Those Oscar Missed: Best Director

Stanley Kubrick Behind the Camera - H 2012


A director is vital to the making of a movie.  The director is responsible for getting the best possible performances from the actors.  The director is responsible for bringing his/her vision to life through his/her collaborations with the director of photography, writer(s), production designer, makeup designer, costume designer, and all of the other departments (unless he/she is simply a work-for-hire director brought in by the producers to just direct the actors, but even in that scenario a good director should still have some kind of vision for the film).  Every now and then, a director that turns in an extraordinary work gets snubbed by the Academy on the day the nominations are announced.  It didn’t take me very long to find five major snubs.

One major snub is Alfred Hitchcock for 1958’s Vertigo.  Hitchcock’s tale of tragic love and obsession became one of the greatest movies ever made.  Hitchcock was able to get great performances from his actors (including James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes).  His choices for shot compositions and use of cinematography were creative and inspiring (not to mention effective).  It’s such a shame that he wasn’t nominated for his work here.  Hitchcock is a five-time nominee (5 Director nods for 1940’s Rebecca, 1944’s Lifeboat, 1945’s Spellbound, 1954’s Rear Window, and 1960’s Psycho).

The actual nominees at the 31st Academy Awards were:
Gigi – Vincente Minnelli (*Winner)
The Defiant Ones – Stanley Kramer
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – Richard Brooks
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness – Mark Robson
I Want To Live! – Robert Wise

Another major snub is Martin Scorsese for 1976’s Taxi Driver.  It’s just unbelievable that Scorsese did NOT get nominated for this film.  He did a great job getting all those terrific from the cast (especially Robert DeNiro’s powerhouse performance, and the improvisational stuff he did with Albert Brooks was inspiring).  He didn’t just develop the performances of the actors, but the flow of the narrative as well (he had the order of some of the sequences changed, slightly altering writer Paul Schrader’s vision for the story).  His contributions to the film made it the masterpiece that it is.  It’s too bad he wasn’t nominated for this film.  Scorsese is an 11-time nominee (7 Director nods for 1980’s Raging Bull, 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, 1990’s Goodfellas, 2002’s Gangs of New York, 2004’s The Aviator, and 2011’s Hugo, 2 Adapted Screenplay nods for 1990’s Goodfellas and 1993’s The Age of Innocence, 1 Picture nod for 2011’s Hugo, 1 Director win for 2006’s The Departed).

The actual nominees at the 49th Academy Awards were:
Rocky – John G. Avildsen (*Winner)
Face To Face – Ingmar Bergman
All the President’s Men – Alan J. Pakula
Network – Sidney Lumet
Seven Beauties – Lina Wertmuller

I actually found two major snubs from the same year but could not choose just one of them.  First, there’s Akira Kurosawa for 1980’s Kagemusha.  Kurosawa, who spent years trying to get the film funded, until George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola finally stepped in to secure the rest of the funding.  Kurosawa did an excellent job getting such great performances from his cast, especially Tatsuya Nakadai (who replaced Shintaro Katsu at the last minute).  He heavily used dust, steam, and mist to give the film an artistic feel (it was only his third film in color).  He had painted hundreds of full color storyboards of the script in the years prior to the making of the film.  It’s a shame the Academy didn’t nominate him for his work here.  Kurosawa is a one-time nominee (1 Director nod for 1985’s Ran).

Next is Stanley Kubrick for 1980’s The Shining.  Kubrick’s direction here was just incredible, from all the terrifying (and terrified) performances from the cast to the look of the Overlook Hotel, allowing it to become a character (and quite a “performance” it gives).  Kubrick’s shot compositions and careful direction turn what could have been a mundane adaptation (in the hands of a different writer and director) into something much more powerful and horrifying.  It’s no surprise that the only horror film directed by Kubrick would be one of the best horror films ever made.  It’s a shame he wasn’t nominated for his work here.  Kubrick is a 13-time nominee (4 Adapted Screenplay nods for 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, 1975’s Barry Lyndon, and 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, 1 Original Screenplay nod for 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 4 Director nods for 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, and 1975’s Barry Lyndon, 3 Picture nods for 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, and 1975’s Barry Lyndon, won Visual Effects for 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The actual nominees at the 53rd Academy Awards were:
Ordinary People – Robert Redford (*Winner)
Tess – Roman Polanski
Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese
The Elephant Man – David Lynch
The Stunt Man – Richard Rush

One final major snub would be Christopher Nolan for 2008’s The Dark Knight.  Many were surprised by this snub, including myself.  Nolan had made one of the best films of, extracting excellent performances from the cast (including Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, and Heath Ledger in his final complete performance, which won him a posthumous Oscar).  Nolan’s behind-the-scenes work ensured that the film’s story would be plausible in a real-world setting (as much as possible anyway).  Nolan’s work here was simply fantastic, and the Academy should be ashamed for nominating Stephen Daldry for The Reader over Nolan.  Nolan is a three-time nominee (2 Original Screenplay nods for 2000’s Memento and 2010’s Inception, 1 Picture nod for 2010’s Inception).

The actual nominees at the 81st Academy Awards were:
Slumdog Millionaire – Danny Boyle (*Winner)
The Reader – Stephen Daldry
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – David Fincher
Milk – Gus Van Sant
Frost/Nixon – Ron Howard

Other directors that were considered include John Ford for 1956’s The Searchers, Tim Burton for 1994’s Ed Wood, and Guillermo Del Toro for 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

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