What do these three directors have in common aside from those Oscars they're holding?  Well, in spite of the fact that they're all ranked at least 70 spots lower, all of those Oscars were won in direct competition with Martin Scorsese.

What do these three directors have in common aside from those Oscars they’re holding? Well, in spite of the fact that they’re all ranked at least 70 spots lower, all of those Oscars were won in direct competition with Martin Scorsese.

Here be group, I don’t know, 6 or something.  It’s the complete ranking of all the directors ever nominated for Best Director by the Academy Awards.  This group covers #100 – 76.  As always, there is an introduction and there is an explanation for the rankings, which are contained here.  I feel the need to point out that while this is a work in progress, I don’t re-rank anyone who has already been ranked.  That will all come when I redo the whole list at the end.

As with all the groups, there seem to be a few themes here.  One of them is the television creators – this list not only has James L. Brooks, famous for winning a gazillion Emmys for shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “Taxi” and “The Simpsons”, but it also has Michael Mann (who created “Miami Vice” long before his Oscar nomination) and Barry Levinson (who created “Homicide” after winning his Oscar).  There are also a fair number of directors on this part of the list who were nominated for their debut feature (Gilroy, Miller, Costner, James L. Brooks, Redford), three of whom won the Oscar.  And of course two of those are actors-turned-directors who won an Oscar over Marty Scorsese (the other one is Levinson).

A reminder about the quotes: The Sarris quotes (and categories) come from The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, which was published in 1968, so it has no directors after that.  The Thomson quotes come from the 2002 edition of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, (none of my quotes in this part of the list come from the 5th edition).

And one final word about my complete Top 100 list.  I will be doing a 3.0 version of that list upon completion of the Best Director project.  As it stands, this is the cutoff.  Everyone on this list, and the five that preceded it don’t make the Top 100 list.  Basically everyone above this point (the Top 75 Oscar nominated directors) join those great directors who haven’t earned an Oscar nomination – but that list, as always, is still in flux.  But, because several of these directors were on either the 1.0 or 2.0 versions of the list, there are links to the more detailed posts that I did for them down below.

  • #100  –  Josef von Sternberg
  • #99  –  Constantin Costa-Gavras
  • #98  –  Richard Attenborough
  • #97  –  George Roy Hill
  • #96  –  Robert Wise
  • #95  –  Barry Levinson
  • #94  –  Tony Gilroy
  • #93  –  Carol Reed
  • #92  –  William Wellman
  • #91  –  Michael Haneke
  • #90  –  James Ivory
  • #89  –  Otto Preminger
  • #88  –  Sydney Pollack
  • #87  –  Hal Ashby
  • #86  –  Fernando Meirelles
  • #85  –  Michel Hazanavicius
  • #84  –  Bennett Miller
  • #83  –  Kevin Costner
  • #82  –  James L. Brooks
  • #81  –  Michael Mann
  • #80  –  Richard Brooks
  • #79  –  Ernst Lubitsch
  • #78  –  Gus Van Sant
  • #77  –  John Schlesinger
  • #76  –  Robert Redford

Josef von Sternberg

  • Born:  1894
  • Died:  1969
  • Rank:  #100
  • Score:  431.74
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  Morocco (1930-31), Shanghai Express (1931-32)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Scarlet Empress (1934)
  • Feature Films:  22
  • Film I’ve Seen:  16
  • Best Film:  The Last Command
  • Worst Film:  Macao
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Last Command
    • ***.5:  Docks of New York, The Scarlet Empress
    • ***:  Underworld, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Crime and Punishment, The Blue Angel, An American Tragedy, Blonde Venus, Shanghai Gesture, Anatahan, The Devil is a Woman, Dishonored, Jet Pilot
    • **.5:  Macao
    • not seen:  Salvation Hunters, A Woman of the Sea, Dragnet, Thunderbolt, The King Steps Out, Sergeant Madden
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “Sternberg was then [in his Paramount Period - 1927-1935], decadent and self-indulgent, while gloriously ambiguous Marlene Dietrich was judged too rich for the people’s blood – it was a time for bread, not cake.  Paradoxically, Stenberg and Dietrich look deeper and more dazzling than ever, while most of the cinema of the bread lines looks excessively mannered.”  (Sarris, p 75)  “Von Sternberg made it easy for us to dislike him; his favored tone was one of disdain.  He courted enemies just as he went out of his way to make himself unemployable with a serene arrogance.”  (Thomson, p 902)  The work with Dietrich is strong an deserves to be remembered.  And it’s interesting that his two best films didn’t involve Dietrich, since he is so linked with her.  But there just isn’t enough quality in the rest of the films to justify his placement in the Pantheon.  He rarely made mediocre work, but his work also didn’t often range above the good.

Oscar Nomination:  I could say that the first nomination for von Sternberg was more a recognition of his place in the system and a reward for a successful film (after all, the film itself wasn’t nominated).  But then look at the other nominees, who included Clarence Brown for A Free Soul, Wesley Ruggles for Cimarron and Norman Taurog for Skippy (who actually won).  I don’t think von Sternberg deserved a nomination for a film that has often been over-rated, but compared to those three it doesn’t look so bad (I rank it second best among the nominees behind The Front Page, but of all the directors to rank second in their year, it is the second worst behind 1928-29).  In fact, I got as far as writing that, then stopped.  I went through every Oscar year looking at the Best Director nominees, using my directors points.  And the worst year for Best Director?  Well, both 1928-29 and 1930-31 earned a complete 0 for the combined nominees.  But 30-31 earned extra bad notice for giving the Oscar to the weakest direction of the five films, so it wins the award for worst year ever for Best Director (the best? – 2003).  By 1931-32 the Academy hadn’t improved much.  In fact, from 29-32 there were 21 films nominated for Best Director (3 of which I haven’t seen).  Of those 21, only two did I even deem worthy of any points – All Quiet on the Western Front (which is probably the most deserving winner of all-time given how much better it is than its competition) and Shanghai Express.  Granted, I only gave 2 points to Shanghai Express, but its competition was Bad Girl (okay) and The Champ (awful).  It’s a good film, and given how much of a whole they started with, with the casting of Clive Brook, some of that credit definitely goes to von Sternberg.

Constantin Costa-Gavras

  • Born:  1933
  • Rank:  #99
  • Score:  433.98
  • Awards:  NYFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Z  (1969)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Z (1969), Missing (1982)
  • Feature Films:  17
  • Film I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  Z
  • Worst Film:  Family Business
  • Films:
    • ****:  Z, Missing
    • ***.5:  State of Siege
    • ***:  The Sleeping Car Murders, Confession, Betrayed, The Ax, Amen, Hanna K
    • **.5:  Music Box, Mad City, Le Petite Apocalypse
    • **:  Family Business
    • not seen:  Un homme de trop, Special Section, Womanlight, Eden is West

Career:  “Time has exposed Costa-Gavras as the maker of sketchy melodrama.  Still his films of the late sixties and early seventies are better and more urgent than his recent, dismal association with the screenplays of Joe Eszterhas.”  (Thomson, p 181)  There was a time when I wondered if Costa-Gavras belonged in the Top 100.  But that’s because at the time I hadn’t seen so much of the mediocre (or bad) work that he did later years.  True, he could still get a good performance even out of a weak film (witness Jessica Lange in Music Box), but there just is too much bad stuff weighing down the greatness of Z and Missing to get him anywhere near the actual Top 100, though he does make it for the Oscar-nominated directors.

Oscar Nomination:  They got the nomination for Costa-Gavras spot on – one of the best directorial efforts in one of the best films of the year.  Z is such a great film that my mother, who doesn’t like anything in the least bit depressing, always recommends it.  What the Oscars goofed was not nominating Costa-Gavras the second time he got a Best Picture nomination.

Richard Attenborough

  • Born:  1923
  • Rank:  #98
  • Score:  438.75
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, 5 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Gandhi (1982)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Film I’ve Seen:  12
  • Best Film:  Oh What a Lovely War
  • Worst Film:  In Love and War
  • Films:
    • ****:  Oh What a Lovely War, Shadowlands
    • ***.5:  Gandhi
    • ***:  Cry Freedom, A Chorus Line, Magic, Chaplin, A Bridge Too Far
    • **.5:  Grey Owl, Young Winston
    • **:  Closing the Ring, In Love and War

Career:  “At seventy, Attenborough was a lord, as if some parties in or around Buckingham Palace had been impressed by Gandhi, a soporific, nonthreatening tribute to nonviolence that allegedly moved millions to tears and to mending their ways.  It won best picture and now looms over the real world like an abandoned space station – eternal, expensive and forsaken.”  (Thomson, p 39)  Richard Attenborough is linked with classy large-scale (read: in need of trimming) films.  But the real key is that Attenborough has a clear interest in telling true stories.  And not just biopics, but other true stories.  So there is considerable irony that his best film is one that is not actually a true story (and is his first and most daring film – the World War I musical Oh! What a Lovely War) and that it deals with the same war that his weakest film deals with.  I would say that perhaps he should have branched out into more fiction, but Shadowlands shows the great things he can do with a true story.  And he is an actor’s director – witness the four films of his that have earned acting nominations (and Magic and War also have good acting).  That makes sense, of course, since he was an actor first, and at times, a very good one.  It’s just too bad he wasn’t an editor first and never learned how to keep his films a bit shorter and tighter.

Oscar Nomination:  How ironic that Attenborough ranks just above Costa-Gavras.  Attenborough won the Oscar the year that Costa-Gavras should have gotten his second nomination.  Gandhi is one of those films where the Oscars reward something they feel is important and art.  It’s an example of Attenborough doing what he does – making true stories as films – and does a solid job of it.  But it didn’t deserve to be among the nominees and certainly the direction didn’t deserve the Oscar.

George Roy Hill

  • Born:  1921
  • Died:  2002
  • Rank:  #97
  • Score:  441.81
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 3 DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • Feature Films:  14
  • Film I’ve Seen:  14
  • Best Film:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Worst Film:  Little Drummer Girl
  • Films:
    • ****:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting
    • ***:  The Great Waldo Pepper, Slap Shot, The World According to Garp, Slaughterhouse-Five, Period of Adjustment, A Little Romance, Toys in the Attic, Hawaii, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Funny Farm
    • **.5:  The World of Henry Orient
    • **:  Little Drummer Girl

Career:  “He hurried through a variety of genres without ever finding anything in them to anchor him.”  (Thomson, p 399)  George Roy Hill turned two of my favorite books (two that appeared on my list of Top 100 novels) into films.  Neither one was made into a great film.  But neither one was a disaster either and they both could have been.  And perhaps therein is the metaphor for Hill’s career.  His two great films were the result of the scripts and the chemistry of Newman and Redford.  The bad films had other problems coming along with them.  And in between he made a lot of satisfactory films that weren’t great but weren’t terrible.  He weeded his way through to the middle and that’s where he ends up on the list – fairly close to the middle.

Oscar Nomination:  I was originally going to say that Costa-Gavras was the best of the five nominated directors in 1969 before I stopped for a second and thought about Hill’s direction for Butch Cassidy.  How ironic then, that Hill didn’t deserve his actual Oscar, when his direction was the weakest of the five nominees.  Granted, he was up against Bergman (Cries and Whispers), Lucas (American Graffiti), Friedkin (The Exorcist) and Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris).  The Sting is great fun and a great film and is well-directed.  But in 1973, the year which I consider the second best ever for Best Director at the Oscars (behind 2003), it just didn’t have any business winning.  And my guess is that Friedkin would have won it had he not just won two years before.

Robert Wise

  • Born:  1914
  • Died:  2005
  • Rank:  #96
  • Score:  442.40
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 6 DGA, 5 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  I Want to Live! (1958), West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965)
  • Oscar note:  Also won Oscars for producing both West Side Story and The Sound of Music.
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  West Side Story (1961)
  • Feature Films:  39
  • Film I’ve Seen:  35
  • Best Film:  West Side Story
  • Worst Film:  I Want to Live!
  • Films:
    • ****:  West Side Story
    • ***.5:  The Body Snatcher
    • ***:  The Day the Earth Stood Still, House on Telegraph Hill, The Haunting, Odds Against Tomorrow, Run Silent Run Deep, Blood on the Moon, The Sound of Music, Executive Suite, The Set-Up, The Desert Rats, Mademoiselle Fifi, This Could Be the Night, Two for the Seesaw, Tribute to a Bad Man, The Captive City, Destination Gobi, Two Flags West, So Big, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek, The Sand Pebbles, Star!, Three Secrets
    • **.5:  Criminal Court, Born to Kill, A Game of Death, Curse of the Cat People, Until They Sail
    • **:  The Hindenberg, Audrey Rose, Helen of Troy, I Want to Live!
    • not seen:  Mystery in Mexico, Something for the Birds, Two People, Rooftops
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “His temperament is vaguely liberal, his style vaguely realistic; but after The Sound of Music and The Sand Pebbles, the stylistic signature of Robert Wise is indistinct to the point of invisibility.”  (Sarris, p 203)  “There was a time when Wise was thought promising.  But it is now clear that his better credits are only the haphazard products of artistic aimlessness given rare guidance.  He has wandered as easily into mediocrity or worse, and it is a proof of the Hollywood bizarre that he should have edited and completed that masterpiece deserted by its maker, The Magnificent Ambersons, and also brought to the screen the appalling but grotesquely successful The Sound of Music.”  (Thomson, p 942)  It maybe says enough that both critics felt the need to slam The Sound of Music (and given its Oscars and box office success in relation to its quality, is fairly appropriate to be slammed) but both basically ignore West Side Story.  Thomson devotes less than half a sentence to the film while Sarris doesn’t mention it at all.  And the success for West Side Story can’t all be placed on Jerome Robbins, the co-director, who knew dancing, but not film.  Yes, Wise has made a lot of dreck (more than Sarris could know, since much of it came after his book was published).  And he never reached the film heights that he might have seemed destined for.  But there is good in his work as well and West Side Story may be the best directed of any musical that has ever been put on film.

Oscar Nomination:  Robert Wise has been nominated for Best Director three times.  Twice he won and once he didn’t.  His first nomination, which he didn’t win, is one of the worst films ever to be nominated for Best Director.  His second Oscar is likewise ridiculous, an over-directed, vastly over-rated film.  But in the middle he made one of the best musicals ever made, a ground-breaking amazing work of art that absolutely deserved its Oscar.  So, you win some, you lose some.

Barry Levinson

  • Born:  1942
  • Rank:  #95
  • Score:  446.40
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, LAFC
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 3 DGA, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Rain Man (1988), Bugsy (1991)
  • Oscar note:  Received 3 Oscar nominations for writing, but, ironically, not for either of the films he was nominated for directing, as he didn’t write those.
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  21
  • Film I’ve Seen:  20
  • Best Film:  Rain Man
  • Worst Film:  Envy
  • Films:
    • ****:  Rain Man, Diner
    • ***.5:  Avalon, Bugsy, Wag the Dog, Tin Men, Good Morning Vietnam
    • ***:  Liberty Heights, Young Sherlock Holmes
    • **.5:  Toys, Man of the Year, An Everlasting Piece, Disclosure, Sleepers, Bandits
    • **:  The Natural, Jimmy Hollywood, What Just Happened, Sphere
    • *.5:  Envy
    • not seen:  The Bay

Career:  What happened to Barry Levinson?  Levinson earned three DGA nominations in the space of four years (1988, 1990, 1991) – something which had only been done by Billy Wilder and Sidney Lumet (later to be joined by Peter Jackson and David Fincher).  And except for the sharp satiric wit in Wag the Dog, almost everything else since has been a massive letdown.  He once showed a sure hand with directing – not just in his Baltimore films, where he had a clear command of what he was doing and the world around him, but also in the other films.  And after Bugsy, it was almost like he gave up.  He stopped writing his own films, which is usually a bad sign for someone who came up as a writer first.  Can Black Mass stop the slide or will it be another mess?

Oscar Nomination:  When the 1988 Oscar nominations were announced, it perfectly set up Levinson and his film Rain Man.  Of the five nominees, two of them weren’t nominated for Screenplay and two of them weren’t nominated for Director.  Since, at the time, no film had won Best Picture without a Director nomination since 1932 and no film had won without a Screenplay nomination since 1965 (and only twice since 1933) and no film had won Best Director without a Screenplay nomination since 1933, that pretty much assured that Levinson and Rain Man would be winning their respective categories.  And it was an excellent film in a year that wasn’t really filled with them.  But it wasn’t one of the five best directorial efforts of the year.  And he repeated that with Bugsy (very good, but not really deserving of a nomination) three years later, but that time he went home empty-handed.

Tony Gilroy

  • Born:  1956
  • Rank:  #94
  • Score:  446.67
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Michael Clayton (2007)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  3
  • Film I’ve Seen:  3
  • Best Film:  Michael Clayton
  • Worst Film:  The Bourne Legacy
  • Films:
    • ****:  Michael Clayton
    • ***.5:  Duplicity
    • ***:  The Bourne Legacy

Career:  Who would have thought this possible?  Tony Gilroy worked steadily in Hollywood for over a decade, churning out screenplays, and none of them were particularly good or noteworthy.  Yet, he continued to get work.  Then, he finally managed to get a director’s gig with one of his own screenplays.  And lo and behold he turned out to be a solid director (at least so far), and he also produced what was by far his best script – Michael Clayton.  He followed that up with Duplicity, a film that didn’t do all that well, but was reminiscent of what they talked about with 70’s films in how they were aimed towards thinking adults.  Yes, he’s also now directed one of his Bourne scripts, but, there is hope, that if he continues to write more interesting scripts and continues to direct them that he can be a more old-fashioned writer-director.

Oscar Nomination:  There are a lot of directors on this particular post whose Oscar nominations came for great films but films that weren’t really good enough to merit inclusion on the Best Director list.  But, they were also usually nominated for Best Picture, and they often weren’t deserving of that either (close, and not bad choices, but not the right choices in my view).  Gilroy is another of those examples – very well-directed, but not among the five best of the year.

Carol Reed

  • Born:  1906
  • Died:  1976
  • Rank:  #93
  • Score:  450.70
  • Awards:  Oscar, NYFC
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 4 DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Fallen Idol (1949), The Third Man (1950), Oliver! (1968)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Third Man (1949)
  • Feature Films:  29
  • Film I’ve Seen:  18
  • Best Film:  The Third Man
  • Worst Film:  The Public Eye
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Third Man
    • ***.5:  Our Man in Havana, An Outcast of the Islands
    • ***:  The Fallen Idol, Oliver!, Odd Man Out, The Star Looks Down, Night Train, The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Man Between, Young Mr. Pitt, The Way Ahead, The Running Man, Penny Paradise, A Kid for Two Farthings, The Key
    • **.5:  Trapeze
    • **:  The Public Eye
    • not seen:  It Happened in Paris, Midshipman Easy, Laburnum Grove, Talk of the Devil, Who’s Your Lady Friend, Three on a Weekend, Climbing High, A Girl Must Live, Girl in the News, Remarkable Mr. Kipps, Flap
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “Reed’s career demonstrates that a director who limits himself to solving technical problems quickly lapses into the decadence of the inappropriate effect.”  (Sarris, p 164)  “If Reed had died in, say, 1950, then he would probably be treasured now as a great director.  As it is, we can only puzzle over the complex of collaborators, timing, inspiration, and chance that made those three films in a row – perhaps the swan song if black-and-white’s grandeur.”  (Thomson, p 721)  Reed never was actually that great a director and I’m not sure why he ever had the reputation that he did.  His best successes come from what he had to work with – three Graham Greene works and a Joseph Conrad book.  And often what Reed added to the films wasn’t as good as what was already there.  He ranks this high mainly because of awards and external lists.

Oscar Nomination:  In the five BP era (1944-2008), the year in which there is the biggest difference in quality between the nominees for Best Picture and Best Director is 1950.  That’s because in place of King Solomon’s Mines and Father of the Bride, the directors branch went with The Asphalt Jungle and The Third Man.  The Third Man is easily one of the greatest films ever made and the only reason it doesn’t win the Nighthawk is because it happens to be in the same year as the film I consider the greatest film ever made – Sunset Boulevard.  But it also opens up an interesting question.  There are often rumors floating about when it comes to who did what work on a film (though it’s usually about the writing).  I usually discount those.  But in the case of The Third Man, a film that feels much more like an Orson Welles than a Carol Reed film, I am tempted to believe the rumors that Welles did a fair amount of directing on it.  How else to explain the massive disparity in quality between this and the rest of his work?  The Fallen Idol was good, but not really worthy of an Oscar nomination whereas Oliver won Best Director over Stanley Kubrick for 2001 and that’s simply ridiculous.

William Wellman

  • Born:  1896
  • Died:  1975
  • Rank:  #92
  • Score:  456.19
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Star is Born (1937), Battleground (1949), The High and the Mighty (1954)
  • Oscar note:  Won an Oscar for co-writing A Star is Born
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Public Enemy (1930-31), A Star is Born (1937), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), The Story of GI Joe (1945)
  • Feature Films:  66
  • Film I’ve Seen:  52
  • Best Film:  A Star is Born
  • Worst Film:  The Robin Hood of El Dorado
  • Films:
    • ****:  A Star is Born, The Ox-Bow Incident
    • ***.5:  The Story of GI Joe, The Public Enemy
    • ***:  Yellow Sky, Wings, Heroes for Sale, Beau Geste, Wild Boys of the Road, Nothing Sacred, The Call of the Wild, Other Men’s Women, Star Witness, The High and the Mighty, Island in the Sky, Night Nurse, Battleground, Purchase Price, Small Town Girl, Lady of Burlesque, My Man and I, Magic Town, Across the Wide Missouri, The Light That Failed, Love is a Racket, Darby’s Rangers, Central Airport, The Boob, Safe in Hell, Lilly Turner, Midnight Mary, The Next Voice You Hear, It’s a Big Country, The Great Man’s Lady
    • **.5:  Frisco Jenny, Thunder Birds, Gallant Journey, The Happy Years, The Conquerors, Goodbye My Lady, So Big, Westward the Women, Lafayette Escadrille, 11 Men and a Girl, Buffalo Bill, Stingaree, This Man’s Navy, Blood Alley
    • **:  College Coach, Track of the Cat, Roxie Hart, The Hatchet Man, The Robin Hood of El Dorado
    • not seen:  Legion of the Condemned, Ladies of the Mob, Beggars of Life, Chinatown Nights, The Man I Love, Woman Trap, Dangerous Paradise, Young Eagles, Looking for Trouble, The President Vanishes, Men with Wings, Reaching for the Sun, The Iron Curtain
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “With Wellman, crudity is too often mistaken for sincerity.  What is at issue here is not the large number of bad films he has made, but a fundamental deficiency in his direction of good projects.”  (Sarris, p 165)  “His long and honorable list of films has too few items that raise the pulse.”  (Thomson, p 927)  Wellman, even more than Reed, manages a spot this high on the list because of external consideration.  He earned points in early years when there weren’t as many contenders.  And yes, Sarris is right; given the length of his career there should be more films that land higher than *** but there just aren’t.  Like Reed, he seems to have benefited from the written works that he was handed rather than any particular talent for direction that he brought to the films himself.  It’s never a great sign when someone wins the Nighthawk for Best Picture (A Star is Born) but loses Best Director (to Fritz Lang for You Only Live Once).

Oscar Nomination:  William Wellman was Oscar nominated three times as Best Director.  The first time he was absolutely deserving (and it wins the Nighthawk for Best Picture).  The second time got in because it was a war film and it was nominated for Best Director, but it’s not really that great of a film and it got lucky to be in a weak year for Oscar contenders.  As for the third?  It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and it is the very weak link in a year with On the Waterfront, Rear Window, Sabrina and The Country Girl.  On the other hand, it was nominated in place of Three Coins in the Fountain, so it did well there (even with this weak link, 1954 has a huge disparity between Picture and Director in favor of Director).

Michael Haneke

  • Born:  1942
  • Rank:  #91
  • Score:  456.57
  • Awards:  NSFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Amour (2012)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Film I’ve Seen:  12
  • Best Film:  Cache
  • Worst Film:  Funny Games (2007)
  • Films:
    • ****:  Cache, Amour, The White Ribbon
    • ***.5:  Code Unknown
    • ***:  Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, The Seventh Continent
    • **.5:  The Castle
    • **:  Benny’s Video
    • *:  Funny Games (1998), Funny Games (2007)

Career:  I was suddenly forced to watch several of Haneke’s films in just a few days in order to determine where he would land (I was concerned that he would have to be done in the previous group).  Luckily, he’s directed 12 films.  What does that mean?  It means the double garbage of Funny Games – making it once was bad enough but to completely remake his own awful film is worse than Van Sant remaking Psycho – gets dropped out of his Top 10.  That made for a very depressing few days, being bludgeoned over the head by Haneke films.  And then I finished it all off with Amour.  It’s interesting that Haneke already had a big reputation before 2005, but aside from the bad misstep of remaking Funny Games, it is his films since then that have really established him as a formidable director worthy of this attention.

Oscar Nomination:  This was certainly a big surprise in a year of Oscar surprises.  I began to wonder if it might happen, though I never would have suspected it would have happened at the hands of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow.  Haneke’s direction is very good and the work with the actors is impressive (and the pigeon – can’t forget that scene).  But aside from knocking out Affleck and Bigelow he shouldn’t have gotten in over Tarantino.  I suspect in a year with 5 Best Picture nominees he still would have gotten nominated but that the film wouldn’t have.

James Ivory

  • Born:  1928
  • Rank:  #90
  • Score:  457.19
  • Awards:  NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 3 DGA, 4 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Room with a View (1986), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  A Room with a View (1986)
  • Feature Films:  25
  • Film I’ve Seen:  23
  • Best Film:  A Room with a View
  • Worst Film:  Savages
  • Films:
    • ****:  A Room with a View, Howards End, The Remains of the Day
    • ***.5:  Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
    • ***:  The Bostonians, The White Countess, The Golden Bowl, Quartet, Heat and Dust, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, The Europeans, Maurice, Shakespeare Wallah, Jane Austen in Manhattan, Roseland, The City of Your Final Destination, Bombay Talkie, Autobiography of a Princess
    • **.5:  The Wild Party, Le Divorce, Surviving Picasso, Jefferson in Paris
    • **:  Savages
    • not seen:  Guru, Slaves of New York

Career:  “Merchant-Ivory is Masterpiece Theatre moviemaking: prestigious, well furnished, accurate, prettily cast – and bland, anonymous, and stealthily interchangeable.”  (Thomson, p 434)  Well, some of it is interchangeable.  And some of it is not.  The best of their films are masterpieces of translating literature to film, bringing a book to life, not just with class and style and dignity, but with incredible performances that couldn’t necessarily have been foreseen when reading the books.  They brought exactly what was needed to the three Forster books that they made and it’s good that Lean had already made A Passage to India, because it needed his epic vision and Ivory wouldn’t have worked as well with it.

Oscar Nomination:  There was a stretch of close to a decade where Merchant / Ivory was the king of classy adaptations and that’s where the three nominations come in.  Even though I only give Ivory one of those nominations, the other two aren’t bad choices and they end just outside of my top 5.  At least the Academy decided to give Ivory attention when he was at his best.

Otto Preminger

  • Born:  1905
  • Died:  1986
  • Rank:  #89
  • Score:  458.76
  • Awards:
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, DGA, 2 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Laura (1944), The Cardinal (1963)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  33
  • Film I’ve Seen:  27
  • Best Film:  Anatomy of a Murder
  • Worst Film:  Bunny Lake is Missing
  • Films:
    • ****:  Anatomy of a Murder, The Man with the Golden Arm, The Moon is Blue
    • ***.5:  Porgy and Bess, Laura, Advise and Consent
    • ***:  Where the Sidewalk Never Ends, Carmen Jones, River of No Return, A Royal Scandal, Angel Face, Forever Amber, In Harm’s Way, The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell
    • **.5:  Margin for Error, Fallen Angel, Hurry Sundown, Exodus, Such Good Friends, Daisy Kenyon, The Cardinal
    • **:  Bonjour Tristesse, Saint Joan, Whirlpool, The Human Factor, Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon, Bunny Lake is Missing
    • not seen:  In the Meantime Darling, Centennial Summer, The Fan, The 13th Letter, Skidoo, Rosebud
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “His enemies have never forgiven him for being a director with the personality of a producer.  Perhaps, they subconsciously resent him for not ruining himself with the excesses of a creative folly.”  (Sarris, p 103)  “Of all the Hollywood veterans, none lost his way as completely as Preminger.”  (Thomson, p 697)  Preminger was a director, who when he was good, could be quite good.  He doesn’t earn any Nighthawk nominations but he came in 6th place three times.  But those two star films are really bad and there are far too many of them and not enough above the *** mark to get him higher than this spot.  He deserves credit for bringing adult material to the screen in the 50’s at a time when too many people were too afraid to attempt that – and the results, films like The Moon is Blue and The Man with the Golden Arm, are magnificent.  But he also lost his way trying to exploit that kind of material later and that was the dreck that sadly finished out his career.

Oscar Nomination:  Preminger was nominated for Best Picture only once in his career and he was nominated for Best Director twice, yet those don’t overlap.  Which is strange, because Laura really was a lot better than some of the Best Picture nominees in 1944 and his direction for Anatomy of a Murder definitely belonged on the list more than Fred Zinneman’s for The Nun’s Story or Jack Clayton’s for Room at the Top.  But I can’t understand the nomination for The Cardinal.  It’s a relentlessly mediocre film, way too overlong, boring in a lot of parts and it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (though it hardly could have made that category worse in a year with Cleopatra).

Sydney Pollack

  • Born:  1934
  • Died:  2008
  • Rank:  #88
  • Score:  462.32
  • Awards:  Oscar, NYFC
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 3 DGA, BAFTA, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Tootsie (1982), Out of Africa (1985)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Film I’ve Seen:  19
  • Best Film:  Tootsie
  • Worst Film:  Bobby Deerfield
  • Films:
    • ****:  Tootsie, They Shoot Horses Don’t They
    • ***.5:  Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice
    • ***:  The Scalphunters, Jeremiah Johnson, The Interpreter, This Property is Condemned, The Way We Were, The Slender Thread, The Yakuza, Castle Keep, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa, The Firm
    • **.5:  Sabrina, Random Hearts, Havana
    • **:  Bobby Deerfield

Career:  “Originally an actor, and then a director on TV, Pollack has always shown an interest in enterprising material, persistently let down by his middlebrow approach.”  (Thomson, p 688)  Yes, it really doesn’t get any more middlebrow than Pollack.  It says everything that his favorite star was Robert Redford.  True, they could be very good, like in Three Days of the Condor, where Redford’s got just enough personality to make it work well.  But too often you got films like The Electric Horseman, the kind of bland, sappy film that gives you just enough romance to make it one of my mother’s favorite films, or worse, a film like Havana, which should have been nixed from the start.  And maybe it says too much that most of his best films didn’t make use of Redford (or that Redford’s best acting didn’t come in Pollack’s films).

Oscar Nomination:  The Oscars had already screwed up in 1985 when they didn’t nominate Spielberg, which the DGA made obvious when they gave him Best Director.  But to then give Best Director to Pollack for what is such a mediocre film?  That was just the icing on the cake.  It shouldn’t have been anywhere near the nominees for Picture or Director.  But what about his other nominations?  Well, though neither of them make my list, they are both pretty close and they are fairly good choices – especially Tootsie, since romantic comedies don’t usually get their due for Best Director.

Hal Ashby

  • Born:  1929
  • Died:  1988
  • Rank:  #87
  • Score:  473.80
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Coming Home (1978)
  • Oscar note:  Won an Oscar for editing In the Heat of the Night
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Film I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:
  • Worst Film:
  • Films:
    • ****:  Being There, Harold and Maude
    • ***.5:  Shampoo, Coming Home, The Last Detail, Bound for Glory
    • ***:  The Landlord
    • **.5:  8 Million Ways to Die
    • **:  The Slugger’s Wife, Lookin to Get Out
    • not seen:  Second Hand Hearts

Career:  “In hindsight, The Last Detail and Shampoo look like absorbing models of touch and control – and Ashby seems like a sad casualty who depended on strong collaborators.”  (Thomson, p 34)  How could someone who made such interesting films in the seventies so badly lost his way in the eighties, before dying young?  Ashby’s films in the seventies seem to embody that kind of seventies independent ethic that are so trumpeted in various critical works, yet he is never talked about in the same way that Altman and Scorsese and Friedkin are.  But good lord, are his later films awful.  It was just so depressing to watch them and think, how could this possibly be from the same director who gave us such magnificently alive films like Harold and Maude and The Last Detail, or such sly satire as Being There and Shampoo?

Oscar Nomination:  Hal Ashby directed some of the most interesting films in the 70’s, but it was the most standard of them that earned him a Best Director nomination.  It was a major player for the big awards but it really wasn’t as great a film as all that and Ashby really didn’t merit a Best Director nomination.  Like many of his films, the acting itself seemed better than the direction.

Fernando Meirelles

  • Born:  1955
  • Rank:  #86
  • Score:  474.20
  • Awards:
  • Nominations:  Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  City of God (2003)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  City of God (2003)
  • Feature Films:  5
  • Film I’ve Seen:  5
  • Best Film:  City of God
  • Worst Film:  Blindness
  • Films:
    • ****:  City of God, The Constant Gardener
    • ***:  Domestícas
    • **.5:  360, Blindness

Career:  After one initial film that didn’t get much play, Meirelles burst onto the international film scene with City of God, an absolutely amazing film that deserved every accolade it received.  Then he followed that up with The Constant Gardener, a great film that showed that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder.  But now we have to wonder again.  Because he followed that up with Blindness, a bad misstep of an over-rated book that didn’t work at all on film and 360, a sort-of remake of La Ronde that was just boring from the first minute and never got any more interesting.  He had leaped into the Top 100 and now has slipped right out and we’ll have to see what comes next.

Oscar Nomination:  This is one of those times where the directors branch shows how smart they can be and the rest of the Academy looks sentimental and silly.  Seabiscuit was nominated for Best Picture – standard, pedestrian, not worthy of the nomination.  But City of God earned a Best Director nomination – bold, visionary, outstanding.  The directors got this one right.

Michel Hazanavicius

  • Born:  1967
  • Rank:  #85
  • Score:  478.00
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, NYFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Artist (2011)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Artist (2011)
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Film I’ve Seen:  3
  • Best Film:  The Artist
  • Worst Film:  OSS 117: Lost in Rio
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Artist
    • ***.5:  OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost in Rio
    • not seen:  Mes amis

Career:  I desperately want to put Hazanavicius in the Top 100, but he hasn’t quite earned it yet.  His OSS films, like those of Jacques Tati, are incredibly enjoyable, but aren’t quite great and it’s making great films that really gives you a big points leap.  His first film, Mes amis, is very hard to get in the States.  But his OSS films are wonderful and hilarious.  The Artist simply takes the next step from those films, with their love of movies and tones down the satire a bit and is simply a great film.  Personally, I can’t wait for his next film and hope it’s good enough to push him into the Top 100.

Oscar Nomination:  As I just wrote in Best Picture 2011, I chose Martin Scorsese for the Nighthawk but this was still a good choice.  And it’s my guess, given his love of film, that Hazanavicius winning the Oscar didn’t bother Marty too much.

Bennett Miller

  • Born:  1966
  • Rank:  #84
  • Score:  482.00
  • Awards:
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Capote (2005)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  2
  • Film I’ve Seen:  2
  • Best Film:  Moneyball
  • Worst Film:  Moneyball
  • Films:
    • ****:  Capote
    • ***.5:  Moneyball

Career:  What can we expect from Bennett Miller?  Capote was a great film, but the greatness seemed to be more in the writing and acting than in the directing.  Moneyball was a very good film but no one talked about the direction.  Next up is Foxcatcher, which stars Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller, which is not a good sign, but Jonah Hill gave a good performance under Miller’s direction, so let’s see.

Oscar Nomination:  This was a pretty surprising choice.  It was the first time that Picture and Director had gone 5/5 in 24 years.  I fully expected Capote to make it into the Picture race and get bounced out in the director’s race.  It’s an interesting note that in both 1981 and 2005, when the Picture and Director matched 5/5, they also matched the DGA 5/5 so there’s not an obvious director snub.  It made more sense in 2011 when Moneyball was nominated but Miller wasn’t even in the conversation for Best Director.

Kevin Costner

  • Born:  1955
  • Rank:  #83
  • Score:  487.33
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe, NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Dances with Wolves (1990)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Dances with Wolves (1990)
  • Feature Films:  3
  • Film I’ve Seen:  3
  • Best Film:  Dances with Wolves
  • Worst Film:  The Postman
  • Films:
    • ****:  Dances with Wolves
    • ***.5:  Open Range
    • **.5:  The Postman

Career:  Kevin Costner tends to be a polarizing figure and I have to admit that I am partial to him for a couple of reasons.  First of all, when I was getting seriously into films in high school he was the biggest star in the world.  And he had just made the two best baseball films ever (when baseball was my overwhelming passion) before making his epic debut at directing.  Yes, he won the Oscar over Marty and no he shouldn’t have.  But it was a magnificent achievement and that shouldn’t be diminished.  But he also went to my high school (you can see him wearing his letterman’s jacket in Testament – a jacket I also have) and so I have another soft spot for him.  And I think he is under-appreciated as an actor and a director.  The problems with The Postman (and I don’t think as badly of it as so many people do) were in the writing and the idea – not the direction.  And Open Range was a very strong western that didn’t seem to get any credit.  So, with three films he has made a beautiful epic, an overly-abused epic and a very good western.

Oscar Nomination:  Most, if not all, serious film critics will argue that to give the Oscar to Costner over Scorsese was a mistake.  But, I think you would find that most critics do agree that Costner belonged among the nominees, that it was a magnificent achievement and that many of them might have gone with it as the best of a year that didn’t include GoodFellas.

James L. Brooks

  • Born:  1940
  • Rank:  #82
  • Score:  490.13
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, LAFC, NBR, NYFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 3 DGA, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Terms of Endearment (1983)
  • Oscar note:  8 total Oscar nominations; 3 Oscars
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Terms of Endearment (1983)
  • Feature Films:  6
  • Film I’ve Seen:  6
  • Best Film:  Terms of Endearment
  • Worst Film:  How Do You Know
  • Films:
    • ****:  Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News
    • ***.5:  As Good as It Gets
    • ***:  I’ll Do Anything
    • **.5:  Spanglish
    • **:  How Do You Know

Career:  James L. Brooks was actually on my first version of the Top 100 – in fact he was ranked #72.  But his body of work is still pretty small and he was dinged a bit by a revision of the point system and then he went down quite a bit with the utter dreck that was How Do You Know.  Brooks needs to reverse the trend of his last couple of films before he starts heading into Rob Reiner territory.  His first two films rank among the best first two films of any director but he just hasn’t been anywhere near that level since.  In the post, I mentioned his upcoming film.  Clearly it was a disaster and not worth seeing at all.

Oscar Nomination:  This just the same as Costner.  I think most critics would probably go with Fanny and Alexander.  I certainly do.  But, Brooks did a magnificent job on his first time out and giving him the Oscar was far from a bad choice.

Michael Mann

  • Born:  1943
  • Rank:  #81
  • Score:  490.60
  • Awards:  NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Insider (1999)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Last of the Mohicans (1992)
  • Feature Films:  10
  • Film I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  Last of the Mohicans
  • Worst Film:  The Keep
  • Films:
    • ****:  Last of the Mohicans, The Insider
    • ***.5:  Heat, Collateral
    • ***:  Manhunter, Public Enemies, Thief, Miami Vice, Ali
    • **:  The Keep

Career:  “No one has done more to uphold, extend and enrich the film noir genre in recent years than Michael Mann.”  (Thomson, p 560)  Well, Thomson wrote that over 10 years ago now and he didn’t bother to revise it in 2010, though he should have.  It’s been a while now since Mann really showed the kind of great work that he is capable of and he just doesn’t direct enough films to overcome any lackluster films and he doesn’t even seem to have a new film on the horizon.  In the old post, you can see my anticipation for Public Enemies, a film that never came close to the level I expected of Mann.

Oscar Nomination:  This is kind of like the nomination for Hal Ashby – it’s not exactly Mann’s most interesting work.  But it’s a first-rate film and it was total Oscar bait, so he ended up among the nominees while more daring direction from David O. Russell (Three Kings), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia) and Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut) was ignored.

Richard Brooks

  • Born:  1912
  • Died:  1992
  • Rank:  #80
  • Score:  493.36
  • Awards:  NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 6 DGA, 2 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Professionals (1966), In Cold Blood (1967)
  • Oscar note:  won Oscar for writing Elmer Gantry; 8 total Oscar nominations
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Professionals (1966), In Cold Blood (1967)
  • Feature Films:  24
  • Film I’ve Seen:  22
  • Best Film:  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Worst Film:  The Last Time I Saw Paris
  • Films:
    • ****:  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In Cold Blood, The Professionals, Elmer Gantry
    • ***.5:  Sweet Bird of Youth, Blackboard Jungle
    • ***:  Crisis, The Light Touch, Take the High Ground, The Brothers Karamazov, Bite the Bullet, Something of Value, The Catered Affair, $
    • **.5:  Lord Jim, Deadline – USA, The Battle Circus, The Happy Ending, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Wrong is Right
    • **:  Fever Pitch, The Last Time I Saw Paris
    • not seen:  The Flame and the Flesh, The Last Hunt
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Richard Brooks is attracted to violent subjects, but his direction lacks the force to express them.  His punches are seen but not felt, and his films consequently lack any lasting impact.”  (Sarris, p 190)  “His own films are solemnly respectable, exactly what one might expect from “the writer” figure as presented in American films.  Attempts to see great pictorial or thematic virtues in his work are an ingenious diversion from his characteristic preference for literary properties and unambiguous messages.”  (Thomson, p 114)  I somewhat agree with Sarris and Thomson on this.  Too many of Brooks’ films do lack an impact.  His version of The Brothers Karamazov was almost undone by the happy ending tacked on to it and his version of Conrad’s Lord Jim was pretty flat, even with Peter O’Toole in the lead role.  But in the best of Brooks’ films, he does manage to create a merger of literature and film – bringing to life Sinclair Lewis better than anyone else has and bringing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof vibrantly to life when the homosexuality of the play couldn’t be discussed on film.  And in back to back years in the mid-60’s he made two completely different films that showed his range – with the comedy Western The Professionals that was so much fun and the brutally somber In Cold Blood that was more true to the Capote book than many viewers comfortable with.

Oscar Nomination:  There have been 106 times when a director was nominated without a Best Picture nomination.  Only 19 directors have had it happen more than once.  Only 6 have done it two years in a row – Clarence Brown (30-31), Carol Reed (49-50), John Huston (50-51), Billy Wilder (53-54), Brooks (66-67) and Robert Altman (92-93).  But Huston and Brooks stand out even more – they were also nominated for Adapted Screenplay as well, meaning they were highly thought of but their films couldn’t beat out the likes of Father of the Bride, Quo Vadis, The Sand Pebbles and Doctor Dolittle.  Brooks might be the only director with 3 or more Oscar nominations where I match the Academy exactly – I give him those three nominations and no more and we both agree that he shouldn’t have won.  But, I also nominate his films for Best Picture, so I differ with the Academy there certainly.

Ernst Lubitsch

  • Born:  1892
  • Died:  1947
  • Rank:  #79
  • Score:  499.92
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Patriot (1928-29), The Love Parade (1929-30), Heaven Can Wait (1943)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Design for Living  (1932-33)
  • Feature Films:
  • Film I’ve Seen:  25
  • Best Film:  The Shop Around the Corner
  • Worst Film:  The Smiling Lieutenant
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Shop Around the Corner, Design for Living, To Be or Not to Be
    • ***.5:  Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Trouble in Paradise, Heaven Can Wait
    • ***:  Ninotchka, Eternal Love, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, The Oyster Princess, Gypsy Blood, The Marriage Circle, Angel, Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Loves of Pharoah, Passion, Monte Carlo, One Hour With You, Eyes of the Mummy, One Arabian Night, The Love Parade, So This is Paris, The Merry Widow, That Uncertain Feeling, Cluny Brown, Anna Boleyn, Le veuve joyeuse
    • **.5:  That Lady in Ermine, I Don’t Want to Be a Man, The Wildcat, Paramount on Parade, The Smiling Lieutenant
    • **:  The Doll
    • not seen:  Rosita, Three Women, Kiss Me Again, The Patriot, Broken Lullaby
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “For Lubitsch, it was sufficient to say that Hitler had bad manners, and no evil was then inconceivable.  What are manners, after all, but the limits to man’s presumption, a recognition that we all eventually lose the game of life but that we should still play the game according to the rules.  A poignant sadness infiltrates the director’s gayest moments, and it is this counterpoint between sadness gaiety that represents the Lubitsch touch, and not the leering humor of closed doors.”  (Sarris, p 66)  “It seems to me still questionable whether that touch was a matter of cinematic fluency.  Or did Lubitsch possess a fine sense of a special kind of performing wit, the daring with which one character in a stage farce briefly shares his ironic superiority with the audience?”  (Thomson, p 535)  “Lubitsch shows you first the king on the throne, then as he is in the bedroom. I show you the king in the bedroom so you’ll know just what he is when you see him on his throne.”  (Erich von Stroheim)  I agree with Sarris’ assessment of what the Lubitsch touch was all about.  It seemed to be a European way of looking at the world.  But the problem is that sometimes that could work very well – in films like Design for Living or To Be or Not to Be, wonderful funny films that were also touching.  Charming is really the right word for the touch, when it worked.  But too many of his films try too hard to find that touch.  And when he made dramas, they stressed the melodrama and were rarely very good.  The Academy kept nominating his weaker films, films that don’t work anymore, if they ever really worked.  I am with von Stroheim.  I prefer the realism of his films to a fanciful romantic version of the world that Lubitsch gave us.  And of his silent films, many of them are painful to watch today, except, ironically, The Oyster Princess, which does in fact have that leering humor of closed doors.  I wonder if the touch wasn’t Lubitsch himself, but rather his ability to find the right writers who could write for his kind of touch.

Oscar Nomination:  Of course, the first nomination for Lubitsch is from the one Best Picture nominee that is completely lost.  It might very well be the best film Lubitsch ever made, but we’ll never know.  As for the rest?  Well, The Love Parade really is just melodrama and not all that interesting, so it’s ironic that he would be nominated for a film that was so lacking in the Lubitsch touch.  Heaven Can Wait was very much in the vein of his touch and is very good, but it’s surprising that they would nominate him over better direction in Best Picture nominated films like For Whom the Bell Tolls, In Which We Serve and The Ox-Bow Incident.

Gus Van Sant

  • Born:  1952
  • Rank:  #78
  • Score:  503.37
  • Awards:  NYFC, NSFC, BSFC
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Good Will Hunting (1997), Milk (2008)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Milk  (2008)
  • Feature Films:  15
  • Film I’ve Seen:  14
  • Best Film:  Milk
  • Worst Film:  Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
  • Films:
    • ****:  Milk, Good Will Hunting, To Die For
    • ***.5:  Drugstore Cowboy, Paranoid Park
    • ***:  My Own Private Idaho
    • **.5:  Restless, Finding Forrester, Psycho, Mala Noche
    • **:  Elephant, Gerry, Last Days
    • .5:  Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
    • not seen:  Promised Land

Career:  “In summary: it’s very hard to know who Van Sant is, or what he wants to do.”  (Thomson, p 893)  Yes, indeed.  Gus is very uneven and that frustrates me, because I really like him on a personal level.  His connection with Portland overlaps with my own and my favorite meal in any restaurant is the stuffed salmon in Jake’s – the same restaurant where Keanu turns away from his Falstaff in Idaho.  In fact, there are personal touches in his other films that directly touch me – the influence of Harvey Milk, the Boston scenes in Good Will Hunting, the neighborhoods in Drugstore Cowboy.  But when he tries to get serious he also can get very bad, and unlike some, I find Elephant and Gerry to be badly meandering missteps rather than powerful independent films.

Oscar Nomination:  The first Oscar nomination for Gus was nice since it brought some institutional approval for such an independent maverick.  But it wasn’t really one of the five best directorial efforts of the year (nor was it one of the five best films in such a strong year).  But he definitely earned his nomination for Milk, a magnificent film that deserved all of its accolades and more.

John Schlesinger

  • Born:  1926
  • Died:  2003
  • Rank:  #77
  • Score:  505.31
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, 2 BAFTAs, NYFC, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 3 DGA, 3 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Darling (1965), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sunday Bloody Sunday  (1971)
  • Feature Films:  18
  • Film I’ve Seen:  18
  • Best Film:  Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Worst Film:  Eye for an Eye
  • Films:
    • ****:  Sunday Bloody Sunday, Midnight Cowboy, Cold Comfort Farm
    • ***.5:  Darling, Marathon Man
    • ***:  Day of the Locust, Falcon and the Snowman, Far from the Madding Crowd, Yanks, Billy Liar, Madame Sousatzka, A Kind of Loving, The Innocent
    • **.5:  Pacific Heights
    • **:  The Believers, Honky Tonk Freeway, The Next Best Thing
    • *:  Eye for an Eye
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Unfortunately, Schlesinger lacks the directorial coherence to tie together his intermittent inspirations.”  (Sarris, p 201)  “Because he believes in ‘story’ above all, his pictures seem opportunist, and employ superficial, gimmicky stylistic imitations.  This is not uncommon in cinema, and would be tolerable if his films were not so plain-looking.”  (Thomson, p 782)  Bear in mind, that when Sarris wrote his comments on Schlesinger, it was before such films as Midnight Cowboy (which came in 6th at the Nighthawks) and Sunday Bloody Sunday.  True, there would be several bad mis-steps in the future for Schlesinger after Sarris wrote his book and they would take him a long way from his early days in the angry young man British film movement, but also, at times, a long way from quality.  In fact, it’s amazing that he can still rank so high when you look at his post-1976 career (except for Cold Comfort Farm).

Oscar Nomination:  You have to give the Academy a lot of credit for giving Oscars to Schlesinger and his film in 1969.  This was the same group that a few years before had given those same Oscars to The Sound of Music and just the year before had gone with Oliver.  True, the best film of the year was The Wild Bunch, but that was going too far.  And while I have Midnight Cowboy at 6 for Picture and Director, it is still a great film, even after all these years, when it no longer is even considered a very hard R, much less an X.  Darling doesn’t make my shortlist, even in a weak year like 1965, but it still makes it into 6th.  And Sunday Bloody Sunday is a magnificent film that should have been in the Best Picture running.

Robert Redford

  • Born:  1936
  • Rank:  #76
  • Score:  505.85
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe, NBR
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, 4 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Ordinary People (1980), Quiz Show (1994)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Film I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  Ordinary People
  • Worst Film:  The Legend of Bagger Vance
  • Films:
    • ****:  Ordinary People, Quiz Show
    • ***.5:  A River Runs Through It
    • ***:  The Milagro Beanfield War, The Conspirator, Lions for Lambs
    • **.5:  The Horse Whisperer, The Legend of Bagger Vance

Career:  The fact that he has no Nighthawk awards is a bit misleading.  He finishes 6th in two very good years – 1980 and 1994.  But his career is emblematic of perhaps a problem in my points system.  He continues to make films that are mediocre or okay and he doesn’t sink that much.  The same applies to Rob Reiner.  Once you’ve made a couple of great films, it really sets a level that you won’t sink below.  So, yes, Ordinary People was a magnificent drama that gets over-looked now because it won the Oscar over Raging Bull.  But if you go back to it, there is a lot to it.  And Quiz Show is a first-rate film in a year that happens to be over-flowing with them.  I just wish he would make another film anywhere near the level of those two films rather than the more forgettable films that he has been making.

Oscar Nomination:  Here we have another Oscar where Marty should have won but instead he lost to an actor who was making his directorial debut.  Yes, it wasn’t the right choice.  And it didn’t even earn a nomination from me – but that’s because 1980 also has Breaker Morant, The Elephant Man, Kagemusha and The Shining.  It’s simply a great year for Best Director.  The same goes with Quiz Show in 1994.  They screwed up the winner big-time (Forrest Gump), but the other nominated films are Pulp Fiction, Red and Bullets Over Broadway.  And that’s not including films like Ed Wood, The Shawshank Redemption and Heavenly Creatures.  So, in both cases, I wouldn’t nominate Redford, but I won’t complain that he was nominated.  And now that Marty has finally won an Oscar it’s not as bad that they messed it up in 1980.

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