This kind of says it all.

Here is group #3 of my complete ranking of all the directors ever nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.  Apparently this is where you end up if you make one great film and a career of, shall we say, less then stellar films.  You have your John Singleton, your Anthony Harvey, your Roland Joffé, your Peter Cattaneo.  Not only are three of them right next to each other (appropriately), but all four directed one Oscar nominated film, it was their first film, and if not for that film, they would have appeared in the first post, down at the bottom of the list, just above Frank Perry and Roberto Benigni (except Joffé, who would have been between them), and below Adrian Lyne (except Singleton, who would have been just above Lyne).  They are not as low as Michael Cimino because the rest of their careers aren’t as bad as Cimino’s (without The Deer Hunter, Cimino drops 130 points – these four drop between 80 and 94 points).

Let me remind you that this is a work in progress.  When I first started typing this part of the list, Joffé was actually next to the others.  Now he’s dropped so low he deserves to have been in the previous post.  By the way, it’s an interesting bit that with each group, the percentage of films I have seen by the group goes up.  Of the first 10 directors (here), I had only seen 63% of their films.  With the second group (here), I had seen 70.5%.  With this group, I have seen 74.2%.  And it goes up with each group of 25.  Since I’ve tried to see every film by every director, and have availed myself of Netflix, ILL, YouTube and everything else I can find, it seems to me, the better directors have films that are easier to find because they are the better directors.

Another reminder, like before.  The Sarris quotes come from The American Cinema, 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 mention the 5th edition, which was published in 2010.  The points system is explained here.

Another short note here.  In the intervening time since I wrote the last piece, Andrew Sarris died.  Sarris is one of the best film critics this country has ever had.  If you have never read The American Cinema, one of the most important books in film history, you need to do so.  I may not agree with everything in it, but I would not do without it.

  • #175:  Roland Joffé
  • #174:  William Dieterle
  • #173:  Arthur Hiller
  • #172:  John Singleton
  • #171:  Anthony Harvey
  • #170:  Peter Cattaneo
  • #169:  Ken Russell
  • #168:  Henry Hathaway
  • #167:  Anatole Litvak
  • #166:  Ted Wilde
  • #165:  Mike Figgis
  • #164:  Herbert Ross
  • #163:  Delbert Mann
  • #162:  J. Lee Thompson
  • #161:  Pietro Germi
  • #160:  M. Night Shyamalan
  • #159:  Peter Glenville
  • #158:  Lee Daniels
  • #157:  Joshua Logan
  • #156:  Jan Troell
  • #155:  George Seaton
  • #154:  Robert Stevenson
  • #153:  Robert Siodmak
  • #152:  Paul Haggis
  • #151:  Mark Robson

Roland Joffé

  • Born:  1945
  • Rank:  #175
  • Score:  280.40
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, DGA, 2 BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Killing Fields  (1984), The Mission  (1986)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Killing Fields  (1984)
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  The Killing Fields
  • Worst Film:  Captivity
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Killing Fields
    • ***:  The Mission, Vatel
    • **.5Fat Man and Little Boy
    • **City of Joy, There Be Dragons, Goodbye Lover
    • *:  The Scarlet Letter
    • .5:  You and I
    • 0:  Captivity
    • haven’t seenSingularity

Career:  When you are Oscar-nominated for your first two films, you have started your career on one hell of a high note.  But when the rest of your career includes The Scarlet Letter, and it’s not even one of your two worst films, that’s beyond a low note.  By that time we’ve fallen off the end of the scale.  Joffé sits here at #175, but that’s only because by the time I saw You and I and There Be Dragons, I had already put up the previous part of the list.  He really sits down more around #180.  It’s stunning what a cataclysm his career has been since The Killing Fields and The Mission.  It’s interesting to note that both those films were produced by David Puttnam, who also produced Chariots of Fire – the first, and best film of Hugh Hudson, who was the first director on the previous part of the list.  Perhaps Puttnam deserves the real credit here.  Where would Joffé be without The Killing Fields?  At 182.84 points, in dead last.

Oscar Nomination:  Joffé is now beginning to rival Michael Cimino for greatest waste of a film.  Both made brilliant films dealing with Southeast Asia, both of them deserved their acclaim (Joffé’s film is actually better than Cimino’s, but Cimino’s was in a weak year and was the best film of the year, while Joffé had to compete with Amadeus and A Passage to India) and both of them have had hideous careers since.  The Oscar nomination for The Mission wasn’t an awful choice – the film is solidly directed and the problems stem more from the script than from the direction, though it isn’t even close to earning its nomination.

William Dieterle

  • Born:  1893
  • Died:  1972
  • Rank:  #174
  • Score:  291.87
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Life of Emile Zola  (1937)
  • Feature Films:  57
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  31
  • Best Film:  The Devil and Daniel Webster
  • Worst Film:  Grand Slam
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Devil and Daniel Webster
    • ***:  The Life of Emile Zola, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rope of Sand, Kismet, The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Turning Point, September Affair, Love Letters, Boots Malone, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Dispatch from Reuter’s, Blockade, This Love of Ours, Omar Khayyam, Jewel Robbery, The White Angel
    • **.5Portrait of Jennie, Magic Fire, Lawyer Man, I’ll Be Seeing You, Juarez, Salome, Her Majesty Love, Tennessee Johnson, Man Wanted, Elephant Walk
    • **Dark City, Satan Met a Lady, Grand Slam
    • haven’t seen:  Last Flight, Crash, 6 Hours to Live, Scarlet Dawn, Adorable, The Devil’s in Love, From Headquarters, Fashions of 1934, Fog Over Frisco, Madame du Barry, Firebird, Secret Bride, Dr. Socrates, The Great O’Malley, Another Dawn, Syncopation, Searching Wind, Accused, Paid in Full, Volcano, Peking Express, Red Mountain, Dubrowsky, Mistress of the World, Die Herrin der Welt II, Die Fastnachstbeichte
  • Sarris Category:  Miscellany

Career:  “William Dieterle seemed less interesting than Michael Curtiz in his (Dieterle’s) Warners period and less interesting than Billy Wilder in his (Dieterle’s) Paramount period . . .  But Dieterle was around the set when many interesting things happened over the years, and it is reasonable to assume that he had something to do with them.”  (Sarris, p 255).  Those are the first and last sentences in Sarris’ description of William Dieterle.  The first sentence might be the most pointless sentence in his entire book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.  After all, who was going to be more interesting than Curtiz or Wilder in those periods?  “The biopics are ponderous, Germanic works, suffering from staginess and the unrestrained histrionics of Paul Muni who, presumably, was to Dieterle’s taste.”  (Thomson, p 236)  From that comment, I assume that Muni is not to Thomson’s taste.  Muni could overact, and Dieterle wasn’t really going to pull him back.  That’s part of why his biopics aren’t great films.  But Dieterle was a sure hand, if never a great one.  He made so many films that seemed like they could have been great films – Cagney’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Laughton as the Hunchback, the Best Picture winning Emile Zola.  But in the end, what you could expect from Dieterle was a solid studio production from Warner Bros., and that was usually worth the time.

Oscar Nomination:  Dieterle didn’t really earn his nomination for Zola.  It’s a standard biopic – it has a good performance from Paul Muni (actually better than his Oscar-winning performance directed by Dieterle the year before and definitely better than Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance the same year) and is well-acted throughout.  But it never really rises above being a standard biopic and its Oscar win was more a function of the politics of Oscar (the story, it was time for Warners to win) and the nomination was necessary for the win.

Arthur Hiller

  • Born:  1923
  • Rank:  #173
  • Score:  292.70
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Love Story  (1970)
  • Feature Films:  32
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  29
  • Best Film:  The Americanization of Emily
  • Worst Film:  An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Americanization of Emily, The Hospital
    • ***.5:  Silver Streak
    • ***:  The Out of Towners, Plaza Suite, Wheeler Dealers, Man of La Mancha
    • **.5Penelope, Popi, The Man in the Glass Booth, Tobruk, W.C. Fields and Me, Married to It, Outrageous Fortune, Author Author, See No Evil Hear No Evil
    • **Making Love, The In-Laws, The Miracle of White Stallions, Romantic Comedy, Nightwing, Promise Her Anything, Love Story
    • *.5:  The Lonely Guy
    • *:  The Babe
    • .5:  Take Care of Business, Carpool, Pucked
    • 0An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn
    • haven’t seenTiger Makes Out, The Crazy Wild of Julius Vrooder, Teachers

Career:  “Long before 1971, the filmgoer might have safely given up on Arthur Hiller.  What is authorship if it is not the capacity to make a dozen consistently impersonal and unexciting movies?” (Thomson, p 400).  Then Thomson found some  hope after The Hospital, but “a dull first dozen, and the immediate reversal to type with Man of La Mancha indicates only that even a trimmer has his day.” (Thomson, p 400)  Looking at the list of Arthur Hiller’s films, you might rightly wonder how he made it all the way to the third group of directors.  There are a lot of mediocre and bad films on his resume.  Hiller has the distinction of being the only director to hit every star level and the only director aside from Roland Joffé to direct both a 0 star film and a **** film.  But it’s the latter that rescues Hiller.  Hiller’s film average is a 47.8 – in other words, his average film is a ** film.  He ranks 206th of the 211 directors.  But his top 5 films average a 78.6 and that’s 123rd and his top 10 a 70.1 (144th).  Thomson is right, even a trimmer has his day, and Hiller has made enough worthwhile films – especially the two very dark comedies at the top of his list to move him up enough slots to escape the bottom two groups of Oscar-nominated directors.

Oscar Nomination:  But then we get to this.  Let’s remember that Hiller was Oscar-nominated for Love Story – by my reckoning the fifth worst film ever nominated for Best Picture and the second worst ever nominated for Picture and Director (ahead of Fatal Attraction).  It’s the only film bad enough that under Blockbuster’s old “enjoy it or it’s free” policy that I demanded a free rental.  It’s trite, cliched, stupid, pointless and awful.  And yet, he followed it up the next year with The Hospital, a film that would have been fine with those nominations.

John Singleton

  • Born:  1968
  • Rank:  #172
  • Score:  293.20
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Boyz N the Hood  (1991)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Boyz N the Hood  (1991)
  • Feature Films:  9
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  9
  • Best Film:  Boyz N the Hood
  • Worst Film:  2 Fast 2 Furious
  • Films:
    • ****:  Boyz N the Hood
    • ***:  Rosewood, Four Brothers
    • **.5Shaft, Baby Boy, Poetic Justice
    • **Higher Learning
    • *:  Abduction
    • .5:  2 Fast 2 Furious

Career:  Herewith we begin the list of directors with a hell of a debut and a hell of a career fall to follow.  Not as bad as the career falls of Michael Cimino or Roland Joffé, but still a significant drop.  John Singleton began his career as the youngest Best Director nominee in Academy history – an absolute worthy nomination.  But he’s followed that up with a very checkered career that has moved away from any style or distinction.  In the 90’s, even when his films were uneven, they had a style to them – you knew you were watching a Singleton film.  But now he’s just a director for hire, and he’s not getting very good jobs it would seem.

Oscar Nomination:  Boyz N the Hood was a brilliant debut – a work of immediacy.  It showcased a young man who could both write and direct and who definitely earned both of his Oscar nominations.  That a 23 year old could get a performance like that out of a non-actor like Ice Cube shows just how much Singleton was capable of.

Anthony Harvey

  • Born:  1931
  • Rank:  #171
  • Score:  295.26
  • Awards:  DGA
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Lion in Winter  (1968)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Lion in Winter  (1968)
  • Feature Films:  7
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  7
  • Best Film:  The Lion in Winter
  • Worst Film:  Players
  • Films:
    • ****The Lion in Winter
    • ***They Might Be Giants, Eagle’s Wing
    • **The Abdication, Richard’s Things, Grace Quigley
    • *Players

Career:  There wasn’t ever really a chance that Anthony Harvey was going to be considered a great director.  Yes, everything was perfect in his first film.  But then, his first film was blessed with a fantastic script and a beyond fantastic cast.  But then it took him three years before he delivered a strange, but enjoyable follow-up (which is probably far more known for the band who took its name rather than the film itself).  It was yet another three years before he developed his thoroughly mediocre third film.  By 1978 he was ten years past his debut and pretty much forgotten.  In the next six years, he would direct four more films, none of them memorable and one of them quite bad.  Then, by age 55, not even 20 years after his debut, his film directing career was over.

Oscar Nomination:  It’s one thing to make a film debut.  It’s another one when you get a fantastic script adapted from a Tony Award winning play.  Yet another when you get handed Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn for the starring roles.  That two of the lesser known actors for the supporting roles would be Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins was a sheer add-on.  So, yes, it’s a fantastic directorial debut and his win at the DGA is an excellent choice (he loses the Nighthawk to Kubrick for 2001).

Peter Cattaneo

  • Born:  1964
  • Rank:  #170
  • Score:  297.75
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Full Monty  (1997)
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  4
  • Best Film:  The Full Monty
  • Worst Film:  The Rocker
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Full Monty
    • **.5Lucky Break, Opal Dream
    • **The Rocker

Career:  This was one of those years where you pretty much knew what the five Best Picture nominees were going to be.  You also knew that one of the directors wouldn’t make the shortlist.  So the expectation was that it would be Cattaneo – after all, he was a first-time director, directing a comedy.  But, somehow, the Academy once again snubbed James L. Brooks and instead handed Cattaneo an honor that he would never come close to again.  Granted, Cattaneo is still a fairly young director and has a lot more chances in the future.  But in the 15 years since Full Monty, he’s made only three films and none of them were good.  The only reason he sits as high as he does is because Full Monty is as good as it is and he hasn’t made enough bad films to drag himself any lower than this spot.

Oscar Nomination:  The Full Monty is a great film – a wonderful comedy with heart and style.  But does that make Cattaneo’s direction one of the five best of the year?  Not even close.  Hell, I have him ranked as the fifth best comedic direction of the year – behind Jackie Brown, Grosse Pointe Blank, As Good as It Gets and Wag the Dog.  This was just a case of the Academy enjoying the film and a bit of overkill.

Ken Russell

  • Born:  1927
  • Died:  2011
  • Rank:  #169
  • Score:  298.56
  • Awards:  NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Women in Love  (1970)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Women in Love  (1970)
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  18
  • Best Film:  Women in Love
  • Worst Film:  Gothic
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Women in Love
    • ***:  The Music Lovers, Billion Dollar Brain
    • **.5Savage Messiah, The Rainbow, The Devils, The Lair of the White Worm, The Boy Friend, Altered States, French Dressing
    • **Tommy, Mahler, Valentino, Crimes of Passion, Fall of the Louse of Usher, Lisztomania, Salome’s Last Dance
    • *.5:  Gothic
    • haven’t seenIf You’re Afraid to Say It Just See It

Career:  “No other British director advanced with such effort from TV to movies, or demonstrated the perilous cultivation of heartless prettiness by TV that on a larger screen looks like an odiously picturesque self-loathing.”  (Thomson, p 765)  Yes, so much of his career does look like self-loathing.  Russell made the Oscar short-list in just his second try.  Then he descended into a mass of excess with each film (after making Women in Love and The Music Lovers back-to-back, Glenda Jackson balked at being in The Devils, saying “Please, Ken, don’t ask me to go crazy and start tearing off my clothes again.” (Inside Oscar, p 456), so instead he cast Vanessa Redgrave).  He never made a good film again.  It’s a shame, because he had chances, with Lair of the White Worm and The Rainbow, but he just couldn’t reign in the excess (which was perfect for Tommy, but Tommy was just a mess because of the star casting and lack of a real story).

Oscar Nomination:  In most years, Women in Love, a very good film, very well directed, wouldn’t be quite good enough to make the top 5, wouldn’t make it into the nominations.  But 1970 isn’t a normal year – it’s a terrible year.  So, Women in Love makes it into the Top 5 for Best Director (though, stunningly, is beaten out for Best Picture by the likes of Love Story and Airport).  But it actually deserves to be in the Best Picture race – it’s my #5 film of the year and my #3 for Best Director.  It’s a smart adaptation and easy the most mature film that Russell ever made – ironically, since it came so early in his career.

Henry Hathaway

  • Born:  1898
  • Died:  1985
  • Rank:  #168
  • Score:  298.86
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Lives of a Bengal Lancer  (1935)
  • Feature Films:  62
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  48
  • Best Film:  Call Northside 777
  • Worst Film:  Behind the Rising Sun
  • Films:
    • ***:  Call Northside 777, The Desert Fox, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 14 Hours, The Sons of Katie Elder, Rawhide, The House on 92nd Street, Kiss of Death, Souls at Sea, A Wing and a Prayer, Shoot Out, The Dark Corner, Peter Ibbetson, Spawn of the North, 13 Rue Madeleine, Sundown, Johnny Apollo, Five Card Stud, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, North to Alaska, Niagara, Now and Forever, Shepherd of the Hills, Man of the Forest, Raid on Rommel, Seven Thieves, Thundering Herd, Garden of Evil, Nob Hill, Ten Gentlemen from West Point, Legend of the Lost, Diplomatic Courier, Nevada Smith
    • **.5The Real Glory, How the West Was Won, Go West Young Man, Heritage of the Desert, Racers, Circus World, Black Rose, You’re in the Navy Now, China Girl, Brigham Young, To the Last Man, 23 Paces to Baker Street
    • **True Grit, Prince Valiant, Last Safari, Behind the Rising Sun
    • haven’t seenWild Horse Mesa, Under the Tonto Rim, Sunset Pass, Come on Marines, Witching Hour, Last Round-Up, I Loved a Soldier, Lest We Forget, Home in Indiana, Down to the Sea in Ships, White Witch Doctor, Bottom of the Bottle, From Hell to Texas, Woman Obsessed, Hangup
  • Sarris Category:  Lightly Likable

Career:  “Henry Hathaway is a director without complexes or neuroses even when his material is saturated with these modern accouterments.”  (Sarris, p 179)  “Durability cannot conceal great oscillations in his work.  And professionalism and the legend of his colorful temper should not excuse frequent dullness.”  (Thomson, p 378)  Both of these comments are quite accurate.  Hathaway directed 63 films, of which I have seen 48.  They include a lot of Westerns, Drama, Adventures.  There is You’re in the Navy Now, but other than that, a large lack of Comedy or Musicals.  It’s stunning that I have seen 48 films of his and not only does he have no great films, but he never even directed a very good film.  Just a lot of solid films (even relatively few bad films and those were mostly in the later days).  It’s sad that one of the films he is best known for – the original True Grit – is terrible.  He’s like a lighter (in talent, not spirit) version of John Ford.

Oscar Nomination:  The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is good entertainment, and one of his best films.  But to consider it one of the best directed films in a year in which Les Miserables, Captain Blood and Top Hat were nominated for Picture but not Director and The 39 Steps wasn’t nominated for anything at all is a bit ridiculous.  Perhaps the Academy recognized their one branch, because they never made another one, even though it was very early in Hathaway’s career.

Anatole Litvak

  • Born:  1902
  • Died:  1974
  • Rank:  #167
  • Score:  303.62
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Snake Pit  (1948)
  • Feature Films:  34
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  21
  • Best Film:  The Snake Pit
  • Worst Film:  Night of the Generals
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Snake Pit, Decision Before Dawn
    • ***:  The Long Night, Anastasia, Mayerling, Sorry Wrong Number, Blues in the Night, An Act of Love, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, City of Conquest, Castle on the Hudson, The Sisters, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, This Above All, Goodbye Again, Deep Blue Sea, Five Miles to Midnight
    • **.5Out of the Fog, The Journey
    • **All This and Heaven Too, Night of the Generals
    • haven’t seenDolly macht Karrier, Nie wieser Liebe, Calais-Douvres, Lilac, Song of the Night, Be Mine Tonight, La chanson d’une nuit, Sleeping Car, Cette vielle canaille, Flight Into Darkness, The Woman I Love, Tovarich, Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun

Career:  Anatole Litvak was born in the Ukraine, learned directing as an assistant in the Soviet Union, then fled to Berlin in 1925.  After directing several features in Weimar Germany, he eventually came to the States, bolstered by the international reputation he established directing Mayerling and because he was Jewish and wanted to escape the Nazis.  He made a career at Warners, including Confessions of a Nazi Spy, one of the first films to openly attack the Nazis.  But it wasn’t until the Studio Era was fading that he directed most of his best films – The Snake Pit, Decision Before Dawn, The Long Night, Anastasia.  Litvak was never a great director, but he was a solid director for a long time.  It’s hard to judge his early work, as so much of it is either gone or extremely hard to find.

Oscar Nomination:  1948 was not a particularly great year for film.  That, combined with the best film of Litvak’s career, brought him his Oscar nomination.  And, all things considered, it’s not a bad choice.  It doesn’t quite make my Top 5 for 1948, but it’s right outside.  And it contains what might be the best performance of Olivia de Havilland’s career – an impressive feat in itself.  The problem with The Snake Pit, as I have said before, is that the subject matter almost automatically makes you compare it to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (and the odds are quite small, I would say, that you have seen The Snake Pit but not OFOTCN).  And while The Snake Pit is a very good film, it is not the classic that OFOTCN is and so it suffers by comparison.  But as an example of a 40’s social drama, it’s one of the best and it is well-directed and is the only nomination for a solid director who spent a long time toiling in Hollywood after fleeing Europe.

Ted Wilde

  • Born:  1889
  • Died:  1929
  • Rank:  #166
  • Score:  304.67
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Speedy  (1928)  (Comedy Director)
  • Feature Films:  6
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  3
  • Best Film:  Kid Brother
  • Worst Film:  Speedy
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Kid Brother
    • ***:  Speedy, Loose Ankles
    • haven’t seen:  Battling Orioles, Babe Comes Home, Clancy in Wall Street

Career:  It’s hard to know what to make of Ted Wilde’s career.  He only directed six films and three of them are now lost.  He died just one day after his 40th birthday, having just started working on sound films.  He was the first Oscar-nominated director to die.  Of his three remaining films, two star Harold Lloyd (Wilde began as a writer for Lloyd).  They’re both enjoyable, with Kid Brother being better (though Speedy, thanks to the Oscar nomination, is more well-known and much easier to find).  It’s nice to think that Wilde would have become a solid director in the sound era, but Lloyd didn’t move well into the Sound Era, and it’s entirely possible that Wilde’s career would have just faded out.

Oscar Nomination:  Given that Wilde was specifically nominated for “Comedy Director”, this isn’t that bad of a choice.  But the odd thing (other than the fact that they nominated him over Buster Keaton for Cameraman) is that they could have made a better choice: Kid Brother.  That film, also directed by Wilde, is a better film and is better directed, flowing well from start to finish.  It even also stars Harold Lloyd.  So, Speedy‘s not a bad choice – it’s a perfectly fine film and there aren’t a whole lot of good options for the category, but Kid Brother would have been better.

Mike Figgis

  • Born:  1948
  • Rank:  #165
  • Score:  306.37
  • Awards:  LAFC, NSFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Leaving Las Vegas  (1995)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Leaving Las Vegas  (1995)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  12
  • Best Film:  Leaving Las Vegas
  • Worst Film:  Hotel
  • Films:
    • ****:  Leaving Las Vegas
    • ***:  The Browning Version, The Loss of Sexual Innocence, Stormy Monday, Miss Julie, Timecode
    • **.5Mr. Jones, Internal Affairs
    • **Liebestraum, One Night Stand, Cold Creek Manor
    • *:  Hotel
    • haven’t seen:  Co/Ma

Career:  “Though Mike Figgis had never made a dull of worthless film before Leaving Las Vegas, still nothing prepared us for the intensity of that work.”  (Thomson, p 288)  There is something to be said for that.  On the other hand, since Leaving Las Vegas, Figgis has produced almost nothing but dull and worthless films.  Even now, nothing prepares us for the intensity of that work.  It seems to be outside of Figgis’ work, standing on its own, on a pedestal of complete depression – still the single most depressing film I have ever seen and one I avoid re-watching.  And to look at in terms of the rest of his career?  Well, I don’t know what to say.  Maybe he found his niche for just that one film.

Oscar Nomination:  I, like the Academy, nominate Leaving Las Vegas for Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actress (and award it Best Actor).  And, like the Academy, I don’t nominate it for Best Picture.  Because it is well-directed.  But it is so bleak, so relentless, that it brings down the film as a whole and keeps it out of my top 5, even in as weak a year as 1995.  So, for once, they got this kind of thing completely right.

Herbert Ross

  • Born:  1927
  • Died:  2001
  • Rank:  #164
  • Score:  307.95
  • Awards:  LAFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Turning Point  (1977)
  • Feature Films:  24
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  20
  • Best Film:  The Sunshine Boys
  • Worst Film:  Undercover Blues
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Sunshine Boys
    • ***.5:  Play It Again Sam, The Goodbye Girl, California Suite
    • ***:  Pennies from Heaven, The Seven Percent Solution, Steel Magnolias, The Turning Point, Goodbye Mr. Chips
    • **.5The Secret of My Success, Nijinsky, Max Dugan Returns, Funny Lady, Boys on the Side, The Owl and the Pussycat
    • **The Last of Shiela
    • *.5:  Footloose, Protocol
    • *:  My Blue Heaven, Undercover Blues
    • haven’t seenT.R. Baskin, I Ought to Be in Pictures, Dancers, True Colors

Career:  “Without dance, Ross has an airy comic touch and a way with theatrical performance that often conceals the shallow, sexless quality of his people.”  (Thomson, p 756)  I wouldn’t agree with Thomson at all.  Here’s to me, the key thing to Ross: his films are consistently better than the direction.  What that says is two things.  The first is that Ross wasn’t a particularly talented director, but actors enjoyed working with him.  Second, that he worked with good scripts – the best of those being Neil Simon and one his chance to direct a Woody Allen script.  When the good scripts ran dry, his films got quite bad.  But in the seventies, he had a run of very enjoyable films, ones that can be constantly returned to.

Oscar Nomination:  This is the Academy, playing their stupid games and following their stupid rules.  In 1977, Herbert Ross somehow rose to the top with two films – the very good Neil Simon comedy The Goodbye Girl and the ridiculously sentimental ballet drama The Turning Point.  Yet, Academy rules prevented Ross from being nominated twice (though, let’s face it, Ross didn’t actually deserve to be nominated for either – neither one of them really shows great direction).  So, the Academy, being the Academy, nominated him for the weepy drama rather than the comedy.  Even though the comedy is better directed and is a better film.  So, The Turning Point gets the nomination (undeserved, like most of its nominations) and goes down for the count, going 0 for 11 at the actual awards.

Delbert Mann

  • Born:  1920
  • Died:  2007
  • Rank:  #163
  • Score:  308.13
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Marty  (1955)
  • Feature Films:  17
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  14
  • Best Film:  Separate Tables
  • Worst Film:  Night Crossing
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Separate Tables, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
    • ***:  Marty, Lover Come Back, The Bachelor Party, Fitzwilly, That Touch of Mink, Dear Heart, Mister Buddwing, Kidnapped
    • **.5Middle of the Night, Desire Under the Elms, A Gathering of Eagles, Night Crossing
    • haven’t seenThe Outsider, Quick Before It Melts, Pink Jungle

Career:  In spite of his Oscar, was there every anyone who considered Delbert Mann a major director?  His best film was Separate Tables, a few years after his Oscar, and he wasn’t even nominated for Best Director.  He was a steady director who made steady films – even his worst films weren’t particularly bad, and his best ones weren’t really good enough to get excited about.  What’s most tragic is that his second best film – The Dark at the Top of the Stairs – is so hard to find.  But the fact is, for a director not from the first Studio Era, he has a large percentage of his films that are rather difficult to get a hold of and that might say it all.

Oscar Nomination:  Marty is very much a product of its times.  It is a good film, but one that really wowed people at the time and looks weaker the more you intensely look at it.  And let’s face it, the strengths of Marty are in the Chayefsky script and in the acting, especially the career-defining performance from Borgnine.  That it was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director was stretching it.  That it actually won the Oscar for Best Director is more a function of the fact that only two of the Best Picture nominees earned Director nominations.  While there is always the talk that a film can’t win Best Picture without a Director nomination, the opposite also holds true – not since x has a Director won without a Picture nom.  That, coupled with the fact that Elia Kazan (nominated for East of Eden) had won the Oscar the year before allowed Mann to slip in for an award he didn’t come close to earning.

J. Lee Thompson

  • Born:  1914
  • Died:  2002
  • Rank:  #162
  • Score:  309.17
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Guns of Navarone  (1961)
  • Feature Films:  45
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  33
  • Best Film:  The Guns of Navarone
  • Worst Film:  10 to Midnight
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Guns of Navarone, Tiger Bay, Northwest Frontier, Ice-Cold in Alex
    • ***:  Cape Fear, Woman in a Dressing Gown, What a Way to Go, The Yellow Balloon, Yield to the Night, Taras Bulba, For Better or Worse, John Goldfarb Please Come Home
    • **.5Mackenna’s Gold, Return from the Ashes, Huckleberry Finn, An Alligator Named Daisy
    • **Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Kings of the Sun, The Chairman, The Passage, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Reincarnation of Peter Proud, The Greek Tycoon
    • *:  King Solomon’s Mines, St. Ives, The Evil That Men Do
    • .5:  Firewalker, Happy Birthday to Me, Messenger of Death, Murphy’s Law, Death Wish 4, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects
    • 0:  10 to Midnight
    • haven’t seen:  Murder Without Crime, Young and Willing, As Long as They’re Happy, The Good Companions, No Trees in the Street, I Aim at the Stars, Eye of the Devil, Before Winter Comes, Brotherly Love, White Buffalo, Cabo Blanco, The Ambassador

Career:  J. Lee Thompson began his career in Britain, making those kind of really good films that are nominated for BAFTAs, star some of the best in the British film industry (John Mills and Anthony Quayle in particular), but are hard to find in the States.  Very good films like Tiger Bay and Northwest Frontier and Ice-Cold in Alex.  Even after he came to the States (and made Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear), he was quite solid – at 351 points.  But then came the long, slow decline as he got mired in making mediocre films (like Planet of the Apes sequels).  But then came the Bronson years and they are a disgrace.  He and Charles Bronson were friends and they made a number of films together in the 70’s and 80’s which are complete and utter trash – worthless films with no artistic merit and complete orgies of violence.  And that’s when he really started to sink.  His average film, once at a 73 (a very high *** film), dropped all the way to his current 45.6 (a mid-level ** film.  He really couldn’t drop any further, with the good work he had done, but it was a sad way to finish out his career.

Oscar Nomination:  There are few films that so perfectly weld the idea of having a good time and quality film-making as The Guns of Navarone.  It is a very good film, from start to finish and it is great entertainment.  Did it deserve an Oscar nomination?  Well, 1961 is a tricky year.  It is my #12 film of the year, but 7 of the films above it are foreign films.  So, on that basis, you can definitely make the case that yes, it does belong here, for the kind of stuff the Academy picks.

Pietro Germi

  • Born:  1914
  • Died:  1974
  • Rank:  #161
  • Score:  311.87
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Divorce Italian Style  (1962)
  • Feature Films:  18
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  9
  • Best Film:  Railroad Man
  • Worst Film:  The Climax
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Railroad Man, Divorce Italian Style
    • ***:  Facts of Murder, Seduced and Abandoned, In the Name of the Law, Path of Hope, The Birds the Bees and the Italians, Alfredo Alfredo
    • **.5The Climax
    • haven’t seenTestimony, Lost Youth, Four Ways Out, Bandit of Tacca del Lupo, Mademoiselle Gobete, Jealousy, Man of Straw, Serafino, Pocketful of Chesnuts

Career:  It’s still hard to know what to really make of Pietro Germi.  He made a couple of really good films, one of which earned him his Oscar nomination.  And he made several other enjoyable comedies in Italy, often getting Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Film.  But so many of his films are still so hard to find that you begin to wonder if those films could be as good, or if we’re just getting the better ones.

Oscar Nomination:  In the sixties, as foreign films began to gain more and more traction, the Academy started nominating foreign directors.  From 1960 to 1968, in seven of the nine years a foreign director was nominated for Best Director, though it wasn’t until 1969 when foreign films actually started getting nominated for Best Picture.  Pietro Germi slipped in during this time.  It was kind of an odd choice in an odd year – where three of the nominated films failed to earn any major nominations other than Picture.  Divorce Italian Style was a charming, witty, very good film.  But it was an odd choice in a year when the un-nominated directorial efforts included The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer), Lolita (Stanley Kubrick) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford).  And that’s not even including foreign films that got other nominations, but were passed over for Germi, like Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais) and Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman).  That it was one of the best films of a man whose films often never made it to the States doesn’t make it a better choice, just an odder one.

M. Night Shyamalan

  • Born:  1970
  • Rank:  #160
  • Score:  312.55
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Sixth Sense  (1999)
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  The Sixth Sense
  • Worst Film:  The Last Airbender
  • Films:
    • **** The Sixth Sense
    • ***.5Unbreakable
    • ***Signs
    • **.5Wide Awake
    • *.5The Village, The Lady in the Water
    • *The Happening
    • .5The Last Airbender

Career:  “Shyamalan could yield to sentiment and horror.  On the other hand he could be a director of unique stature and force” (p 807) Thomson wrote in 2002.  But in the 5th Edition, by which time he had made such crap as The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, he was still noting “In a country desperately eager for some mix of horror and uplift, it’s risky to wright Night off.  He’s only forty!” (p 899)  Yes, he is only 40, but he’s done enough terrible films to fill an older man’s resume.  After a mediocre first effort, he hit pay-dirt with The Sixth Sense.  Then, there were those of us who really liked Unbreakable.  But Shyamalan did two things.  First, he decided that surprises were his thing and he started writing these films with ridiculous endings.  And then he began to blame the derision foisted upon his films on the critics – they were all against him (apparently forgetting how many had liked Sixth Sense).  His films continue to make money, so they’ll probably be much more crap on the way.  But there seems to be no hope.  Putting aside his first film, every film he’s made has been worse than the one before.

Oscar Nomination:  None of this could have been guessed at from watching The Sixth Sense.  It is a fantastic film and he has a sure hand at directing throughout.  In fact, his directing often is – it’s his terrible sense of storytelling and not knowing when to give up on a stupid idea that’s the problem.  The Sixth Sense hits my #8 spot in 1999, which is a pretty good idea, so the Academy did all right.

Peter Glenville

  • Born:  1913
  • Died:  1996
  • Rank:  #159
  • Score:  313.49
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA, Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Becket  (1964)
  • Feature Films:  7
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  7
  • Best Film:  The Comedians
  • Worst Film:  Hotel Paradiso
  • Films:
    • ***.5The Comedians
    • ***Term of Trial, The Prisoner, Me and the Colonel, Becket, Summer and Smoke, Hotel Paradiso

Career:  If I’m one of the few people who would think that Becket is one of Peter Glenville’s weaker films, I might be the only person who thinks The Comedians is his best film.  But he got more out of Richard Burton there than he had in Becket.  And the fact was, he was never a particularly good director – he had enough strong writing coming into his films before they ever began and he didn’t screw things up too badly.

Oscar Nomination:  Becket is a perfect example of Oscar bait.  It is based on a well-regarded play.  It has two bigger-than-life stars – who are both solid.  It has history behind it, it looks good, it’s very talky and smart.  So why don’t I think higher of it?  Well, here’s what I wrote about it before: “It’s not a bad film, just a bit dull and lacking the energy that two such magnificent actors should have brought to it.”  The fact of the matter is that Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are two of the best actors in film history and they would give the two best performances of the sixties, but both of them seem to be lacking in energy in this film and that’s got to be laid at the feet of the director, no matter how much they might have been drinking during filming.

Lee Daniels

  • Born:  1959
  • Rank:  #158
  • Score:  314.00
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BFCA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Precious  (2009)
  • Feature Films:  2
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  2
  • Best Film:  Precious
  • Worst Film:  Shadowboxer
  • Films:
    • ****:  Precious
    • *:  Shadowboxer

Career:  I’ve really no idea what will come of Lee Daniels’ directing career.  After years of being in the movie business, in a variety of roles (including producing Monster’s Ball), Lee Daniels made his first film in 2005.  And it was utter crap.  Absolutely terrible.  But then he followed that up four years later with Precious.  A great film, with solid direction (though if he had directed his cinematographer a bit better it would be easier to watch, though not much, given the subject matter), it was a completely breakthrough and landed Daniels in the Oscar race.  But his next film, The Paperboy, due out in the fall, got savaged at Cannes, and it’s anybody’s guess where his directing career will go from here.

Oscar Nomination:  Precious is a great film and Daniels’ direction is solid.  He doesn’t break into my Top 5 (or even Top 10), but his sure hand with actors is very clear here and it’s a good choice, even if it’s not my choice.

Joshua Logan

  • Born:  1908
  • Died:  1988
  • Rank:  #157
  • Score:  314.80
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 4 DGA, 2 Golden Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picnic  (1955),  Sayonara  (1957)
  • Feature Films:  10
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  Picnic
  • Worst Film:  Ensign Pulver
  • Films:
    • ****:  Picnic
    • ***:  Fanny, Bus Stop, Sayonara, South Pacific
    • **.5I Met My Love Again, The Tall Story, Camelot
    • **Paint Your Wagon, Ensign Pulver
  • Sarris Category:  Miscellany

Career:  “Logan’s main function now consists of transporting Broadway’s tastelessness to the cinema . . . The last hope of cinema is that Mr. Logan finds Broadway more congenial and stays there.”  (Sarris, p 260-261)  That’s what Andrew Sarris had to say about Joshua Logan and it’s actually a good deal more complimentary than what Roger Ebert says.  In a two star review of Picnic (for it’s revival in 1996), Ebert calls him “among the most filmmakers of his time.”  Clearly I wouldn’t go anyway near that far.  He did direct the terrible Paint Your Wagon and the even-worse Ensign Pulver (a horrible sequel to Mr. Roberts).  But Logan was a more than competent director and part of the difference between Ebert and I is that I consider Picnic to be a great film and he clearly looks down upon it.

Oscar Nomination:  The first time Logan was nominated for a great film in a year filled with other films like it – four star films that are bunched down by the lower part of the rating.  A lot of great films, but none that reach up for classic status.  The choice of Logan was neither a brilliant nor a bad choice – but a solid choice in a solid year.  He does a solid job opening up the action of Picnic for the screen.  But the second nomination, for Sayonara, is much less deserved.  It has good acting, but films with Brando in them usually do.  But in the same year as Peyton Place, I’m not gonna scream too much about this nomination.

Jan Troell

  • Born:  1931
  • Rank:  #156
  • Score:  315.30
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Emigrants  (1972)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  The Emigrants
  • Worst Film:  Hurricane
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Emigrants, Everlasting Moments
    • ***:  The New Land, Here’s Your Life, Zandy’s Bride, Flight of the Eagle
    • **.5:  Hamsun
    • **:  Hurricane
    • haven’t seen:  Ole dole doff, Bang, Il Capitano, As White as Snow, Truth and Consequence

Career:  Jan Troell’s career is fairly pedestrian.  His best film is definitely The Emigrants, which he received his nomination for, and it wouldn’t be until Everlasting Moments, over 35 years later, when he would really direct another film even close to as good.  In between he did some work in Hollywood (but not memorable work) and some work in Sweden.  But his entire career doesn’t have much to it – a baker’s dozen films in 40-some years.  Rarely sub-par, but not often worth remembering either.

Oscar Nomination:  Jan Troell, who only directed 13 films, was Oscar-nominated for his third, The Emigrants.  By that time, Ingmar Bergman was already hailed as one of the world’s greatest directors.  Yet, Troell ended up on the Best Director shortlist before Bergman did (he finally got there the next year).  As I wrote, “this film is much more of a fit for the more middle-brow audiences of the Academy than any Bergman film.”  It’s a well-made film, with good acting and lush, gorgeous cinematography.  And it tells a good story.  It’s the best work of Troell’s career and is my #6 film and direction in what is actually, outside of The Godfather, a rather weak year overall for film.  So it’s not a bad choice at all.

George Seaton

  • Born:  1911
  • Died:  1979
  • Rank:  #155
  • Score:  316.23
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Country Girl  (1954)
  • Oscar Note:  won two Oscars for writing Miracle on 34th Street and The Country Girl
  • Feature Films:  20
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  17
  • Best Film:  The Miracle on 34th Street
  • Worst Film:  Airport
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Miracle on 34th Street, The Country Girl
    • ***:  36 Hours, The Big Lift, The Proud and the Profane, Apartment for Peggy, The Pleasure of His Company, The Hook
    • **.5The Counterfeit Traitor, Diamond Horseshoe, Showdown, Little Boy Lost, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, For Heaven’s Sake, Teacher’s Pet, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good
    • **Airport
    • haven’t seen:  Junior Miss, Chicken Every Sunday, Anything Can Happen

Career:  “He is a run-of-the-mill artisan sentimentalist.”  (Thomson, p 794)  Lots of directors received Best Picture nominations for their best film.  Some (Adrian Lyne and Cecil B. DeMille for example) receive Best Picture nominations for their worst films.  But George Seaton might be unique in that both his best and worst films were nominated for Best Picture.  And his best film is great – a wonderful children’s Christmas classic that deservedly is watched by millions every year.  And his worst film is truly awful (I called it “the worst film to ever reach double digits in Oscar nominations.”)  In between (yes, in between – Miracle was his fourth film and Airport his second to last), he made a number of films – none particularly bad, but none really worth remembering either, except for his lone Best Director nomination.

Oscar Nomination:  The Country Girl is one of those films that really has taken a critical drubbing over the years.  First, there is the film itself.  Then there is the fact that Grace Kelly won the Oscar (which I actually agree with, though many argue for Judy Garland instead, which is certainly a good argument).  But Seaton, who won the writing Oscar, didn’t really belong on the short-list that year.  It’s not a bad choice, just not the right choice.

Robert Stevenson

  • Born:  1905
  • Died:  1986
  • Rank:  #154
  • Score:  316.73
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Mary Poppins  (1964)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Mary Poppins  (1964)
  • Feature Films:  41
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  33
  • Best Film:  Mary Poppins
  • Worst Film:  The Shaggy D.A.
  • Films:
    • ****:  Mary Poppins
    • ***:  Joan of Paris, Jane Eyre, Old Yeller, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Kidnapped, The Absent Minded Professor, Woman on Pier 13, Back Street, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Walk Softly Stranger, Non-Stop New York, My Forbidden Past, Nine Days a Queen, In Search of the Castaways, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, The Love Bug, Johnny Tremain, That Darn Cat
    • **.5King Solomon’s Mines, Tom Brown’s School Days, The Island at the Top of the World, Blackbeard’s Ghost, Dishonored Lady, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, A Blonde Dream, The Man Who Lived Again, Son of Flubber, The Monkey’s Uncle, Herbie Rides Again, The Las Vegas Story
    • **The Shaggy D.A.
    • haven’t seen:  Falling for You, Jack of All Trades, To the Victor, The Ware Case, Young Man’s Fancy, Return to Yesterday, Forever and a Day, To the Ends of the Earth

Career:  For a long time Stevenson made films in Britain.  They weren’t great films, but they were usually enjoyable enough and good enough.  But then he came to the States and Disney got hold of him and he entered the second phase of his career.  On the one hand, he made Mary Poppins – one of the very best films of its kind.  On the other hand, nothing else he made for Disney ever even came close to that kind of artistic success, and for the rest of his career, it’s just one okay Disney kids films after another.

Oscar Nomination:  How many directors have earned one Oscar nomination for Best Director?  (105 – not counting those who won).  Out of those, how many earned their one nomination for their best film?  (49 by my count).  Out of those, how many actually deserved a nomination – doing one of the five best directing jobs of the year?  (I count 22 – though three of those, Orson Welles, Alan J. Pakula and Curtis Hanson should have won).  So, 22 times, the Academy really struck gold – handing a director their only nomination for the film that deserved it the most.  But with Robert Stevenson, like with Robert Mulligan and Anthony Harvey, it was the only time he even came close to deserving it, and he did deserve the nomination and he got it.  So, the Academy got this one perfectly right in a way they rarely do.  Mary Poppins is a great film, easily one of the best of 1964, and Stevenson does a magnificent job directing it – better even than the Oscar winner George Cukor.

Robert Siodmak

  • Born:  1900
  • Died:  1973
  • Rank:  #153
  • Score:  318.45
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Killers  (1946)
  • Feature Films:  53
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  23
  • Best Film:  The Spiral Staircase
  • Worst Film:  The Last Roman
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Spiral Staircase, The Killers
    • ***:  The Crimson Pirate, The Dark Mirror, Criss Cross, The Phantom Lady, Der Mann der seinen Morder sucht, Devil Came at Night, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The File on Thelma Jordan, Burning Secret, La crise est finie, Escape from East Berlin, Great Sinner, Christmas Holiday, Quick
    • **.5Cry of the City, Pyramid of the Sun God, Custer of the West, Son of Dracula, Dorothea Angermann, Cobra Woman
    • **The Last Roman
    • haven’t seen:  Abschied, Autour d’une enquete, Voruntersuchung, Sturme der Leidenschaft, Tumultes, The Weaker Sex, Parisian Life, Symphone D’Amour, Mr. Flow, Woman Racket, Hatred, Personal Column, West Point Widow, Fly-By-Night, Night Before the Divorce, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, Someone to Remember, Suspect, Time Out of Mind, Deported, Whistle at Eaton Falls, Flesh and the Woman, Die Ratten, Mein Vater der Schauspieler, Portrait of a Sinner, Adorable Sinner, My School Chum, Nina B. Affair, Yellow Devil, Mercenaries of the Rio Grande, The Last Roman Part II
  • Sarris Category:  Expressive Esoterica

Career:  “Robert Siodmak’s Hollywood films were more German than his German ones, and that is as it should be.  Why should Germans want to look at Germanic films?  Only Americans are suitably impressed by this apparent triumph of form over content.”  (Sarris, p 138)  “Like many Germans, Siodmak thrived in America, quickly learning to blend the melodrama of German cinema, its visual expressionism, and the technical facilities of the big studios.  He was never more than an assignment director, but he never lost a mordant sense of humor, narrative economy, a relish for actors and actresses, a special care for interiors, and a readiness to extract the best from the system.”  (Thomson, p 814)  On one hand, it’s difficult to get a full handle on Siodmak’s career.  I’ve seen a lower percentage of his films than all but two of the directors on the list.  But I have seen 23 of them, which is far more than many directors have done in their entire careers.  Except for the brief shining light of 1946, when he had both The Spiral Staircase and The Killers (neither made that year, but both Oscar-eligible that year), there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to scream about.  A lot of good films, not many sub-par films.  A solid studio director who is mostly ignored because so much of his career was in Europe and because he had relatively few Oscar-nominated films.

Oscar Nomination:  On the one hand, The Killers is well-directed.  It doesn’t make my Top 5 for the year, but it is my #11 of the year.  On the other hand, one of the two films nominated for Picture, but not Director, was Olivier’s Henry V, and there’s no way The Killers has the better direction.  So, it’s not a bad choice, but to me, it’s not the right choice.  The bigger irony is that The Spiral Staircase, which I think is the best directing of Siodmak’s career, was in the same year, and would have made a better choice (though it still falls short of Henry V).

Paul Haggis

  • Born:  1953
  • Rank:  #152
  • Score:  319.75
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Crash  (2005)
  • Oscar Note:  won Oscar for writing Crash
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  4
  • Best Film:  In the Valley of Elah
  • Worst Film:  The Next Three Days
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  In the Valley of Elah, Crash
    • **.5Red Hot
    • **The Next Three Days

Career:  “Haggis was reckoned in some quarters to be the breakthrough writer of the age largely because parts of Hollywood and Los Angeles mistook the crippling cute overlap-itis in Crash as ‘philosophy’ and morality.”  (Thomson, 5th Ed, p 412)  Haggis hasn’t really been able to do much beyond Crash.  Part of it is that so many people believe that Crash was a terrible choice for Best Picture.  Part of it is him trying to extricate his life from Scientology and his fight against it.  The problem is that Haggis isn’t really a director – he’s a writer who occasionally decides to direct his scripts.  And the bummer is that the publicity over Crash‘s win overshadowed what was a stronger, more subtle and touching film: In the Valley of Elah.  But he followed that up with a stupid remake.  So we’ll just have to see if he ends as more of a trivial director or a serious one.

Oscar Nomination:  Crash is a film that inspires strong support and sharp hatred.  I don’t feel it is a bad film, but I don’t feel it is anywhere close to Best Picture material either.  But my issues with the film, surprisingly, aren’t that strong on the direction.  To me, the direction is fairly strong (though neither the best of his career, nor anywhere near deserving a nomination).  My issues are actually with the script, which did win an Oscar.

Mark Robson

  • Born:  1913
  • Died:  1978
  • Rank:  #151
  • Score:  320.43
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 4 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Peyton Place  (1957),  The Inn of the Sixth Happiness  (1958)
  • Feature Films:  33
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  27
  • Best Film:  Champion
  • Worst Film:  Avalanche Express
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Champion
    • ***:  Trial, The Harder They Fall, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, My Foolish Heart, Bright Victory, Phffft, Von Ryan’s Express, Bedlam, I Want You, Nine Hours to Rama, Seventh Victim, Isle of the Dead, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Prize, Home of the Brave
    • **.5A Prize of Gold, Edge of Doom, Hell Below Zero, From the Terrace, Limbo
    • **Peyton Place, Earthquake, The Ghost Shop, Happy Birthday Wanda June, Valley of the Dolls
    • *:  Avalanche Express
    • haven’t seen:  Youth Runs Wild, Roughshod, Return to Paradise, Little Hut, Lost Command, Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting

Career:  “Robson is perhaps the most superficial talent to emerge from the Orson Welles circle.”  (Thomson, p 748)  Thomson is not far wrong on that count.  Mark Robson had a pretty good size career and so many films of his are so instantly forgettable.  Well, except for Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls, which aren’t forgettable at all because they’re so damn bad.  Yes, he did some good work.  And there’s no question that he had a great rapport with Arthur Kennedy – four of Kennedy’s five Oscar nominations came in films directed by Robson – but is that because Robson did a good job directing him or because Arthur Kennedy is one of the great character actors of all-time?  I’m inclined towards the latter, though clearly they liked working together.

Oscar Nomination:  Here’s what I wrote about Peyton Place:  “It knows next to nothing about teenagers, very little about sex and not much more about anything else.  I hadn’t liked it much the first time I saw it, but I was stunned on re-watching it at how bad it truly is.”  That pretty much sums it up right there.  It is a terrible film, saved by some good acting (though not nearly as good as the Academy would have you think).  And the nomination for Robson was only exceeded in its ridiculousness by the nomination for its truly wretched script.  And the next year?  It was the first time in 28 years that a film received only 1 nomination and it was for Best Director.  And they decided to start with Robson for a slow-moving, somewhat boring film?

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