John Huston directing Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

John Huston directing Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

If you’re interested in Great Directors, for the next year, every few days or so I will be covering the 100 Greatest Directors of Alltime.  Check back starting a few days after the Oscars.  (Yeah, that whole series was finished back in October and you can see the complete list here which links to all the individual posts).

There was a loose connection between Best Director and Best Picture right from the start, with at least two of the Best Picture nominees getting a Best Director nomination, but it took off in 1932.

From 1932 to 1943 (the era of the 10 Best Picture nominations) only two films were nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture, both of them oddities. One was Angels with Dirty Faces, which was one of two nominations for Michael Curtiz that year. According to Inside Oscar (on page 1015), the next year they changed the rule to only allow one nomination for a director in any given year (so I do what I do with the acting and if a Director has two worthy films, I list it as “also for”). This rule would explain single Director nominations for directors who direct two Best Picture nominees in the same year, such as Victor Fleming in 1939 (Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz), John Ford in 1940 (Grapes of Wrath, Long Voyage Home), Francis Ford Coppola in 1974 (The Godfather Part II, The Conversation) or Herbert Ross in 1977 (The Goodbye Girl, The Turning Point). However, Inside Oscar doesn’t say the rule was ever changed back, so I was surprised as could be on Oscar nomination morning in February of 2001 when Steven Soderbergh was nominated twice. So the rule must have been changed back at some point, but I have no idea when. I still use the 5 different director rule for my nominations.

The second film from that era was My Man Godfrey. It was nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay and all 4 acting categories but not Best Picture. Given that it was the first film in 5 years to be nominated for Director but not Picture, combined with the other major nominations, it is perhaps the oddest Best Picture omission in Oscar history.

Best Director: The Studio Era

A few names stand supreme over everyone else during the Studio Era when it comes to Best Director.

The first is William Wyler. He not only stands supreme for his 12 nominations (far more than anyone else), but also for his 3 wins (1 fewer than John Ford, but all of Wyler’s were for Best Picture winners). Though people talk much more these days in conversations about great directors about Ford, Hitchcock and Capra, it was Wyler who got the most respect from the Academy.  (For the record, I ranked Ford at #15, Hitchcock at #6, Capra at #38 and Wyler at #30).

The second is John Ford, who won a record 4 Oscars for Best Director. The odd thing is that only 1 of those 4 won Best Picture and it is the least respected (How Green Was My Valley – which not only is not as good a film as the other three, but mainly is remembered today for beating Citizen Kane). But Ford only earned 1 other nomination in his long career.

The third name is Frank Capra. In my point system, Frank Capra stands supreme for the 1930’s with his 3 wins and 2 other nominations. Of course he didn’t win for his best film (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) because of Gone with the Wind. The famous story told in Inside Oscar is that when Capra was first nominated in 1933 for Lady for a Day, Will Rogers said “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Come up and get it, Frank!” Except Rogers was talking to Frank Lloyd, who had just won for Cavalcade. Capra was crushed, but won the next year (and again in 36 and 38).  If you read Oscar Dearest, it talks about how much Capra desperately wanted to win an Oscar in 1934 and managed to do it.

The Richard Burton / Peter O’Toole Memorial Award for this era goes to Clarence Brown, now mostly forgotten, but who was nominated an amazing 6 times during this era but never won. That he has as many nominations as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles combined is truly stunning.

Grades (28-49): Wins: B- / Nominations: B / Seen: 94.29%  97.14%  (all but Sorrel and Son, Drag and The Patriot)

(blue won Best Picture, red was nominated for Best Picture and purple received no other nominations)

1927-28 AA: Frank Borzage for Seventh Heaven

  • King Vidor for The Crowd
  • Herbert Brenon for Sorrell and Son

me: Fritz Lang for Metropolis

  • F.W. Murnau for Sunrise
  • Paul Leni for The Man Who Laughs
  • Alfred Hitchcock for The Lodger
  • Charles Chaplin for The Circus (nominated for Comedy Direction)

1928-29 AA: Frank Lloyd for The Divine Lady, Weary River and Drag

  • Harry Beaumont for Broadway Melody
  • Irving Cummings for In Old Arizona
  • Ernst Lubitsch for The Patriot
  • Lionel Barrymore for Madame X

me: F.W. Murnau for Nosferatu

  • Sergei Eisenstein for October
  • Abel Gance for Napoleon
  • Jean Epstein for The Fall of the House of Usher
  • Buster Keaton for Steamboat Bill Jr.

1929-30 AA: Lewis Milestone for All Quiet on the Western Front

  • Robert Z. Leonard for the Divorcee
  • Ernst Lubitsch for The Love Parade
  • Clarence Brown for Anna Christie
  • Clarence Brown for Romance
  • King Vidor for Hallelujah

me: Lewis Milestone for All Quiet on the Western Front

  • Howard Hughes for Hell’s Angels
  • F.W. Murnau for City Girl
  • Alexsandr Dovzhenko for Arsenal
  • Alfred Hitchcock for Blackmail
  • Sergei Eisenstein for The General Line

note:  Since Milestone won the Best Comedy Director in the first year (the only year it was awarded), he is the first Director to win two Oscars.  But since it wasn’t the Best Director award, really Frank Borzage would become the first repeat winner.

1930-31 AA: Norman Taurog for Skippy

  • Wesley Ruggles for Cimarron
  • Lewis Milestone for The Front Page
  • Clarence Brown for A Free Soul
  • Josef von Sternberg for Morocco

me: Charles Chaplin for City Lights

  • Tod Browning for Dracula
  • George Wilhelm Pabst for The Three Penny Opera
  • William Wellman for The Public Enemy
  • Aleksandr Dovzhenko for Earth

note:  Now that I have seen Skippy, I consider this one of the worst Oscars in history.

1931-32 AA: Frank Borzage for Bad Girl

  • King Vidor for The Champ
  • Josef von Sternberg for Shanghai Express

me: Howard Hawks for Scarface

  • Carl Theodor Dreyer for Vampyr
  • James Whale for Frankenstein
  • Rene Clair for A Nous La Liberte
  • Tod Browning for Freaks

note:  Howard Hawks, my #32 director of all-time had exactly one Oscar nomination, which he lost (to John Ford, of course).  How could such a thing have happened?

1932-33 AA: Frank Lloyd for Cavalcade

  • Frank Capra for Lady for a Day
  • George Cukor for Little Women

me: Fritz Lang for M

  • James Whale for The Invisible Man
  • Mervyn LeRoy for I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • Ernest B. Schoedsack for King Kong
  • Jean Cocteau for The Blood of the Poet

1934 AA: Frank Capra for It Happened One Night

  • Victor Schertzinger for One Night of Love
  • W. S. Van Dyke for The Thin Man

me: W. S. Van Dyke for The Thin Man

  • Frank Capra for It Happened One Night
  • Billy Wilder for Mauvaise Graine
  • Josef von Sternberg for The Scarlet Empress
  • Mark Sandrich for The Gay Divorcee

1935 AA: John Ford for The Informer

  • Frank Lloyd for The Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Henry Hathaway for The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

me: John Ford for The Informer

  • James Whale for The Bride of Frankenstein
  • Alfred Hitchcock for The 39 Steps (also for The Man Who Knew Too Much)
  • Michael Curtiz for Captain Blood
  • Frank Lloyd for The Mutiny on the Bounty

note:  Here’s the trivia question: Who is the only director to win Best Director, then later, direct a Best Picture winner and lose Best Director?  The answer, of course, is Frank Lloyd.  The only other Oscar winning directors to direct a Best Picture and lose Best Director were Vincente Minnelli and Francis Ford Coppola, both of whom won Best Director for their second Best Picture winner.  And I just realized this fact as I was staring at this year, updating this post.  Ah, the thinks you can think.

1936 AA: Frank Capra for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

  • Robert Z. Leonard for The Great Ziegfeld
  • W. S. Van Dyke for San Francisco
  • William Wyler for Dodsworth
  • Gregory La Cava for My Man Godfrey

me: Charles Chaplin for Modern Times

  • Archie Mayo for The Petrified Forest
  • Frank Capra for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • Jack Conway for A Tale of Two Cities
  • Alfred Hitchcock for The Secret Agent

note:  John Ford had four Oscars, one Best Picture.  Capra had three Oscars, one Best Picture.  But Wyler won Best Picture all three times he won.  Of the 15 directors with two Oscars, they break down this way:  Won Best Picture both times: 7 (Billy Wilder, David Lean, Fred Zinnemann, Elia Kazan, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, Robert Wise); Won Best Picture once: 6 (Steven Spielberg, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Oliver Stone, Lewis Milestone, Frank Lloyd, Leo McCarey); didn’t win Best Picture either time: 2 (Frank Borzage and George Stevens).  On the other hand, Borzage won both years he was nominated, giving him a perfect record.  The only other person who could claim a perfect record with more than one nomination is Steven Soderbergh because he won the only year he was nominated, when he was nominated twice.

1937 AA: Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth

  • William Dieterle for The Life of Emile Zola
  • Sidney Franklin for The Good Earth
  • Gregory La Cava for Stage Door
  • William Wellman for A Star is Born

me:  Fritz Lang for You Only Live Once

  • William Wellman for A Star is Born
  • Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth
  • Jean Renoir for La Marseillaise (also for The Lower Depths)
  • Alfred Hitchcock for Sabotage
  • Frank Capra for Lost Horizon

1938 AA: Frank Capra for You Can’t Take It With You

  • Michael Curtiz for Four Daughters
  • Norman Taurog for Boys Town
  • King Vidor for The Citadel
  • Michael Curtiz for Angels with Dirty Faces

me: Jean Renoir for The Grand Illusion

  • Michael Curtiz for The Adventures of Robin Hood (also for Angels with Dirty Faces)
  • Frank Capra for You Can’t Take It With You
  • Howard Hawks for Bringing Up Baby
  • Ernst Lubitsch for Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife

1939 AA: Victor Fleming for Gone With the Wind

  • Frank Capra for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • John Ford for Stagecoach
  • Sam Wood for Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  • William Wyler for Wuthering Heights

me: Victor Fleming for The Wizard of Oz (also for Gone With the Wind)

  • Frank Capra for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • William Wyler for Wuthering Heights
  • John Ford for Stagecoach
  • Sergei Eisenstein for Alexander Nevsky

note:  Of the only three streaks of three or more consecutive nominations for Best Director, two of them begin here: William Wyler’s streak of four straight years and John Ford’s streak of three.  By doing this, Wyler and Ford become linked in a way that only a small group of other directors are.  The first link is thus: they compete against each other in consecutive years.  The others to do that are: Lewis Milestone and Clarence Brown (1930-1931), with Sam Wood in 1939 and 1940, Billy Wilder, Leo McCarey and Alfred Hitchcock (1944-1945), Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Carol Reed (1949-50), Fred Zinnemann and Billy Wilder (1959-60), Richard Brooks and Mike Nichols (1966-67) and Robert Altman and James Ivory 1992-93).  The other link is thus: directors who competed against each other three of more times.  The others on that list are: Frank Capra and William Wyler (1936, 39, 46), William Wyler and Sam Wood (1939, 40, 42), Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann (1953, 59, 60) and Francis Ford Coppola and Bob Fosse (1972, 74, 79).  The only directors to compete against each other four times are George Stevens and William Wyler (1951, 53, 56, 59) and Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder (1944, 45, 54, 60).

1940 AA: John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath

  • Alfred Hitchcock for Rebecca
  • George Cukor for The Philadelphia Story
  • Sam Wood for Kitty Foyle
  • William Wyler for The Letter

me: Alfred Hitchcock for Rebecca John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath

  • John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath Alfred Hitchcock for Rebecca
  • Charles Chaplin for The Great Dictator
  • George Cukor for The Philadelphia Story
  • Howard Hawks for His Girl Friday

note:  A statement on how highly I have come to hold The Grapes of Wrath rather than any slipping on Hitchcock’s part.

1941 AA: John Ford for How Green Was My Valley

  • Orson Welles for Citizen Kane
  • Alexander Hall for Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • Howard Hawks for Sergeant York
  • William Wyler for The Little Foxes

me: Orson Welles for Citizen Kane

  • John Huston for The Maltese Falcon
  • Preston Sturges for The Lady Eve
  • Raoul Walsh for High Sierra
  • Alfred Hitchcock for Suspicion

1942 AA: William Wyler for Mrs. Miniver

  • Michael Curtiz for Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • John Farrow for Wake Island
  • Mervyn LeRoy for Random Harvest
  • Sam Wood for Kings Row

me: Preston Sturges for Sullivan’s Travels (also for The Palm Beach Story)

  • Orson Welles for The Magnificent Ambersons
  • Michael Curtiz for Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Sam Wood for Kings Row (also for The Pride of the Yankees)
  • John Huston for Across the Pacific

1943 AA: Michael Curtiz for Casablanca

  • Clarence Brown for The Human Comedy
  • Henry King for The Song of Bernadette
  • Ernst Lubitsch for Heaven Can Wait
  • George Stevens for The More the Merrier

me: Michael Curtiz for Casablanca

  • Alfred Hitchcock for Shadow of a Doubt
  • David Lean and Noel Coward for In Which We Serve
  • Sam Wood for For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • William Wellman for The Ox-Bow Incident

1944 AA: Leo McCarey for Going My Way

  • Henry King for Wilson
  • Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity
  • Alfred Hitchcock for Lifeboat
  • Otto Preminger for Laura

me: Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity

  • George Cukor for Gaslight
  • Preston Sturges for Hail the Conquering Hero (also for The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  • Frank Capra for Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Otto Preminger for Laura

1945 AA: Billy Wilder for The Lost Weekend

  • Alfred Hitchcock for Spellbound
  • Leo McCarey for The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • Clarence Brown for National Velvet
  • Jean Renoir for The Southerner

me: Billy Wilder for The Lost Weekend

  • Alfred Hitchcock for Spellbound
  • Howard Hawks for To Have and Have Not
  • Michael Powell for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
  • William Wellman for The Story of G.I. Joe

1946 AA: William Wyler for The Best Years of Our Lives

  • Clarence Brown for The Yearling
  • Frank Capra for It’s a Wonderful Life
  • David Lean for Brief Encounter
  • Robert Siodmak for The Killers

me: Marcel Carne for Children of Paradise

  • Howard Hawks for The Big Sleep
  • Alfred Hitchcock for Notorious
  • Frank Capra for It’s a Wonderful Life
  • David Lean for Brief Encounter

note:  In my opinion, the best year for directing.  I am forced to eliminate Laurence Olivier (Henry V), William Wyler (The Best Years of our Lives) and Robert Siodmak (The Spiral Staircase).

1947 AA: Elia Kazan for Gentleman’s Agreement

  • Edward Dmytryk for Crossfire
  • Henry Koster for The Bishop’s Wife
  • David Lean for Great Expectations
  • George Cukor for A Double Life

me: Jean Cocteau for La Belle et La Bette

  • David Lean for Great Expectations
  • Michael Powell for Stairway to Heaven
  • Sergei Eisenstein for Ivan the Terrible Part I
  • Elia Kazan for Gentleman’s Agreement

1948 AA: John Huston for Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • Laurence Olivier for Hamlet
  • Anatole Litvak for The Snake Pit
  • Jean Negulesco for Johnny Belinda
  • Fred Zinnemann for The Search

me: John Huston for Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • Laurence Olivier for Hamlet
  • Howard Hawks for Red River
  • Orson Welles for Macbeth (also for The Lady from Shanghai)
  • Jean Cocteau for The Eagle Has Two Heads

1949 AA: Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives

  • Robert Rossen for All the King’s Men
  • William A. Wellman for Battleground
  • William Wyler for The Heiress
  • Carol Reed for The Fallen Idol

me: Vittorio de Sica for The Bicycle Thief

  • Michael Powell for A Canterbury Tale
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives
  • William Wyler for The Heiress
  • Jules Dassin for Thieves Highway
  • Mark Robson for Champion

Honorary Mentions:

  • 1946: Laurence Olivier for Henry V
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