I though it would be nicer to just include the three Top 25 directors rather than explain that Lucas didn't get that high.  If you need these people identified you are at the wrong website.

I though it would be nicer to just include the version of the picture with three Top 25 directors rather than explain that Lucas didn’t get that high. If you need these people identified you are at the wrong website.

This is the final ranked list of those directors who have been nominated for Best Director by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.  This is part 9 of the series.  As always, you can find the previous eight posts in this series by going here.  There is also an introduction here, which explains the scope of the project as well as my scoring system.  I have made certain to finish this now for two reasons.  The first is that I wanted to get it done before another Oscar season begins and I had to add somebody (Alfonso Cuarón, perhaps?).  The second is because I intend to do a Top 100 Directors 3.0 list before too long and I wanted this out of the way; that list, originally intended for this month, will probably be pushed back into at least winter, if not early spring in order to get this year’s batch of late films from Top 100 directors watched (e.g. Inside Llewyn Davis, Wolf of Wall Street, The Hobbit, Captain Phillips, Gravity).

One thing to bear in mind about the top of the list.  On my point scale, there is only a 75 point difference between the #1 and #8 spots.  There is then a 58 point difference between #8 and #9, and an 83 point difference between #8 and #11.  So, if the director you really want to champion is among that top 7, that’s the elite of the elite.

Even more than the last group, these are the really experienced directors.  These 25 directors have made 665 films, for an average of 26.6 each.  Only one director, Tarantino, has yet to make 10 films.  And among the directors who have less than 36 films, I have seen them all.  Only five directors am I missing any films from (excepting 2013 films) – Ford, Bergman, Hawks, Wyler and Huston, and only Hawks and Wyler have I seen less than 90% of their films.

They are also the cream of the crop, of course, for great films.  All of them have Top 5 scores (average of their best five films) well above 90, with only Eastwood and Kazan below 94.  Only Coppola has fewer than five **** films (and he’s got four).  Eight of the directors have double-digit **** films to their credit with Bergman, Hitchcock and Spielberg topping the list with 15 each.  Only three of them have not hit the 100 topping out point for awards points (Lee, Jackson, Tarantino) and all three will probably get there eventually.  And they’ve mostly avoided bad films – if I do institute a point subtraction for bad films, only two of them are likely to be hurt badly by it – Coppola and Lumet.

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, unless I specifically cite the 5th edition, which came out in 2010.

Because every director here appeared on the Top 100 list, my summaries are short and succinct, though I will mention films released since I did the posts.  There are links to all the original Top 100 posts with each director.  Though I am doing some tinkering with the point system before I finalize version 3.0, all 25 of these directors are safe on that list, though they won’t all make the Top 25 (Christopher Nolan, at the very least, will make certain of that).

  • #25  –  Francis Ford Coppola
  • #24  –  Elia Kazan
  • #23  –  Howard Hawks
  • #22  –  Clint Eastwood
  • #21  –  Sidney Lumet
  • #20  –  William Wyler
  • #19  –  Peter Weir
  • #18  –  John Ford
  • #17  –  Charles Chaplin
  • #16  –  John Huston
  • #15  –  Peter Jackson
  • #14  –  Ang Lee
  • #13  –  Quentin Tarantino
  • #12  –  Roman Polanski
  • #11  –  Orson Welles
  • #10  –  Woody Allen
  • #9  –  Billy Wilder
  • #8  –  David Lean
  • #7  –  Alfred Hitchcock
  • #6  –  Joel and Ethan Coen
  • #5  –  Ingmar Bergman
  • #4  –  Steven Spielberg
  • #3  –  Martin Scorsese
  • #2  –  Akira Kurosawa
  • #1  –  Stanley Kubrick

Francis Ford Coppola

  • Born:  1939
  • Rank:  #25
  • Score:  672.68
  • Awards:  Oscar, 2 DGA, BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, NSFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars, 5 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 6 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Godfather Part III (1990)
  • Oscar Note:  14 total Oscar nominations  (4 – Director, 5 – Picture, 5 – Screenplay); 5 total Oscars (1 – Director, 1 – Picture, 3 – Screenplay)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Feature Films:  24
  • Films I’ve Seen:  24
  • Best Film:  The Godfather
  • Worst Film:  Twixt
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation
    • ***.5:  The Cotton Club, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Godfather Part III, You’re a Big Boy Now, The Rain People
    • ***:  Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Finian’s Rainbow, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Gardens of Stone, The Rainmaker, The Outsiders, Tetro
    • **.5:  Dementia 13, Youth Without Youth, Rumble Fish, One from the Heart
    • **:  Jack
    • *:  Tonight for Sure, Twixt
  • Sarris Category:  Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers

Career:  “Francis Ford Coppola is probably the first reasonably talented and sensibly adaptable directorial talent to emerge from a university curriculum in film-making.”  (Sarris, p 210)  “He is Sonny and Michael Corleone, for sure, but there are traces of Fredo, too – and he is at his best when secretly telling a part of his own story, or working out his fearful fantasies.”  (Thomson, p 176)

Since my original post, Coppola has made Tetro, which was decent and Twixt, which was mind-bogglingly bad – a film that seemed no better than something I would find on the Syfy Channel and with no better production values either, which was perhaps the most depressing part of it.  I am not confident that Coppola will manage to stay in the Top 25 in the 3.0 version of the list.

Oscar Nominations:  Coppola and Bob Fosse faced off three times in the 70’s.  Fosse took the first, Coppola the second and they both lost to Robert Benton the third time.  Coppola deserved the first, the second really should have gone to Polanski and the third should have gone to Coppola (of the nominees, though I go with Ridley Scott overall).  The fourth nomination, for the final Godfather?  Well, it’s not a bad choice, but there are plenty of other choices in 1990 and it only makes it to #7 on my list.

Elia Kazan

  • Born:  1909
  • Died:  2003
  • Rank:  #24
  • Score:  694.32
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, DGA, 4 Golden Globes, 3 NYFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars, 7 DGA, 4 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Gentleman’s Agreement  (1947), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), East of Eden (1955), America America (1963)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)On the Waterfront (1954)East of Eden (1955)
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Films I’ve Seen:  19
  • Best Film:  A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Worst Film:  The Visitors
  • Films:
    • ****:  A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Baby Doll, Gentleman’s Agreement
    • ***.5:  Panic in the Streets, A Face in the Crowd, Boomerang, Splendor in the Grass, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    • ***:  Viva Zapata, The Last Tycoon, Man on a Tightrope, The Sea of Grass, Pinky, America America, Wild River
    • **.5:  The Arrangement, The Visitors
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “For the most part, however it seems that Kazan intends to ignore his limitations rather than transcend them.”  (Sarris, p 159)  “While he has never lost his Greek-Turkish roots – as witness America America – few native directors made films that so persistently dealt with American problems and subjects, or that were so absorbed in the American regard for since intensity of performance.”  (Thomson, p 457)

Would Sarris have treated Kazan differently if the book had been done earlier?  When he wrote the book Kazan was in the midst of his decline and his best films were long past.  But no matter what, Kazan was a consummate director of actors and we owe so much of the method acting in films to his direction, first of Brando, then of Dean.

Oscar Nominations:  Kazan won the Oscar with his first nomination, even though David Lean was nominated for Great Expectations.  I have Kazan in 7th.  But the next time he lost to George Stevens, when he should have won for the best acted film in history.  Then came the third time, when Kazan won and absolutely deserved it.  He deserved his nomination for East of Eden as well, and the film deserved better than to be left out in favor of Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  As for his final nomination?  Well, I have 20 directors on my list for 1963 and Kazan isn’t one of them.

Howard Hawks

  • Born:  1896
  • Died:  1977
  • Rank:  #23
  • Score:  700.16
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 3 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Sergeant York  (1941)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Scarface (1931-32)Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948)
  • Feature Films:  40
  • Films I’ve Seen:  34
  • Best Film:  The Big Sleep
  • Worst Film:  Red Line 7000
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Big Sleep, Scarface, His Girl Friday, Red River, Bringing Up Baby, To Have and Have Not
    • ***.5:  Ball of Fire, Twentieth Century
    • ***:  Rio Bravo, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monkey Business, The Criminal Code, Air Force, The Big Sky, Come and Get It, El Dorado, The Dawn Patrol, Today We Live, Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Lobo, Fazil, Sergeant York, Hatari, Fig Leaves, The Crowd Roars, Tiger Shark, Barbary Coast, I Was a Male War Bride, Land of the Pharoahs, Man’s Favorite Sport, A Song is Born, Paid to Love, A Girl in Every Port
    • **.5:  Red Line 7000
    • not seen:  Road to Glory, The Cradle Snatchers, The Air Circus, Trent’s Last Case, Ceiling Zero, Road to Glory (1936)
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “A director of parts as well as a unified whole, Hawks has stamped his distinctively bitter view of life on adventure, gangster and private-eye melodramas, Westerns, musicals, and screwball comedies, the kind of thing Americans do best and appreciate least.”  (Sarris, p 56)  “The clue to Hawks’s greatness is that this somber lining is cut against the cloth of the genre in which he is operating.  Far from the meek purveyor of Hollywood forms, he always chose to turn them upside down.”  (Thomson, p 380)

Hawks is worshipped by so many because he could move with such ease among genres.  Just look at how different his top films are.  But, the fact of the matter is, that too many of his films are over-rated.  Thomson has a very long piece about so many of his films and how he can’t bear to lose them, but far too many of those films really don’t rise above ***.  Hawks is a great director but I have a slight resistance to him because I think so many film people push him just too high.

Oscar Nominations:  What’s more appalling?  That Hawks only received one nomination over the course of his incredible career?  Or that the one nomination was for Sergeant York, a big patriotic film that wasn’t actually all that good?

Clint Eastwood

  • Born:  1930
  • Rank:  #22
  • Score:  702.18
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, 3 Golden Globes, NYFC, LAFC, 2 NSFC, CFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars, 3 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 7 Golden Globes, 4 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Unforgiven (1992), A Perfect World (1993), Mystic River (2003)
  • Feature Films:  32
  • Films I’ve Seen:  32
  • Best Film:  Unforgiven
  • Worst Film:  The Gauntlet
  • Films:
    • ****:  Unforgiven, Mystic River,  A Perfect World, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Million Dollar Baby
    • ***.5:  White Hunter Black Heart, Absolute Power, Gran Torino, Bird, Changeling, Invictus, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, Play Misty for Me
    • ***:  The Bridges of Madison County, Hereafter, High Plains Drifter, Heartbreak Ridge, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Pale Rider, Blood Work, Space Cowboys, Breezy, True Crime, Sudden Impact, Bronco Billy, The Eiger Sanction, Firefox, Honky Tonk Man
    • **.5:  J Edgar, The Rookie, The Gauntlet

Career:  “As time passes, I suspect, Clint will seem merely a success, a classic producer, a pragmatist who could never muster enough interest in his own work.”  (Thomson, p 264)

I did the Eastwood post just before Invictus came out, a film that seemed headed for the Best Picture race and then stumbled and was beat out by The Blind Side.  And he followed that up with the rather strange Hereafter and the relentlessly mediocre J Edgar.  Eastwood isn’t done yet, with Jersey Boys due out next year, and that alone is cause for celebration, not because of the film itself but because he’s still directing in his mid-80’s.

Oscar Nominations:  The Academy got it dead right the first time, giving Unforgiven Best Picture and Director.  And they were right to nominate Mystic River, though they were also right to pass it over for Return of the King.  But Million Dollar Baby holds up less well the more I look at it and I went from having him as a nominee and losing to Scorsese to probably having him no higher than seventh or eighth.  As for Letters, well, it’s a very good film, but not good enough, especially in a year like 2006, where Cuaron and del Toro weren’t nominated.

Sidney Lumet

  • Born:  1924
  • Died:  2011
  • Rank:  #21
  • Score:  711.03
  • Awards:  Golden Globe, NYFC, 2 LAFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars, 7 DGA, 3 BAFTA, 6 Golden Globes, BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Verdict (1982)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  12 Angry Men (1957), The Pawnbroker (1965), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Verdict (1982)
  • Feature Films:  43
  • Films I’ve Seen:  43
  • Best Film:  Dog Day Afternoon
  • Worst Film:  Gloria
  • Films:
    • ****:  Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Network, The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Running on Empty, The Verdict, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
    • ***.5:  Murder on the Orient Express, Fail Safe, The Deadly Affair, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Q & A, Equus, Night Falls on Manhattan, The Hill
    • ***:  The Fugitive Kind, Find Me Guilty, Stage Struck, Deathtrap, That Kind of Woman, The Group, The Anderson Tapes, A View from the Bridge, Prince of the City, The Offence, The Morning After, Lovin Molly
    • **.5:  Daniel, The Sea Gull, Just Tell Me What You Want, The Appointment, Child’s Play, Critical Care, Family Business, The Wiz
    • **:  Garbo Talks, Power, A Stranger Among Us, Guilty as Sin, The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, Bye Bye Braverman
    • *.5:  Gloria
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “It is in his ostensible maturity that Lumet has been most wayward and inexplicable.”  (Thomson, p 541)

Lumet didn’t make another film after my post in 2009 before he died in 2011.  And he has as many mediocre and even bad films as any other director of his stature.  Sarris classified him as “Strained Seriousness” but bear in mind that most of the great films that Lumet directed came long after Sarris wrote his book.

Oscar Nominations:  I have Sidney Lumet with 6 nominations while the Oscars had him with four.  I have included all four of his actual nominations.  What’s more, I agree with the Academy in that I never actually give him the award.  He ends up in 4th (1957), 2nd (1975), 3rd (1976) and 3rd again (1982).

William Wyler

  • Born:  1902
  • Died:  1981
  • Rank:  #20
  • Score:  712.34
  • Awards:  3 Oscars, DGA, Golden Globe, NYFC, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  12 Oscars, 7 DGA, 5 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Dodsworth (1936), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Heiress (1949), Detective Story (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben Hur (1959), The Collector (1965)
  • Oscar Records:  most nominations for Best Director (12); most total nominations by his films (126); most Oscars for his films (39); first director to win Oscars for back-to-back films; only director ever nominated 4 years in a row for Best Director
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Dead End (1937), Jezebel (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Heiress (1949), Detective Story (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Ben Hur (1959), The Collector (1965)
  • Feature Films:  37
  • Films I’ve Seen:  28
  • Best Film:  The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Worst Film:  The Liberation of L.B. Jones
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Best Years of Our Lives, The Heiress, Wuthering Heights, Detective Story, Roman Holiday, The Letter, Ben Hur, The Little Foxes
    • ***.5:  The Collector, Dodsworth, Dead End, Carrie, The Desperate Hours
    • ***:  Mrs. Miniver, The Gay Deception, Jezebel, The Children’s Hour, How to Steal a Million, Come and Get It, These Three, The Westerner, Friendly Persuasion, The Good Fairy, Funny Girl, The Love Trap, Counsellor of Law
    • **.5:  The Big Country, The Liberation of L.B. Jones
    • not seen:  Thunder Riders, Anbody Here Seen Kelly, The Shakedown, Hell’s Heroes, The Storm, A House Divided, Tom Brown of Culver, Her First Mate, Glamour
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “It’s as if in executing the scripts he never found the need to ponder them deeply.  Was there ever really anything larger in Wyler than the ideal director for several miles of Masterpiece Theatre?”  (Thomson, p 950)

There was no director who was as clearly the apple of the Academy’s eye as Wyler was.  Consider some of these statistics.  Wyler is the only director ever nominated for Best Director four years in a row (1939-42).  He is one of only two directors to win Best Picture and Director for back-to-back films (David Lean would also later do it).  He directed 22 different films that earned Oscar nominations, good enough for 4th all-time.  Those films were nominated for 126 Oscars – more than any other director and if you don’t count Spielberg, over 50 more than any other director.  He made 6 films in the 40’s – they earned a combined 47 nominations (the most for any director in any decade) and five of them were nominated for Picture and Director.  His films have won a combined 39 Oscars – 6 more than any other director and 13 more than any other director except Spielberg.  His films have earned 5180 points – over 1000 more than any other director and more than 2000 more than any director except Spielberg.  The 2125 points his films in the 40’s earned are more than all but 13 other director’s total points for all their films.  He is in first place for points for Best Picture (by a long way), Best Director (by a long way), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (by a long way), Best Supporting Actress and Best Art Direction.  And for the actors under his direction, well, here are the final tallys.  Best Actor – 2 wins, 5 noms.  Best Actress – 5 wins, 9 noms.  Best Supporting Actor – 5 wins, 10 noms.  Best Supporting Actress – 2 wins, 12 noms.  Only four directors have even have as many total points for acting as Wyler does: Kazan, Cukor, Zinnemann and Scorsese.

Oscar Nominations:  If it was harsh that I gave Lumet six nominations but never gave him the Nighthawk Award, how bad is it for Wyler?  Here he sits with 11 Nighthawk nominations and still not a win.  Which means I disagree with the Academy all three times they gave him the Oscar.  And while I don’t give him nominations for three of the films that they did (Dodsworth, The Letter – when he comes in sixth, Friendly Persuasion), I add Dead End and Jezebel.  But some of those Nighthawk nominations are a matter of luck.  While he doesn’t get nominated for The Letter, he actually does get three nominations for coming in sixth – in 1938 for Jezebel, in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver and in 1959 for Ben-Hur.  That’s because in those three years there was a director who earned two Nighthawk nominations (Michael Curtiz in 1938, Preston Sturges in 1942, Ingmar Bergman in 1959) and so Wyler is the fifth different director.  His best Nighthawk finish is for The Heiress, where he comes in 2nd.

Peter Weir

  • Born:  1944
  • Rank:  #19
  • Score:  720.99
  • Awards:  2 BAFTA
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars, 4 DGA, 3 BAFTA, 4 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Witness (1985), Dead Poets Society (1989), The Truman Show (1998), Master and Commander (2003)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picnic at Hanging Rock (1979), Gallipoli (1981), The Truman Show (1998), Master and Commander (2003)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Films I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  Gallipoli
  • Worst Film:  Green Card
  • Films:
    • ****:  Gallipoli, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Master and Commander, Witness, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society
    • ***.5:  The Year of Living Dangerously
    • ***:  The Last Wave, The Mosquito Coast, The Cars That Ate Paris, Fearless, The Way Back, Green Card

Career:  “Weir has an uncommon and beguiling aptitude for atmosphere of menace and mystery, often linked to strange and desolate places.  He loves that brink of the occult, when perfectly found in landscape.  But how pedestrian he becomes when he tries to explain these pregnant moods.”  (Thomson, p 922)

Peter Weir has never been a prolific director but he has turned positively dormant.  He’s made 3 films in the last 20 years and his most recent one, The Way Back, while a decent film, just wasn’t enough to justify a nearly decade long absence from the screen.

Oscar Nominations:  I am a big fan of both Witness and Dead Poets, but non-Oscar nominees Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and Woody Allen (Purple Rose of Cairo) knock Weir out in 1985 and Ed Zwick (Glory) in 1989.  Like at the Oscars in 1998, I nominate Weir but not The Truman Show for Picture.  In 2003, Master and Commander continues to impress me more the more I see it and has moved into my list of nominees.

John Ford

  • Born:  1894
  • Died:  1973
  • Rank:  #18
  • Score:  755.34
  • Awards:  4 Oscars, DGA, 4 NYFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars, 5 DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Informer (1935)Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Quiet Man (1952)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Informer (1935)Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
  • Feature Films:  62
  • Films I’ve Seen:  58
  • Best Film:  The Grapes of Wrath
  • Worst Film:  The Sun Shines Bright
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Informer, Mr Roberts, Stagecoach, The Quiet Man
    • ***.5:  My Darling Clementine, How Green Was My Valley, The Long Voyage Home, Fort Apache, The Last Hurrah
    • ***:  The Fugitive, Drums Along the Mohawk, Young Mr Lincoln, Pilgrimage, Rio Grande, Arrowsmith, 3 Godfathers, They Were Expendable, Mogambo, The Iron Horse, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Four Sons, Four Men and a Prayer, The Lost Patrol, 7 Women, Three Bad Men, Just Pals, Cheyenne Autumn, What Price Glory, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Two Rode Together, The Horse Soldiers, Born Reckless, Hangman’s House, The Seas Beneath, World Moves On, Whole Town’s Talking, The Hurricane, Up the River, Mary of Scotland, Doctor Bull, Flesh, The Rising of the Moon, Sergeant Rutledge, The Plough and the Stars, When Willie Comes Marching Home, Steamboat Round the Bend, Judge Priest, The Long Gray Line, Wagon Master, Donovan’s Reef, Men Withour Women
    • **.5:  Tobacco Road, Wee Willie Winkie, The Wings of Eagles, The Sun Shines Bright
    • not seen:  The Brat, Airmail, Submarine Patrol, Gideon’s Day
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “What Ford had been evolving all through his career was a style flexible enough to establish priorities of expression.  He could dispose of a plot quickly and efficiently when he had to, but he could always spare a shot or two for a mood that belonged to him and not to the plot.  A Ford film, particularly a late Ford film, is more than its story and characterization; it is also the director’s attitude toward his milieu and its codes of conduct.”  (Sarris, p 46-47)  “Sheer longevity made Ford a major director.  If that suggests no particular enthusiasm, I must confess to being daunted by the booze mythology of complacency and sentimentality in Ford’s films.  No one has done so much to invalidate the Western as a form.”  (Thomson, p 304)

On the one hand, Ford is absolutely worshipped by so many and I can’t understand that.  He made many great films, yes, and he was the absolute master of a genre in the same way that Hitchcock was.  And he rarely ever made even a mediocre film.  But I would want a longer list among the **** films given how many films he directed for someone who has inspired this level of worship.

Oscar Nominations:  In my opinion, they only got John Ford precisely right once – in 1939, when they nominated him for Stagecoach.  In 1935 he won Best Director, but he also should have won Best Picture.  In 1940 he won Best Director, but he also should have won Best Director.  In 1941 and 1952 he won Best Director and neither should have (should have been Welles in 1941, Zinnemann (among the nominees) in 1952).  In fact, neither time should he have even been nominated.  But they passed him over twice (1956, 1962) when they shouldn’t have.  But Stagecoach deserved to be nominated and didn’t deserve to win, so that, like Baby Bear’s porridge and bed, was just right.

Charles Chaplin

  • Born:  1889
  • Died:  1977
  • Rank:  #17
  • Score:  757.57
  • Nominations:  Oscar *
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Circus (1927-28)
  • Oscar Note:  Chaplin was originally nominated for Best Comedy Director in 1927-28, as he was for Best Actor, but then both nominations were withdrawn in order to present him with a special Oscar.
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Gold Rush (1902-26), The Circus (1927-28), City Lights (1930-31)Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940)
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Films I’ve Seen:  11
  • Best Film:  Modern Times
  • Worst Film:  A King in New York
  • Films:
    • ****:  Modern Times, City Lights, The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush, The Circus
    • ***.5:  Limelight Monsieur Verdoux, The Kid
    • ***:  A Woman of Paris
    • **.5:  A Countess from Hong Kong, A King in New York
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “The apparent simplicity of Chaplin’s art should never be confused with lack of technique.”  (Sarris, p 40)  “Chaplin was led to direct because it was a logical extension of the power to be obtained through acting.  For there is a paradox between the tramp’s woeful simpleton character and the clear-eyed inquisitiveness with which Chaplin the director and owner of the film is prompting our response.”  (Thomson, p 151-152)

In the toss-up between Chaplin and Welles, I would go with Chaplin for the single greatest talent in film history.  But both of them rebelled against the system and had trouble getting their later films made.  If I found a way to include short films that might move Chaplin up the list.  But he is prevented from rising higher in that he only made 11 features and two of them are not good.

Oscar Nominations:  Well, they only nominated Chaplin once and they even took that nomination away, apparently deciding that when you’re this talented, it’s unfair to nominate him across the board, so they gave him an Honorary Oscar instead.  And then they screwed it up by never nominating him for Best Director again.

John Huston

  • Born:  1906
  • Died:  1987
  • Rank:  #16
  • Score:  759.81
  • Awards:  Oscar, 2 Golden Globes, 3 NYFC, NSFC, BSFC, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars, 7 DGA, 5 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
  • Oscar Note:  15 total Oscar nominations (5 – Director, 8 – Screenplay, 1 – Picture, 1 – Supporting Actor); has more Oscar nominations for Adapted Screenplay than any other writer; one of only three directors ever nominated in three consecutive years, the first two of those three were for films not nominated for Best Picture.
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Maltese Falcon (1941), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  • Feature Films:  36
  • Films I’ve Seen:  34
  • Best Film:  The Maltese Falcon
  • Worst Film:  Phobia
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Man Who Would Be King, The Dead, The Asphalt Jungle, The Night of the Iguana
    • ***.5:  Moulin Rouge, Under the Volcano, Prizzi’s Honor, Heaven Knows Mr Allison, The Unforgiven, Fat City, Wise Blood
    • ***:  Key Largo, Beat the Devil, The Misfits, The Red Badge of Courage, Across the Pacific, Moby Dick, In This Our Life, The List of Adrian Messenger, A Walk with Love and Death, Victory, Freud, We Were Strangers
    • **.5:  The Kremlin Letter, The Barbarian and the Geisha, The Bible, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Mackintosh Man, Reflections in a Golden Eye
    • **:  Annie
    • *.5:  Phobia
    • not seen:  The Roots of Heaven, Sinful Davey
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “Even in his palmier days, Huston displayed his material without projecting his personality.  His technique  has always been evasive, his camera often pitched at a standoffish angle away from the heart of the action.”  (Sarris, p 156-57).  “More than most, he relished the game of getting a movie set up and the gamble of out-daring and intimidating the studios.  His best pictures reflect those tastes and that attitude and had an expansive, airy readiness for ironic endings, fatal bad luck, and the laughter that knows men are born to fail.”  (Thomson, p 424)

Huston was a consummate adapter and I just don’t get the criticisms that Sarris and Thomson aim at him.  He had a wry sense of humor, could move between genres and he found a way to bring more great literature to the screen than almost any director in history.

Oscar Nominations:  I don’t really know how they didn’t nominate him in 1941, but they made up for it a bit by giving him two very deserved Oscars for Treasure in 1948.  Then, he earned back-to-back (deserved) nominations for films that weren’t nominated for Best Picture (though they should have been).  Then he was nominated in 1952 for a very good film but that didn’t deserve the nomination for Picture or Director.  Then there would be an astounding 33 year gap and they would nominate him one final time – for a film that didn’t really belong in either race yet again.

Peter Jackson

  • Born:  1961
  • Rank:  #15
  • Score:  763.72
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe, BFCA, LAFC, CFC
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 3 DGA, 3 BAFTA, 4 Golden Globes, 3 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  • Oscar Note:  3 total Oscars, 9 total Oscar nominations (2 – Director, 4 – Picture, 3 – Screenplay)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Heavenly Creatures (1994), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), King Kong (2005)
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Films I’ve Seen:  11
  • Best Film:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Worst Film:  Bad Taste
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, King Kong, Heavenly Creatures, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    • ***.5:  The Frighteners, Meet the Feebles
    • ***:  Dead Alive, Lovely Bones
    • **.5:  Bad Taste

Career:  “Not the worst or least thing about Avatar was the feebleness of its ‘evil’ characters.  To his great credit as an artist, Jackson believes in evil.  It is his best way ahead.”  (Thomson 5th Ed, p 487)

Peter Jackson was ranked at #11 when I did my 1.0 version of the list.  That was before I changed up how I did some of the categories and before he directed the flawed Lovely Bones, which had good direction but a very flawed script (and was from a very bad book, so it was still a step up).  I was disappointed that he was pulled away from doing the second Tintin film to go do the Hobbit films but you can’t have everything.  I really enjoyed the first Hobbit film, but it has some very strange choices that I don’t quite agree with.  But I still think it falls into the lower level of **** and is much better than most of the films out there.

Oscar Nominations:  Well, they didn’t give him the Oscar the first time (idiotically giving it to Ron Howard, easily the weakest of the nominees) and then when they didn’t even bother to nominate him the second time it became clear that he was headed for a very deserved Oscar win the final time.

Ang Lee

  • Born:  1954
  • Rank:  #14
  • Score:  765.23
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, DGA, 2 BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, BFCA, 2 NYFC, LAFC, 2 BSFC, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 4 DGA, 4 BAFTA, 4 Golden Globes, 2 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Life of Pi (2012)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)Brokeback Mountain (2005), Life of Pi (2012)
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Films I’ve Seen:  12
  • Best Film:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Worst Film:  Ride with the Devil
  • Films:
    • ****:  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Lust Caution, Eat Drink Man Woman
    • ***.5:  Life of Pi, The Wedding Banquet, Pushing Hands
    • ***:  Taking Woodstock, Hulk
    • **.5:  Ride with the Devil

Career:  I am never quite certain where Lee will go next.  After the original post he made Taking Woodstock, an enjoyable comedy, but with not a whole lot to it.  But then he followed that up with Life of Pi, a magnificently directed film (brought down by a weak script) that won Lee a second Oscar.  After that second Oscar and those magnificent colors are there still people who will argue with me that Lee belong this high?

Oscar Nominations:  On the one hand, the Academy has given Ang Lee two Oscars and I don’t agree with either of them.  He is a close second place finisher to Steven Spielberg at the Nighthawks in 2005 and a distant fifth place finisher in 2012, again to Spielberg (though he does better than his film which I don’t nominate).  But in 2000, they only nominated him when they should have given him the Oscar.  And in 1995 they didn’t even bother to nominate him when they should have given him the Oscar.

Quentin Tarantino

  • Born:  1963
  • Rank:  #13
  • Score:  785.35
  • Awards:  NYFC, LAFC, NSFC, BSFC, CFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, 3 BAFTA, 3 Golden Globes, BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Pulp Fiction (1994), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
  • Oscar Note:  2 Oscars, both for Original Screenplay
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  Pulp Fiction
  • Worst Film:  Death Proof
  • Films:
    • ****:  Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Volume 2, Kill Bill Volume 1, Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs
    • **.5:  Death Proof

Career:  “Everything, I suspect, comes down to this barbed idea of humor.  When, towards the end of Pulp Fiction, the curve of the story bends back to meet itself, there is something deeply, musically satisfying – a formal magic that is also very moving.”  (Thomson, p 858)

Tarantino was #17 on the first list.  But that was before Basterds, my #1 film of 2009.  And then came Django, a great film that still can’t get above 6th place on his list of 8 films.  He does currently sit right here at #13, where he was before Django, but we’ll see where the 3.0 list lands him.  He is basically as high as you can be without having several more films.

Oscar Nominations:  There have been 183 writing Oscars given to 179 films (four films won two writing Oscars, back in the old days when the categories were a bit strange).  Of those 179 films, 42 of them were not nominated for Best Picture and 122 of them were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.  That leaves 15 films that were nominated for Picture, won a Writing Oscar and were not nominated for Best Director.  Of those, only 4 were written, or co-written by the director: Miracle on 34th Street (based on a film story not written by the director), Elmer Gantry (based on the novel), Missing (based on the book) and Django.  Which makes Quentin the only director to write an original screenplay, direct it, win an Oscar for writing it, earn a Best Picture nomination and be passed over for Best Director.  But the Oscars rightfully nominated him in 1994 (the best of the nominees) and in 2009 (when he should have won).

Roman Polanski

  • Born:  1933
  • Rank:  #12
  • Score:  806.62
  • Awards:  Oscar, 2 BAFTA, Golden Globe, LAFC, NSFC, 2 BSFC
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 3 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Chinatown (1974), Tess (1980), The Pianist (2002)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Knife in the Water (1963), Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010)
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Films I’ve Seen:  19
  • Best Film:  Chinatown
  • Worst Film:  Pirates
  • Films:
    • ****:  Chinatown, The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Ghost Writer, Tess, Knife in the Water, Death and the Maiden
    • ***.5:  Oliver Twist, MacBeth, Cul-de-Sac
    • ***:  The Tenant, Frantic, Carnage, Bitter Moon, The Fearless Vampire Killers
    • **.5:  The Ninth Gate
    • **:  Diary of Forbidden Dreams, Pirates
  • Sarris Category:  Fringe Benefits

Career:  “At his best, Polanski is genuinely unpredictable; at his worst, grievously pretentious.”  (Sarris, p 151)  “The violence in Polanski’s films is not especially prominent; it has seldom erupted with the force achieved by Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, Fuller, or Losey.  Much more characteristic is the underlying alienation and hostility; the feeling that people are cut off, unsupported by any shared view of life and society.”  (Thomson, p 687)

Since the Polanski post he directed The Ghost Writer, an amazing film that was criminally under-appreciated and was one of the best films of 2010 and Carnage, which was amusing.  And we’ll just have to see what comes of Venus in Fur.

Oscar Nominations:  Polanski deserved the Oscar for Chinatown but the Academy was busy rewarding Coppola.  His nomination for Tess was a good one, but in a very crowded year it doesn’t quite make my top 5.  And his direction of The Pianist is magnificent but can’t get past the non-nominated Jackson and the nominated Scorsese on my list.

Orson Welles

  • Born:  1915
  • Died:  1985
  • Rank:  #11
  • Score:  808.60
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Citizen Kane  (1941)
  • Oscar Note:  won an Oscar for writing
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Citizen Kane  (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), MacBeth (1948), Touch of Evil (1958), Chimes at Midnight (1969)
  • Feature Films:  10
  • Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  Touch of Evil
  • Worst Film:  Mr. Arkadin
  • Films:
    • ****:  Touch of Evil, Citizen Kane, Chimes at Midnight, The Magnificent Ambersons, Othello
    • ***.5:  MacBeth, The Stranger
    • ***:  The Lady from Shanghai, The Trial
    • **.5:  Mr. Arkadin
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “Welles has been the foremost German expressionist in the Anglo-Saxon world ever since Citizen Kane infected the American cinema with the virus of artistic ambition.  The conventional American diagnosis of his career is decline, pure and simple, but decline is never pure and never simple.”  (Sarris, p 78)  “Through observing his own melancholy passage as falling star, Welles made a universal portrait of failure, decline, chimes at midnight, snuffed-out pipe dream, and of the foolish play-acting we devise to conceal these brutal truths.”  (Thomson, p 924)

One of the true geniuses of the film industry.  Just imagine what could have been done had he gotten some financing.  Not that his films needed it to be better – his almost guerilla means of making a film are part of the brilliance of Othello and Chimes at Midnight.  But if only he could have found enough money to direct some more films.

Oscar Nominations:  Along with Chaplin, so amazingly talented, so passed over by the Academy.  He was nominated for Best Director just the once.  In fact, in spite of all his amazing work as an actor, director and writer, he would never be nominated again in any category.  A far cry from the Nighthawks where he wins Best Director three times and Best Actor twice.

Woody Allen

  • Born:  1935
  • Rank:  #10
  • Score:  826.31
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, 2 BAFTA, 3 NYFC, NSFC, BSFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  7 Oscars, 5 DGA, 4 BAFTA, 5 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Annie Hall (1977)Interiors (1978), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Hannah and her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Midnight in Paris (2011)
  • Oscar Note:  4 total Oscars, 23 total nominations (16 for writing – the most ever); of his 7 Best Director nominations, 4 were for films not nominated for Best Picture, tied with Fellini for the most
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), Zelig (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and her Sisters (1986)Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Midnight in Paris (2011)
  • Feature Films:  44
  • Films I’ve Seen:  43
  • Best Film:  Hannah and her Sisters
  • Worst Film:  Manhattan Murder Mystery
  • Films:
    • ****:  Hannah and her Sisters, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris, Zelig, Bullets over Broadway, Stardust Memories, Sweet and Lowdown, Interiors
    • ***.5:  Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose, Take the Money and Run, Everyone Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry, Match Point, Love and Death, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Husbands and Wives, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Sleeper, September
    • ***:  Bananas, What’s Up Tiger Lily, Melinda and Melinda, Small Time Crooks, Mighty Aphrodite, To Rome with Love, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Anything Else, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Shadows and Fog, Alice, Hollywood Ending, Scoop, Whatever Works
    • **.5:  Another Woman, Cassandra’s Dream
    • **:  Celebrity, Manhattan Murder Mystery
    • not seen:  Blue Jasmine

Career:  “Who else in American film provokes such arguments?”  (Thomson, p 11)

Woody continues to take us on a roller coaster ride.  Since my original post he has continued to be as prolific as ever.  He has directed one of his weakest films (Whatever Works) then a decent comedy (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) then one of his best, a charming wonderful film (Midnight in Paris), then another slighter film that was better than most people admit but a big drop-off from Paris (To Rome with Love) and now we have the dark comedy that might win Cate Blanchett another Oscar (Blue Jasmine).  Hell, Woody has directed more films since I moved to Boston in 2005 than Tarantino has directed in his whole 21 year directing career.

Oscar Nominations:  It’s so strange to look at the list of Woody Allen nominations and realize that his films have only been nominated for Best Picture three times.  That’s because of those 7 Best Director nominations, almost all of which he deserved (1984 was a weak choice while 1994 is crowded out by too many amazing films).  And they passed him over for a couple of obvious choices.  He won once, when I bump him off in favor of Star Wars and I have him winning once, finally knocking Platoon off the top.

Billy Wilder

  • Born:  1906
  • Died:  2002
  • Rank:  #9
  • Score:  833.03
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, DGA, 2 Golden Globes, 2 NYFC
  • Nominations:  8 Oscars, 8 DGA, 5 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945)Sunset Blvd. (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960)
  • Oscar Note:  6 total Oscars, 21 total nominations (8 – Director, 12 – Screenplay, 1 – Picture)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Mauvaise Graine (1934), Double Indemnity (1944)The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Blvd. (1950)Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), One Two Three (1961)
  • Feature Films:  26
  • Films I’ve Seen:  26
  • Best Film:  Sunset Blvd.
  • Worst Film:  Kiss Me Stupid
  • Films:
    • ****:  Sunset Blvd., Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, The Lost Weekend, Stalag 17, Sabrina, One Two Three, Witness for the Prosecution, Ace in the Hole
    • ***.5:  The Fortune Cookie, Mauvaise Graine, Five Graves to Cairo, The Front Page, Buddy Buddy
    • ***:  Avanti, Irma La Douce, The Seven Year Itch, The Major and the Minor, Fedora, A Foreign Affair, Love in the Afternoon, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Emperor Waltz, Kiss Me Stupid
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “Billy Wilder is too cynical to believe even his own cynicism.”  (Sarris, p 166)  “When you think about it, the characters Wilder did best were self-betrayers, and how he loved to have them talk out their own ruin.”  (Thomson, p 938)

There was perhaps no better director at stepping back and forth between comedy and drama.  Another director that Sarris should have lived because he so defined the auteur theory – whatever Wilder directed and no matter what the source was (and so many of his films were adaptations), he made it into a Billy Wilder film.

Oscar Nominations:  Just like Woody, Billy Wilder had several nominations for films that weren’t nominated.  Of his 5 Best Director nominations in the 1950’s, three of them (Stalag 17, Sabrina, Some Like It Hot) weren’t nominated for Best Picture, which, when you think about those films and how good they are, boggles the mind.  He won twice – one in a weak year which easily deserved it, and one in a stronger year where it’s a much closer race but he still deserved it (just barely over Bergman for The Virgin Spring).  And when it comes down to it, the Academy nominated him 8 times and I nominate him all 8 of those times, bumping two of them up to wins (and another two besides).

David Lean

  • Born:  1908
  • Died:  1991
  • Rank:  #8
  • Score:  891.28
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, DGA, 3 Golden Globes, 3 NYFC, 4 NBR
  • Nominations:  7 Oscars, 4 DGA, BAFTA, 4 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Brief Encounter (1946), Great Expectations (1947), Summertime (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), A Passage to India (1984)
  • Oscar Note:  11 total Oscar nominations (7 – Director, 3 – Screenplay, 1 – Editing)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  In Which We Serve (1943), Great Expectations (1947), The Sound Barrier (1952), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962)Doctor Zhivago (1965)A Passage to India (1984)
  • Feature Films:  16
  • Films I’ve Seen:  16
  • Best Film:  Lawrence of Arabia
  • Worst Film:  The Passionate Friends
  • Films:
    • ****:  Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, In Which We Serve, Oliver Twist, Hobson’s Choice
    • ***.5:  The Sound Barrier, This Happy Breed, Summertime
    • ***:  Blithe Spirit, Madeleine, Ryan’s Daughter, The Passionate Friends
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “Now that Lean has been enshrined in the various Academies, whatever artistic sensibility he once possessed is safely embalmed in the tomb of the impersonal cinema.”  (Sarris, p 160)  “Lean was most striking when he could hark back to the pure narrative of silent films.”  (Thomson, p 503)

The criticisms of Sarris and Thomson (and others, as noted in the original post) make me wonder how much they really love film.  Because listen to people who love film and listen to how much Lawrence means to them.  It seemed to have been a critical vogue to attack Lean for his epics.  But they are truly magnificent works of film and I’ll side with Spielberg and Ebert rather than Sarris and Kael on this one (the rare time they agree).

Oscar Nominations:  I don’t give Lean a nomination for Brief Encounter, but when you look at my list of nominees and see Children of Paradise, Notorious, The Big Sleep, The Best Years of Our Lives and It’s a Wonderful Life and realize that Henry V also doesn’t make the cut, well, 1946 was one hell of a year for film.  Great Expectations is easily the best of the nominees in 1947 but the Nighthawk Awards also have Cocteau.  Summertime is an odd nomination and doesn’t even close on my list in 1955.  But his two Oscars easily win (which is saying something in 1957 – another great year), I bump Zhivago up to a winner and Passage comes as close to tying with Amadeus as any film can.

Alfred Hitchcock

  • Born:  1899
  • Died:  1980
  • Rank:  #7
  • Score:  911.77
  • Awards:  NYFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars, 8 DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The 39 Steps (1935), Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960)
  • Feature Films:  52
  • Films I’ve Seen:  52
  • Best Film:  Strangers on a Train
  • Worst Film:  Jamaica Inn
  • Films:
    • ****:  Strangers on a Train, Rebecca, North by Northwest, Rear Window, Notorious, Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt, The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, The Trouble with Harry, The Birds, Spellbound, The Lady Vanishes
    • ***.5:  Suspicion, The Secret Agent, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Wrong Man, The Lodger, Rope, Stage Fright, Frenzy, Foreign Correspondent
    • ***:  Sabotage, Lifeboat, Number 17, Young and Innocent, Murder, Champagne, Blackmail, The Farmer’s Wife, Family Plot, Topaz, Saboteur, Dial M for Murder, The Manxman, Skin Game, Juno and the Paycock, Rich and Strange, The Ring, The Pleasure Garden, Downhill, Easy Virtue
    • **.5:  Marnie, The Man Who Knew Too Much (56), Torn Curtain, The Paradine Case, Waltzes from Vienna, I Confess
    • **:  Under Capricorn, Jamaica Inn
  • Sarris Category:  Pantheon Directors

Career:  “His is the only contemporary style that unites the divergent classic traditions of Murnau (camera movement) and Eisenstein (montage).”  (Sarris, p 57)  “Hitchcock became a way of defining film, a man exclusively intent on the moving image and the compulsive emotions of the spectator.”  (Thomson, p 401)

What more needs be said about Hitchcock here that hasn’t already been said?  As said before, no director (at least until Spielberg) seemed so capable of merging artistic quality with pure entertainment value.

Oscar Nominations:  Yes, Hitchcock was only nominated five times, and three of those times the film wasn’t nominated.  And one of those, Lifeboat, I feel they got wrong; it’s not a great year but I still have it down in 8th.  As for the others, well, it’s too bad for Rear Window that it’s in the same year as On the Waterfront.  Spellbound gets in mainly because it’s a weaker year.  But Rebecca and Psycho both make it in the top 5 in very tough years.

Joel and Ethan Coen

  • Born:  1954  /  1957
  • Rank:  #6
  • Score:  918.10
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, 2 BAFTA, BFCA, NYFC, 2 CFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 2 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, 2 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Fargo (1996 – Joel only), No Country for Old Men (2007)True Grit (2010)
  • Oscar Note:  they each have 4 Oscars and 13 nominations
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Blood Simple (1984), Miller’s Crossing (1990), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), No Country for Old Men (2007), A Serious Man (2009), True Grit (2010)
  • Feature Films:  15
  • Films I’ve Seen:  15
  • Best Film:  Fargo
  • Worst Film:  The Ladykillers
  • Films:
    • ****:  Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou, A Serious Man, True Grit, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There
    • ***.5:  Barton Fink, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading, Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy
    • ***:  The Ladykillers

Career:  Between the 1.0 version of the post and the 2.0, the Coen Brothers moved up from #8 to #6, which means they passed David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock.  They did by making two more brilliant films, A Serious Man and True Grit, and continued to show that they can succeed in pretty much any genre.  And with Inside Llewyn Davis coming up next we’ll see if they can go even higher.

Oscar Nominations:  Fargo was a great choice and a lot of people has it as their winner, but I’m actually good with Minghella’s Oscar (though I go with Lone Star for Picture).  No Country was also in a tough year, but it still makes it to #1 on my list.  True Grit just comes in at #5 but still makes my list for 2010.

Ingmar Bergman

  • Born:  1918
  • Died:  2007
  • Rank:  #5
  • Score:  926.42
  • Awards:  2 NYFC, 3 NSFC, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Cries and Whispers  (1973), Face to Face (1976), Fanny and Alexander (1983)
  • Oscar note:  9 total Oscar nominations; 3 of his films won Best Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Smiles of a Summer Night (1958), The Seventh Seal (1959), Wild Strawberries (1959), The Virgin Spring (1960), Winter Light (1963), Persona (1967), Cries and Whispers (1973), Scenes from a Marriage (1974), Autumn Sonata (1978), Fanny and Alexander (1983)
  • Feature Films:  42
  • Films I’ve Seen:  39
  • Best Film:  Cries and Whispers
  • Worst Film:  The Serpent’s Egg
  • Films:
    • ****:  Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Fanny & Alexander, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Virgin Spring, Scenes from a Marriage, Winter Light, Persona, Through a Glass Darkly, Autumn Sonata, Saraband, Face to Face, The Magician, Shame
    • ***.5:  Sawdust and Tinsel, Hour of the Wolf, Summer Interlude, The Passion of Anna, After the Rehearsal, The Rite
    • ***:  The Silence, Dreams, From the Lives of the Marionettes, Three Strange Loves, The Magic Flute, Port of Call, Monika, Crisis, The Devil’s Wanton, To Joy, Lesson in Love, Night is My Future, Brink of Life, Secrets of Women
    • **.5:  The Touch, All These Women, The Devil’s Eye
    • **:  The Serpent’s Egg
    • not seen:  It Rains on Our Love, High Tension, A Ship to India

Career:  “Bergman has never set out to be less than demanding; and as an artist his greatest achievement is in digesting such unrelenting seriousness until he sees no need to bludgeon us with it.”  (Thomson, p 74)

Let’s just say that I can’t imagine the Nobel Prize for Literature ever being given to a screenwriter because they never gave it to Bergman.

Oscar Nominations:  Cries, of course, easily deserved the Oscar, especially over The Sting.  Face to Face was an odd choice in that they didn’t nominate the screenplay and it only makes to #7 on my list for the year.  But Fanny is another one of those when Bergman should have won (that’s happened a few times actually – the Academy nominating a foreign director who deserves to actually win but only giving him the nomination – Bergman in 73 and 83, Kurosawa in 85, Ang Lee in 2000).

Steven Spielberg

  • Born:  1946
  • Rank:  #4
  • Score:  947.72
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, 3 DGA, BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, 2 BFCA, 2 LAFC, 2 NSFC, 3 BSFC, CFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  7 Oscars, 11 DGA, 5 BAFTA, 11 Golden Globes, 5 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), Lincoln (2012)
  • Oscar note:  15 total Oscar nominations
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Jaws (1975)Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)E.T. (1982), Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998)Minority Report (2002), Munich (2005), Lincoln (2012)
  • Feature Films:  28
  • Films I’ve Seen:  28
  • Best Film:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Worst Film:  1941
  • Films:
    • ****:  Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, Munich, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, Amistad, E.T., A.I., The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Catch Me if You Can, The Color Purple
    • ***.5:  Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, War Horse, The War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    • ***:  Always, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Sugarland Express, The Terminal, Hook
    • **.5:  The Lost World
    • **:  1941

Career:   “He has maintained his own level of excellence for close to twenty-five years.  He has never had significant or prolonged failure.”  (Thomson 5th Ed, p 921)

Spielberg had 15 films listed in various forms of production on the IMDb when my original post ran just over three years ago.  He’s made three films since then – a ***.5 film that was nominated for Best Picture (War Horse), a **** film that finally brought to the screen one of my favorite characters in animated glory (Tintin) and a magnificent film, among his very best, which won Spielberg his 7th (yes, 7th) Nighthawk Award (Lincoln).

Oscar Nominations:  On the one hand, both Spielberg and Scorsese were passed over for Best Director when their magnificent mid-70’s films were nominated for Best Picture.  Yet, Spielberg would be nominated two years later without his film and Scorsese would be his film’s lone nomination in 1988.  And Spielberg would also later win Best Director without winning Picture.  But he would also win the DGA and fail to earn an Oscar nomination.  So who knows what the Academy really thinks of him.  They’ve never nominated him when he didn’t deserve it – in fact, of his seven Oscar nominations, he actually wins the Nighthawk Award for five of them.

Martin Scorsese

  • Born:  1942
  • Rank:  #3
  • Score:  956.12
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes, 2 BFCA, 2 NYFC, 2 LAFC, 3 NSFC, 3 BSFC, 2 CFC, 3 NBR
  • Nominations:  7 Oscars, 8 DGA, 8 BAFTA, 8 Golden Globes, 4 BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Raging Bull (1980), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), GoodFellas (1990), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Hugo (2011)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), GoodFellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Hugo (2011)
  • Feature Films:  22
  • Films I’ve Seen:  22
  • Best Film:  GoodFellas
  • Worst Film:  Boxcar Bertha
  • Films:
    • ****:  GoodFellas, Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, The Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Mean Streets, Hugo, Taxi Driver, Shutter Island
    • ***.5:  Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, After Hours, Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Color of Money, King of Comedy
    • ***:  Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Bringing Out the Dead, Casino, Cape Fear, New York New York, Boxcar Bertha

Career:  “Scorsese’s may be the greatest biography in American film since that of Welles.  And the most painful.”  (Thomson, p 791)

Since the original post we had Shutter Island, which was excellent and criminally under-appreciated and we had Hugo, which ranks 8th in my list of Scorsese films but was my #1 film of 2011, winning Marty his fifth Nighthawk Award for Best Director.  So nothing much.  Oh, and he has Wolf of Wall Street, his fifth collaboration with Leo due up on Christmas Day.  The first four all earned **** from me.

Oscar Nominations:  Here’s how Marty’s 7 Oscar nominations fair at the Nighthawk Awards: winner, 7th place, winner, 2nd place, winner, winner, winner.  Pretty damn well.

Akira Kurosawa

  • Born:  1910
  • Died:  1998
  • Rank:  #2
  • Score:  963.60
  • Awards:  BAFTA, 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Ran (1985)
  • Oscar Note:  2 of his films won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Rashomon (1952), The Seven Samurai (1956), Ikiru (1960), Yojimbo (1961), Throne of Blood (1962), Stray Dog (1963), The Bad Sleep Well (1963), High and Low (1964), Drunken Angel (1965), Red Beard (1966), Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985)
  • Feature Films:  30
  • Films I’ve Seen:  30
  • Best Film:  Rashomon
  • Worst Film:  Sanshiro Sugata Part II
  • Films:
    • ****:  Rashomon, Ran, The Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Stray Dog, High and Low, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Kagemusha, Yojimbo, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, Drunken Angel
    • ***.5:  Red Beard, I Live in Fear, The Lower Depths, Sanshiro Sugata, The Idiot, Madadayo, Sanjuro, Dersu Uzala, No Regrets for Our Youth, A Quiet Duel, Those Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, Dodes Ka-den
    • ***:  One Wonderful Sunday, Rhapsody in August, The Most Beautiful, Scandal
    • **.5:  Sanshiro Sugata Part II

Career:  “Time has revealed Kurosawa as the director most alert to Western art and American cinema in particular.”  (Thomson, p 482)

Kurosawa dropped from #1 to #2 not because of any drop in his points but because the reconfiguration before 2.0 moved Kubrick up.

Oscar Nominations:  Once.  They’ve nominated him once.  And he lost to Sydney Pollack, one of the worst choices ever for Best Director.  He has 12 Nighthawk nominations and 4 Nighthawk Awards.

Stanley Kubrick

  • Born:  1928
  • Died:  1999
  • Rank:  #1
  • Score:  966.58
  • Awards:  BAFTA, 2 NYFC, BSFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  4 Oscars, 5 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 4 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Dr. Strangelove  (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • Oscar note:  1 Oscar (Visual Effects), 13 total Oscar nominations (4 – Director, 3 – Picture, 5 – Screenplay, 1 – Visual Effects)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove  (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971)Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Films I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  Dr. Strangelove
  • Worst Film:  Killer’s Liss
  • Films:
    • ****:  Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Spartacus, The Killing, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon
    • ***.5:  Lolita
    • ***:  Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Kubrick’s tragedy may have been that he was hailed as a great artist before he had become a competent craftsman.”  (Sarris, p 196)  “Kubrick signaled his own gravity with years of preparation, endless painstaking in shooting, the courting of serious topics, and pandering to the audience’s appetite for sensation and vulgarity in the guise of importance.”  (Thomson, p 479)

Yeah, I’m not with Sarris or Thomson on this one.  Kubrick is still here at #1, partially because of my reconfiguration and partially because of my re-assessment of Barry Lyndon.

Oscar Nominations:  He had four Oscar nominations and three times he won the Nighthawk Award and the other time earned a nomination.  So like with my other top performers, the Academy under-estimated him and never over-estimated him.

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