Just because the Academy gave him an Oscar doesn't mean he will do well on these lists.

So what is this?  This is the start of the in-depth look at every director who has ever been nominated by the Academy Awards for Best Director, ranked.  I already gave the bare bones version of the final list, though, as with all my lists, as I see more movies, they can fluctuate.  Here I will explain how all my points systems are derived (which I already did once here, for My Top 100 2.0 Intro, but I am doing again because there are lists here specific to these directors) and I will give various lists of the best and worst directors in the various categories.

Soon, this will be followed by various in-depth looks at each director, probably in groups of 25 or so, which will be interspersed between all my other posts, because they take a while to do.  So, here we go.

Here is how my points system is derived:

There are 10 categories.  There are a maximum of 100 points in any one category.  In some categories, it is not possible to earn all 100 points.  In others, you can earn much more, but I cut you off at 100.  Below, I list all 10 categories, with a brief description of how I derive the points and the Top and Bottom 10 for each category for the Academy Award nominated directors.  A brief note: I have mathematical value I apply to all films, and to the quality of various aspects of the film (direction being one).  Without it, there is no good way to do this list, other than the last category.  So, if you don’t like that, abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Average Film

What That Means:  Simple.  I apply a number from 0 to 99 to every film I watch (no film gets 100, because I don’t believe in the idea of a completely perfect film).  That works out really well for a **** system.  Each 1/2 covers 12 points and each full star covers 13.  So 0 is 0, 1-12 (.5), 13-25 (*), 26-37 (*.5), 38-50 (**), 51-62 (**.5), 63-75 (***), 76-87 (***.5), 88-99 (****).  When I use the term “very good” I am talking about a ***.5 film.  A “great” film is a **** film.  Those are my cut-off’s for full picture categories (Best Picture, Animated Film, Foreign Film) – anything lower doesn’t make the discussion.  So, to get an average, I take all the films I have seen by the director, add up the total number and divide by the number of films.

Top 10 note:  Four of my directors who make the Top 10 in this aren’t listed.  They are Stephen Daldry (#1 – 90.7), Jason Reitman (#3 – 90.0), Tony Gilroy (#6 – 88.5) and Bennet Miller (#9 – 88.0).  They have all made 3 or fewer films and I don’t think that’s quite fair.  So, while they are on the overall list, they are disqualified from this one.

Top 10:

  1. Stanley Kubrick  –  90.4
  2. The Coen Brothers  –  90.1
  3. Quentin Tarantino  –  88.9
  4. Martin Scorsese  –  88.1
  5. Alejandro González Iñárritu  –  88.0
  6. David Lean  –  87.3
  7. Sofia Coppola  –  87.0
  8. Paul Thomas Anderson  –  86.4
  9. Steven Spielberg  –  86.2
  10. Sam Mendes  –  86.0

Bottom 10:

  1. Michael Cimino  –  41.0
  2. Frank Perry  –  43.4
  3. J. Lee Thompson  –  45.4
  4. Roberto Benigni  –  46.0
  5. Arthur Hiller  –  47.8
  6. Roland Joffe  –  49.3
  7. Adrian Lyne  –  49.8
  8. Michael Anderson  –  50.0
  9. Richard Rush  –  50.5
  10. John G. Avildsen  –  50.6

Top 5 Films

What This Means:  Again, simple.  I take their 5 best films and average them.  If you have less than 5, of course, this is the same as your average.  Of directors with at least 10 films, Sidney Franklin has the lowest difference from his average.  His average film is a 65.8 and his Top 5 average is 69.6, so most of his films fall in the same range.  The highest difference is J. Lee Thompson – his average is a 45.4 but his Top 5 average out to 80.2.  His career flamed out so badly that it sank his average, but his Top 5 films, all from the late 50’s and early 60’s continue to give him points.  Top 100 Directors who have high differences are ones with long careers, several stinkers (or lots of mediocre films) and a core of really great films – Michael Curtiz, Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet.  This really covers the best directors.  The only non Top 100 Director in the Top 50 is Richard Brooks in 49th place and he was on the first version of the list.  Barry Levinson at 63rd is the only other one in the Top 65.  Only one director with 10+ films makes the Top 100 with less than an 85 here – Bertolucci, who scores an 81.3.

note:  The list function doesn’t allow me to repeat numbers, so repeated numbers really are ties.  And I have bumped Lee Daniels (#2 – 53.0) from the bottom 10 because he’s only made 2 films.

Top 10:

  1. Ingmar Bergman  –  97.6
  2. Akira Kurosawa  –  97.6
  3. Martin Scorsese  –  97.6
  4. Stanley Kubrick  –  97.4
  5. Peter Jackson  –  97.2
  6. David Lean  –  97.2
  7. Billy Wilder  –  97.0
  8. Steven Spielberg  –  97.0
  9. Woody Allen  –  96.0
  10. Orson Welles  –  95.8

Bottom 10:

  1. Michael Cimino  –  50.6
  2. Mel Gibson  –  53.3
  3. Roberto Benigni  –  56.6
  4. Adrian Lyne  –  57.4
  5. Scott Hicks  –  57.8
  6. Frank Perry  –  58.8
  7. Peter Catteneo  –  60.3
  8. Hugh Hudson  –  60.6
  9. Richard Rush  –  60.6
  10. Martin Brest  –  64.0

Top 10 Films

What It Means:  The average of their Top 10 films.  For 79 directors this is the same as their average – for 66 of them because they have directed 10 or fewer films.  For the other 13, because I have only seen 10 or fewer of their films.  Of directors with 15+ films, Victor Schertzinger has the least range – 63.1 average, 64.2 Top 10 (68.0 Top 5).  Only three directors have a range of over 20 – J. Lee Thompson (45.4, 73.7) and Arthur Hiller (47.8, 70.1) because they made enough films that they can drop their crappy ones and Sidney Lumet (70.0, 92.0) because his Top 10 are so good.  Hitchcock is right behind (74.9, 94.2).

note:  Of the Top 10, only three have made less than 20 films – Kubrick, the Coens and Lean.  Their average films are so good, their few drops get them in.  Of the bottom 10, all made 10 or fewer (or I have only seen 10 or fewer) – they can’t drop any films.  The lowest director with more than 10 films is Taylor Hackford at a 59.1 and the lowest with 15 or more films is Edouard Molinaro at 60.5.  And I have again dropped Lee Daniels.  Also the Top 10 is the actual Top 10 list, though in a slightly different order.

Top 10:

  1. Ingmar Bergman  –  96.0
  2. Akira Kurosawa  –  95.4
  3. Steven Spielberg  –  95.0
  4. Stanley Kubrick  –  94.8
  5. Martin Scorsese  –  94.7
  6. Billy Wilder  –  94.5
  7. David Lean  –  94.4
  8. Alfred Hitchcock  –  94.2
  9. The Coen Brothers  –  93.9
  10. Woody Allen  –  93.8

Bottom 10:

  1. Michael Cimino  –  41.0
  2. Frank Perry  –  43.4
  3. Roberto Benigni  –  46.0
  4. Roland Joffe  –  49.3
  5. Adrian Lyne  –  49.8
  6. Richard Rush  –  50.5
  7. Mel Gibson  –  53.3
  8. Anthony Harvey  –  54.3
  9. Martin Brest  –  55.2
  10. M. Night Shymalan  –  55.5

Four Star Films / Great Directing Jobs Proportions

What It Means:  Like with films, I give a point for Oscar categories on a 9 points scale.  To give an idea of how I break this down, this is how those 9 points work with the film numbers.  76-79 (1), 80-83 (2), 84-87 (3), 88-89 (4), 90-91 (5), 92-93 (6), 94-95 (7), 96-97 (8), 98-99 (9).  So, a 1-3 is very good, worth mentioning.  A 4-6 is great.  But 7-9 is the truly best.  When I talk about my nominations in the Nighthawk Awards, you have to get points to be mentioned in my discussion.  So, this is a measure of how many great films you made and how many truly great directing jobs you did, divided by the number of films.  But, that’s only half of it.  I also add 5 points for every **** film you make.  So, here’s an example.

I have seen 10 Hal Ashby films.  Two of them earn **** (Being There, Harold and Maude).  One of them gets a 7, 8 or 9 for directing (Being There).  I double the number of his films (because we’re measuring films and directing jobs).  So, three (two films, one job), divided by 20 is 15%.  But he gets 5 points each for the two films, so he gets 25 points in this category.

You can actually max out on this category – either by having a lot of great directing jobs and four star films in a short career (Tarantino), or having so many four star films.  I added the five points for each four star film because even great directors like Bergman and Kurosawa were brought down by the sheer number of their films.  This allows for a measure of their greatness.  It also really hurts certain directors – directors that don’t have any **** films from me – like Antonioni and Campion.

note:  There is no bottom 10.  57 of the 210 directors have no four star films from me.  Of the directors with points in this category, Henry Koster is the lowest with 6.4 (one four star film out of 36).  Antonioni has the highest point total for any director with no points in this category.

Top 10:

  1. Stanley Kubrick  –  100.0
  2. Akira Kurosawa  –  100.0
  3. Steven Spielberg  –  100.0
  4. Ingmar Bergman  –  100.0
  5. Quentin Tarantino  –  100.0
  6. The Coen Brothers  –  100.0
  7. Alfred Hitchcock  –  96.2
  8. David Lean  –  95.0
  9. Martin Scorsese  –  85.8
  10. Billy Wilder  –  80.8

Here’s a sub Top 10 list that relates to this, but isn’t a separate category – most **** films:

  1. Ingmar Bergman  –  15
  2. Alfred Hitchcock  –  15
  3. Akira Kurosawa  –  13
  4. Steven Spielberg  –  13
  5. Woody Allen  –  11
  6. Stanley Kubrick  –  10
  7. Billy Wilder  –  10
  8. David Lean  –  9
  9. The Coen Brothers  –  9
  10. Martin Scorsese  –  9

The Top 1000 (external)

What It Means:  This is a list that doesn’t involve my subjective points, except in how I decided to score it.  I used the list from TSPDT of the Top 1000 films of all-time (actually, I used the last four lists and used the highest score a film achieved on those lists).  I then gave a point for each 100.  So if you made the bottom 100 (901-1000), you got one point.  If you made the Top 100, you got 10 points.  Then I totaled up the points.  But then I gave out some extra points.  First, I gave out extra points for how many films you got on the list (5-7 films got you 2 extra, 8-9 got 3, 10-15 got 5, 15-19 got 10, 20+ got 15 extra points, but only Godard got that).  But then I also gave out extra points based on percentages of your films.  So, if you’ve made 4 films like Terrence Malick, and all 4 made the list, you got an extra 5 points.  But if you made 8 films like Sergei Eisenstein and they all made the list, you got an extra 10 points.  To be fair to current film-makers, I included their Top 250 Films of the 2000’s list, with the points scaled out the same way.  Then I made a giant spreadsheet and totaled up the points.  First was Godard, but he was never Oscar nominated, so he’s irrelevant to this.  Next up was John Ford.  Five directors scored more than 100 points and had their points scaled down to 100: Godard (130), Ford (127), Luis Bunuel (122, but also never Oscar nominated), Hitchcock (113) and Kubrick (103).

note:  Again, no bottom 10.  Three directors are part of the Top 100 and receive no points here – Kenneth Branagh, Alan Parker and Anthony Minghella.  But overall, 61 directors received no points from this.

Top 10:

  1. John Ford  –  100
  2. Alfred Hitchcock  –  100
  3. Stanley Kubrick  –  100
  4. Akira Kurosawa  –  100
  5. Federico Fellini  –  98
  6. Ingmar Bergman  –  96
  7. Charlie Chaplin  –  89
  8. Martin Scorsese  –  88
  9. Howard Hawks  –  88
  10. Jean Renoir  –  86

The Top 1000 (mine)

What It Means:  The same as the previous list in terms of points, but it’s my list of the Top 1000 films I use.  Again, five directors scored more than 100, but not the same five.  Mine are Bergman (132), Kurosawa (116), Spielberg (113), Hitchcock (107) and Woody Allen (104 – who also has the most films on the list with 18).

note:  Again, no bottom 10.  To not make this list, it means I don’t have any of your films ranked as a **** or high ***.5 film.  The highest person on the total list with a 0 here is King Vidor.  He is also one of two directors to score more than 6 points on the external lists but get a 0 here – he earned 42 and John Cassavetes earned a 57.  Overall, 41 directors earn no points in this category.  There are 28 directors who get no points from either Top 1000 category – the highest ranked being Clarence Brown.  And again, the Top 10 list is the overall Top 10 list, but in a different order.

Top 10:

  1. Ingmar Bergman  –  100
  2. Akira Kurosawa  –  100
  3. Steven Spielberg  –  100
  4. Alfred Hitchcock  –  100
  5. Woody Allen  –  100
  6. Stanley Kubrick  –  95
  7. Martin Scorsese  –  91
  8. David Lean  –  90
  9. The Coen Brothers  –  90
  10. Billy Wilder  –  86

Director Points

What It Means:  That 0-9 scale I explained above.  This totals them up for all their films.  This is another category I capped at 100.  This is also a category limited by the number of films.  You can’t have more points than 9 x number of films.  So even Kubrick doesn’t reach 100 points.  But the next category uses an average for this, so it is a bit counter-balanced.  A familiar five directors have more than 100 points here: Hitchcock (133), Kurosawa (128), Spielberg (113), Bergman (112) and Scorsese (108).

note:  No bottom 10.  There are 22 directors with no points here (and, consequently, no points in the next category either), with Clarence Brown the only one with more than 300 total points.

Top 10:

  1. Alfred Hitchcock  –  100
  2. Akira Kurosawa  –  100
  3. Steven Spielberg  –  100
  4. Ingmar Bergman  –  100
  5. Martin Scorsese  –  100
  6. Woody Allen  –  92
  7. The Coen Brothers  –  90
  8. Stanley Kubrick  –  89
  9. David Lean  –  81
  10. John Huston  –  80

Director Points Average

What It Means:  This takes the number of points from the previous category, divides it by the number of films, then multiplies it by 20.  Why by 20?  Partially because it’s such a good round number, partially because to get 100 points in this category means you average a 5, which means your average directing job is a four star film.  That’s pretty damn amazing.  Yet, somehow, 10 different directors have capped out this category at 100: Kubrick, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Lean, Welles, Tarantino, Peter Jackson, P.T. Anderson, Sam Mendes, and Stephen Daldry.  Most of those later directors are helped by some amazing jobs in a small body of work and that might eventually flatten out.  But the top 4 have significantly large bodies of work and that is just incredible.

There is no Top 10 here because it is those 10 I just listed and no bottom 10 for the same reason as the previous category.  So, again, Clarence Brown is the highest person here with no points.

Weighted Total

What It Means:  This is also an external category, except in how I weight the points.  This is the category that changed the most since the initial list.  The first time, I came up with a point system for all the Best Director Awards (the ones I use are Academy Awards, DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics, NY Film Critics, LA Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, Boston Society of Film Critics and Chicago Film Critics with very marginal points thrown in for the Independent Spirits and Satellite Awards).  I took all their points and divided them by 10.  That left some 25 directors all-time with a total of 100 (capped at 100 – otherwise Spielberg would have had over 300).  But there were two problems with this.  The first was that it marginalized the older directors who didn’t have that many groups to potentially win from (prior to the late 60′s, it was just the Oscars, DGA, Globes, NBR and NYFC).  The second problem was that sweeping the awards meant you could cap out for one film – I realized that when Kathryn Bigelow, who did a phenomenal job with The Hurt Locker but is hardly ready to be proclaimed a Top 100 Director ended up with 89.6 points just for that film, or 11.3 more points than Frank Capra had in his whole distinguished career that included three Oscars.  So, instead of just totaling everything up, I looked at each year and scaled it.  I would look at all the awards and scale from 20-1 the amount of points you could get.  That way it would take at least five years of being the top director to cap out your points.  Or, if you really far and away had the highest point total for a year (like Bigelow in 09), you could get 25 points.  Now, because there are so many fewer films in the older years and most awards groups outside the NSFC ignore foreign films, I did include my own Nighthawk Awards as a category.

So, now, instead of Kathryn Bigelow earning 89.6 points, all of them for The Hurt Locker, she earns 25 points, all of them for The Hurt Locker.  But Frank Capra, instead of earning 40.5 points for his three Oscars and six nominations, 7.2 points for his Globe and 27 points for his six Nighthawk nominations, he gets 18 points for 1933 (Lady for a Day), 19 for 1934 (It Happened One Night), 20 for 1936 (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), 19 for 1938 (You Can’t Take It With You), 17 for 1939 (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), 14 for 1944 (Arsenic and Old Lace), and 19 for 1946 (It’s a Wonderful Life) and his total of 126 gets capped at 100.

29 directors top out at 100 points in this category but only one of them – Robert Wise – fails to make the Top 100.  Everyone on this list automatically gets points simply because of their Oscar nominations.  But their nominations aren’t always worth the same – an Oscar nomination in the early 30’s, when there were no other awards is worth a lot more than one in 1962 when there were a ton of Golden Globe and DGA nominees, thus explaining why Frank Perry, who earned his Oscar nom in 1962 is last on the bottom 10.

Bottom 10:

  1. Frank Perry  –  6
  2. Chris Noonan  –  9
  3. Edouard Molinaro  –  10
  4. Martin Brest  –  11
  5. Irving Cummings  –  11
  6. Lionel Barrymore  –  12
  7. Hiroshi Teshigahara  –  12
  8. Ted Wilde  –  12
  9. Harry Beaumont  –  13
  10. Sidney Franklin  /  Henry Koster  /  Michael Anderson  /  Roberto Benigni  /  Gillo Pontecorvo  –  13

Subjective

What It Means:  What it says.  I gave everyone a score from 0-100.  Actually 35-100, because the lowest is Frank Perry who got a 35.  In theory, I could have done the whole list like this, but I wanted to break it down into categories to have a better basis for my decisions.  Everyone who made my Top 100 list earned at least a 75.  I’ll go ahead and list my subjective numbers for all 210 directors here to give you an idea of what I think of all of them as my end to this introduction.  Granted, because of other factors, it’s not how the list quite plays out.  Within each number, they are listed by total order of finish.

  • 100:
    • Stanley Kubrick
    • Akira Kurosawa
    • Steven Spielberg
    • Martin Scorsese
    • Ingmar Bergman
    • The Coen Brothers
    • Alfred Hitchcock
    • David Lean
    • Roman Polanski
    • Orson Welles
    • Quentin Tarantino
    • Ang Lee
    • Paul Thomas Anderson
  • 95:
    • Billy Wilder
    • John Huston
    • John Ford
    • Charlie Chaplin
    • Peter Jackson
    • Sidney Lumet
    • Clint Eastwood
    • Peter Weir
    • Elia Kazan
    • Francis Ford Coppola
    • Francois Truffaut
    • David Lynch
    • Sam Mendes
    • Neil Jordan
  • 90:
    • Woody Allen
    • Howard Hawks
    • Federico Fellini
    • Frank Capra
    • Ridley Scott
    • Stephen Daldry
    • Pedro Almodovar
    • Steven Soderbergh
    • Sofia Coppola
    • Louis Malle
    • Terrence Malick
    • Danny Boyle
    • Anthony Minghella
    • Krysztof Kieslowski
    • Darren Aronofsky
    • Alejandro González Iñárritu
    • David Fincher
    • Bernardo Bertolucci
  • 85:
    • William Wyler
    • Jean Renoir
    • Robert Altman
    • Oliver Stone
    • Kenneth Branagh
    • Bob Fosse
    • Stephen Frears
    • John Boorman
    • Laurence Olivier
    • Milos Forman
    • Mike Leigh
    • Jim Sheridan
    • Jonathan Demme
    • Spike Jonze
    • Paul Greengrass
    • Tony Gilroy
    • George Clooney
    • David O. Russell
    • Michael Mann
    • Kevin Costner
  • 80:
    • Fred Zinnemann
    • Mike Nichols
    • Alan Parker
    • George Lucas
    • Alan J. Pakula
    • Joseph L. Mankiewicz
    • Jason Reitman
    • Warren Beatty
    • Bennet Miller
    • Fernando Meirelles
    • Gus Van Sant
    • Robert Redford
    • Tom Hooper
    • Alexander Payne
    • Atom Egoyan
    • Julian Schnabel
  • 75:
    • George Cukor
    • Michael Curtiz
    • George Stevens
    • John Schlesinger
    • Richard Brooks
    • James L. Brooks
    • Hal Ashby
    • Sydney Pollack
    • James Ivory
    • George Roy Hill
    • Constantin Costa-Gavras
    • Josef von Sternberg
    • Robert Zemeckis
    • Jules Dassin
    • Michelangelo Antonioni
    • James Cameron
    • Charles Crichton
    • Rob Marshall
    • Hector Babenco
    • Tim Robbins
    • Jane Campion
  • 70:
    • Ernst Lubitsch
    • Otto Preminger
    • Carol Reed
    • Barry Levinson
    • William Freidkin
    • King Vidor
    • John Sturges
    • Robert Rossen
    • Peter Bogdanovich
    • Frank Borzage
    • Robert Benton
    • Kathryn Bigelow
    • Michael Radford
    • W.S. Van Dyke
    • Martin Ritt
    • Chris Noonan
    • Claude Lelouch
    • Ted Wilde
    • Jan Troell
    • Hiroshi Teshigahara
  • 65:
    • William Wellman
    • Robert Wise
    • Richard Attenborough
    • Norman Jewison
    • Mervyn LeRoy
    • Leo McCarey
    • Vincent Minnelli
    • Curtis Hanson
    • Victor Fleming
    • Arthur Penn
    • Peter Yates
    • Frank Lloyd
    • Lewis Milestone
    • Henry King
    • Wolfgang Peterson
    • Robert Mulligan
    • Gillo Pontecorvo
    • Tony Richardson
    • John Cassavetes
    • Bruce Beresford
    • Gregory La Cava
    • Lasse Hallstrom
    • Edward Dmytryk
    • Mark Robson
    • Paul Haggis
    • George Seaton
    • Robert Stevenson
    • Peter Glenville
    • Pietro Germi
    • Henry Hathaway
    • William Dieterle
    • Herbert Brenon
    • Cecil B. DeMille
    • Michael Cacoyannis
  • 60:
    • Stanley Kramer
    • Ron Howard
    • Sam Wood
    • Robert Siodmak
    • Lee Daniels
    • J. Lee Thompson
    • Delbert Mann
    • Mike Figgis
    • Anatole Litvak
    • John Singleton
    • Ken Russell
    • Anthony Harvey
    • Henry Koster
    • Robert Z. Leonard
    • Barbet Schroder
    • Lina Wertmuller
    • Walter Lang
    • Charles Walters
    • Sidney Franklin
    • Franco Zeffirili
    • Wesley Ruggles
    • Edouard Molinaro
    • Lionel Barrymore
  • 55:
    • John Madden
    • Franklin Schaffner
    • Clarence Brown
    • Jack Clayton
    • Joshua Logan
    • M. Night Shyamalan
    • Herbert Ross
    • John Farrow
    • Mark Rydell
    • Alexander Hall
    • Peter Cattaneo
    • Jack Cardiff
    • Victor Schertzinger
    • Scott Hicks
    • Irving Cummings
    • Richard Rush
  • 50:
    • Taylor Hackford
    • Norman Taurog
    • Jean Negulesco
    • Harry Beaumont
    • Mel Gibson
  • 45:
    • Arthur Hiller
    • Hugh Hudson
  • 40:
    • Roland Joffe
    • Michael Cimino
    • John G. Avildsen
    • Michael Anderson
    • Martin Brest
    • Adrian Lyne
    • Roberto Benigni
  • 35:
    • Frank Perry

One last little note.  With young directors, these numbers change a lot.  M. Night Shyamalan would have had a much different number if this had been done just after Unbreakable.  This is always a work in progress, so bear in mind the date on this post if you come upon it in later years.  Also, feel free to begin griping, but not over the impact of one film.  The Killing Fields no more makes Roland Joffe a great director than Lost World makes Spielberg a bad one.  These are entire careers we are talking about here.

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