Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and many other great directors from yesteryear have controversially never won a best directing Oscar. How can some of the most influential and legendary directors in film history not be recognized for their directing talents by the Academy?
They’ve arguably superseded some of the peers who took home the statute instead of them. Cinephiles the world over know that the Oscars are not the only measure of achievement in the industry. In fact, those same directors belong to a special club of directors who’ve never won a directing Oscar, which is just as prestigious. Either way, their talents will always be acknowledged, even if it’s not at the Dolby Theatre.
Today, we have modern directors who are sure to have the same impact as those aforementioned directors. They are some of the best filmmakers working in the business today but for some reason or another, their work has not been recognized by the Academy as well.
It notoriously took years for the Academy to give Martin Scorsese his overdue Oscar, for a film some felt was a courtesy award than honest intention. At one point it looked like the Coen brothers would never win a directing Oscar, and then “No Country for Old Men” came along and changed all of that. So there’s no saying that these filmmakers won’t do the same and one day gets their moment in the Oscar sun.
1. Paul Thomas Anderson
There’s no doubt that P.T. Anderson is one of the greatest living filmmakers today. Occupying the space that Stanley Kubrick once enjoyed as a visionary director who makes challenging films that don’t have the mainstream success of his peers, but a respect that’s unparalleled.
He has a natural ability to evoke career-best performances from his actors and many of his collaborators. Changing styles between each film, you know you’re watching an Anderson film based on the writing and performances.
There’s an argument that each one of Anderson’s films, except his debut, deserve an Oscar nomination. “Boogie Nights” saw him wear his Scorsese and Altman influences on his sleeve, delivering an epic film that’s a nod to decades of filmmaking history.
“Magnolia” was longer and much more ambitious. A three-hour runtime with some risky scenes that could’ve failed, “Magnolia” saw the wunderkind director operating on an epic scale that Ingmar Bergman referenced to highlight the strength of American filmmaking.
When “Punch-Drunk Love” came around, everyone was shocked at the excellence of Adam Sandler’s first serious performance. His films started getting more challenging and when “There Will Be Blood” rolled around; Anderson got his first Best Director nomination in a film hailed as one of the greatest films of all time.
“The Master” continued the trend, only receiving acting and writing nominations in what was the best film of its year. On the other hand, “Inherent Vice” should’ve been called “Inherent Twice” as a film that needs repeated viewings to appreciate.
Even if he never takes home the gold, Anderson can take pleasure in being the only person in history to ever win Best Director at three of the biggest film festivals; Venice, Cannes and Toronto.
2. Darren Aronofsky
Just like David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky makes challenging, psychological and surreal films that creep into your subconscious and offer a cinematic experience like no other. For some people, his films can be hard to sit through on initial viewing, let alone on repeated viewings, and are mostly synonymous with the word; disturbing.
Nobody delves into the human psyche quite like Aronofsky with his recurring themes of obsession and self-destruction, either personally or the good of others. True, most of his films are too disturbing to make an impact at the Oscars, although there is no question about his craft as a director.
“Requiem for a Dream” is the type of film that should be screened at Drug Awareness campaigns. Yes, it’s graphic and gratuitous, but that’s the point. Earning a Best Actress nomination for Ellen Burstyn, Aronofsky was snubbed for his gritty but visual directing that gives the film its identity.
Critics and audiences were split on “The Fountain,” which eventually got its due as a cult classic. Not denying its ambition and visual splendor, many found the film confusing, overblown and pretentious. With “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky would digress his directing to give the film a more realistic take, putting the performances on the forefront.
The actors were rewarded with nominations but the director was yet again snubbed for his understated directing, which did more than just the obvious. His biggest commercial hit (still with its share of controversy) came with “Black Swan,” earning him his first and to date the only nomination. The year 2011 was competitive and the Oscar went to Tom Hooper for the more crowd-pleasing “The King’s Speech.”
Judging by the critical and audience reception for this year’s “Mother!”, it’s too confusing and out there to be an Academy film, even though it’s too well crafted to be ignored.
3. David Fincher
David Fincher is one of the best technical directors working today. He can make the most insipid and mundane things mesmerizing with his camera and editing. Like Hitchcock, he’s able to take any story and mold it into his trademark style, except for maybe “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Speaking of “The Curious Case,” it’s the first film that saw Fincher nominated for a directing Oscar. Jokingly known as “Forrest Gump goes backwards,” it’s ironic that it’s one of Fincher’s weaker films. But that doesn’t mean his directing is subpar; it’s on point, as usual, but it’s the writing that lets it down.
“Se7en,” “Fight Club” and “Zodiac” are impeccable works of art, made even better by Fincher’s involvement. There’s no chance in hell a film like “Fight Club” would ever be nominated for anything other than technical awards. “Se7en,” on the other hand, was a breakout hit that should’ve made a mark and gotten the director his first nomination.
However, the prestige of Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey was not enough. The studio re-released the film around awards season hoping Fincher and his actors would get nominated, which proved futile.
His second nomination was for the smash hit “The Social Network” in 2011, which as mentioned went to Hooper, but it really was between Fincher and Aronofsky. “Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” further cemented him as a master director.
4. Wes Anderson
No other filmmaker today is as unique as Wes Anderson. You know what to expect when watching any of his films and can spot his style within the very first frame. It seems weird just mentioning his name with the Oscars, but if “The Grand Budapest Hotel” proved anything, it’s that the Academy can appreciate his acquired taste.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay for “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom” a decade later, it’s strange that his directing never got acknowledged as well. When “The Grand Budapest Hotel” became his biggest hit and one of his most critically acclaimed films, the Academy couldn’t deny him that time.
Anderson is a very precise director, so precise that his symmetrical composition, color palettes, and storytelling techniques have been imitated, parodied, studied and discussed at length. They give his films a uniform feel and heightened existence, which makes him one of the best directors today.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom” are all excellently directed, deserving nominations for his work. They added a more serious and dramatic feel to his usual wacky and fast-paced comedies.
5. Quentin Tarantino
One of the most famous and notorious filmmakers of the last 20 years (both for his on and off camera personality) has won two Oscars for Best Original Screenplay. Quentin Tarantino would likely agree that no matter how great it is to win those awards, a Best Director Oscar would be just as neat.
While Tarantino’s writing has gotten him more acclaim than his directing, his work behind the camera keeps getting better and better. As great a job he did on “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” it’s the latter part of his career that has some of his best directing.
The tension-filled “Inglourious Basterds,” the epicenes of the uneven “Django Unchained” and the claustrophobic paranoia of “The Hateful Eight” all showed a filmmaker improving and acquiring tighter control of his craft with the visual tenacity to match. No matter what you thought of the writing or the films in general, you can’t deny his directing work here.
“Inglourious Basterds” especially saw Tarantino take an alternative history story that could’ve fallen flat on its face and made it work on a number of levels. It saw a departure from his previous b-grade homages into something more prestigious yet still Tarantino.