Altman McCabe & Mrs. Miller 1971
Nicolas Roeg Walkabout 1971
Orson Welles F for Fake 1973
Fred Zinnemann The Day of the Jackal 1973
Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles 1974
Steven Spielberg Jaws 1975
David Lynch Eraserhead 1977
Rainer Werner Fassbinder The Marriage of Maria Braun 1979
Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker Airplane! 1980
Stanley Kubrick The Shining 1980
Bill Forsyth Local Hero 1983
Terry Gilliam Brazil 1985
James Cameron Aliens 1986
John Hughes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1986
Woody Allen Radio Days 1987
Isao Takahata Grave of the Fireflies 1988
John McTiernan Die Hard 1988
Spike Lee Do the Right Thing 1989
John Woo The Killers 1989
Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise Beauty and the Beast 1991
Krzysztof Kieslowski The Double Life of Véronique 1991
Harold Ramis Groundhog Day 1993
Wong Kar-Wai Chungking Express 1994
Todd Haynes Safe 1995
Alex Proyas Dark City 1998
Thomas Vinterberg Celebration 1998
Anthony Minghella The Talented Mr. Ripley 1999
Edward Yang Yi yi 2000
Joel Coen (and Ethan Coen) O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000
Hayao Miyazaki Spirited Away 2001
John Cameron Mitchell Hedwig and the Angry Inch 2001
Mamoru Oshii Avalon 2001
Aleksandr Sokurov Russian Ark 2002
Sylvain Chômet The Triplets of Belleville 2003
Michel Gondry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004
Alfonso Cuarón Children of Men 2006
Satoshi Kon Paprika 2006
Guy Maddin My Winnipeg 2007
Nina Paley Sita Sings the Blues 2008
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson Up 2009
Henry Selick Coraline 2009
Banksy Exit Through the Gift Shop 2010
Mike Leigh Another Year 2010
Lynne Ramsey We Need to Talk about Kevin 2011
Kathryn Bigelow Zero Dark Thirty 2012
Spike Jonze Her 2013

One thought on “86 Best Director Omissions

  1. ConMan says:

    You’ve got quite a few animated selections. I would mention Chris Sanders & Dean Dublois for How To Train Your Dragon, Christopher Nolan for just about anything he’s done, and I feel the need to mention Zach Helm for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. That film is an underrated gem and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

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