I have put off what was supposed to be an annual update of the Top 100 Directors of All-Time because I got sidetracked working on a ranking of all 210 directors who have been nominated for an Oscar over the years. I had hoped to add Christopher Nolan to that list. After all, on my initial list he was the highest ranked director without an Oscar nomination and Inception was easily going to be a Best Picture nominee. Except, somehow, the Academy left him off their nomination list – the third time he has earned a DGA nomination but not an Oscar nomination, tying Rob Reiner for first place on that dubious distinction list.
So, since I’m a long way from finishing my ranking of the Oscar nominated directors, I thought I would throw up two lists. The next one will be the best English language directors who have never been nominated for an Oscar or had one of their films nominated for Best Picture. But this one is the Top 10 Directors of All-Time Who Have Never Been Nominated for An Oscar Even Though Their Film Was.
Because I am only including directors who have never been nominated, some of the more egregious director omissions in Academy history aren’t part of this list (like say Steven Spielberg for Jaws or John Huston for The Maltese Falcon or Ang Lee for Sense and Sensibility). Those directors have all been nominated for Best Director by the Academy at some point and are among the 210 who will be ranked later.
There are 72 directors on this list – many of them from the early years when there were far more films nominated than directors (today the films outnumber the directors 10 to 5 but there were years where they outnumbered them 12 to 3). In the last two years as many directors have been added to this list (8) as had been added from 1994 to 2008.
By the way, the antithesis to this list is Fellini. He is the only person in Academy history to be nominated for Best Director more than once while never having a film nominated for Best Picture. He is tied with Woody Allen for most Director nominations without Picture noms (4), ahead of Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock (3 each). Oddly enough, Otto Preminger was nominated twice when his film wasn’t and the only film he ever directed that was nominated didn’t earn him a nomination.
I have cut people off for the same reason that I have done on my all-time list – if they have directed fewer than 4 films, so no Joe Wright or Neill Blomkamp. But here is my Top 10:
10 - Frank Darabont
Darabont twice had films make the Best Picture lineup – first The Shawshank Redemption in 1994, then The Green Mile in 1999. The second time neither he nor his film deserved to be there, but Shawshank is rightfully acknowledge as a classic and is absolutely beloved. Darabont was ousted in favor of Woody Allen and Kieslowki in 94 and for Spike Jonze in 99. He’s barely hanging on here and will almost certainly be ousted once Joe Wright’s fourth film comes out in the spring.
9 - Philip Kaufman
Kaufman’s direction of The Right Stuff deserved an Oscar nomination but Ingmar Bergman and Mike Nichols got in instead. He’s also directed the very good remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the excellent Unbearable Lightness of Being and the sly Quills.
8 - Marc Forster
Marc Forster’s direction of Finding Neverland was passed over in favor of Mike Leigh. But his remarkable career also includes Monster’s Ball, Stay, Stranger Than Fiction and Quantum of Solace.
7 - Lawrence Kasdan
Kasdan, like Kaufman was passed over in 1983 in favor of Bergman and Nichols while his film The Big Chill was nominated. In 1988 he became one of those rare directors passed over twice (the record is three – Edmund Goulding and Jack Conway, neither of whom belong anywhere near this list; the record for BP nominations without a corresponding director nomination is 6 for Mervyn LeRoy followed by 5 for Henry King, but they each have an Oscar nomination). The second time he lost out to Charles Crichton and Martin Scorsese. He’s also known for directing Body Heat and Grand Canyon and was right on the cusp of the Top 100 before Dreamcatcher knocked him just off the list. Like some of the other directors on the list he actually has Oscar nominations (3 for writing, 1 for producing).
6 - Rob Reiner
Before Nolan joined him, Reiner alone had the distinction of earning 3 DGA nominations without earning an Oscar nomination. His first two (Stand by Me and When Harry Met Sally) didn’t end up getting nominated for Best Picture, but A Few Good Men did. But he was passed over for Robert Altman (I remember a “Saturday Night Live” skit about Bill Clinton healing people’s pain and one of them was supposed to be Rob Reiner, who was in pain for not getting nominated when his film did). The first half of Reiner’s career is as good any director in history but the second half of his career has almost knocked him off the Top 100 list.
5 - Michael Powell
Powell did make the list. He had two films nominated for Best Picture – The 49th Parallel back when there were 10 films and then The Red Shoes once they were down to five. The second time it was Fred Zinnemann, earning his first Oscar nomination who knocked Powell out of the race.
4 - Baz Luhrmann
Luhrmann’s exclusion in 2001 was one of the most surprising in Oscar history, ranking up with Spielberg in 75, Scorsese in 76, Spielberg in 85 and Nolan this year. Moulin Rogue was so obviously a director’s film, to have him not get a nomination was stunning. At the time he joined Ang Lee as the only directors to get nominated for the Golden Globe, the BFCA, the BAFTA and the DGA and still not get an Oscar nomination (that list had Forster added in 04 and Nolan this year). He’s done wonders so far and here’s hoping his Gatsby is indeed great.
3 - F.W. Murnau
You could argue that he never really had a film nominated as Sunrise was nominated for Artistic Production, but it still counts in my book and the Academy still overlooked him. People talk about the loss of Valentino and James Dean and Heath Ledger. I wonder what Murnau might have done had he not died in a car wreck in 1931. And some of his major films are lost so we have no idea how truly great he was.
2 - Cameron Crowe
Crowe was passed over for Milos Forman in 1996 when he directed Jerry Maguire. But the Academy’s bigger shame was in 2000 when Crowe earned his second DGA nomination for directing Almost Famous. That year it became the first film (along with Billy Elliot) to get nominated at the BAFTAs, the PGA, the BFCA and the Globes (it won the Globe plus two critics awards) and fail to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. (Only two films have done it since – Shrek and Cold Mountain and with the expanded Oscars it is unlikely to ever happen again). Crowe did win the Screenplay Oscar putting him on the list with George Seaton, Richard Brooks and Costa-Gavras to win a writing Oscar while getting snubbed for director. Those three, however, all earned Best Director nominations in other years. Crowe still hasn’t.
What more need be said? He followed the smart Following with the brilliant Memento (DGA nom), the very solid remake of Insomnia, the fantastic Batman Begins, the criminally under-rated The Prestige, the film that pretty much made the Academy change the number of Best Picture nominees to 10, The Dark Knight (DGA nom) and then Inception (DGA nom). He now has three Oscar nominations in his career (two for writing, one for producing), but has yet to meet the standards of the directors branch.