Kathryn Bigelow was the first female director to win the Oscar, though she is not the highest ranked female director on the list. We’ll see what happens after Zero Dark Thirty.

Now here be the fourth group of those directors designated as “Academy Award nominees,” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  These are the ones who rank between #150 and #126.  And again, the points system is all explained here.

We’re starting to pick up a group of directors that I would classify as “Studio Era Directors Who Were Over-rated by the Academy”.  We have your Clarence Brown (6 Oscar noms), your Gregory La Cava (2 Oscar noms), your Henry King (2 Oscar noms) and your Sam Wood (3 Oscar noms).  Those four directors combine for 13 Oscar nominations but they combine for only one Nighthawk nomination.

We also might have on this list the first example of “a director who is so low that people will claim this discredits my entire list because this particular director is revered by a certain portion of serious films fans.”  No, it’s not Godard (thank god), because he was never nominated for an Oscar.  But I’ll let you figure out who this one is (let the hyperbolic griping begin!).

Another reminder, like before.  The Sarris quotes (and categories) 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.

And again we have an example of the flexibility of these lists.  When I originally started this post, John Madden was at #143.  But, as I was about to publish it, I realized that I had The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from Netflix and hadn’t watched it yet.  And because Madden has 1 – not directed a lot of films, 2 – had several films that were complete duds, and 3 – made a very good film, he jumps up 9 spots with just one film.  That does indeed happen.  And for the picture on the right, I went with Kathryn Bigelow.  If I take out The Hurt Locker, she (well she wouldn’t make the list because she wouldn’t be an Oscar nominee) would rank down at #207.  But that one film, partially because it is great, partially because she won the Oscar, partially because she had only made 7 films before it, raised her 108 points to #135.  But here I am ranking her when Zero Dark Thirty is about to come out.  What could that do?  If Zero Dark Thirty is on a par with The Hurt Locker (but without the Oscar win), it could in theory raise her another 87 points and she would come in at #97.  But I can’t really wait until I get a chance to see it before I do this more detailed post.  But, that’s what the end list is for, to add in all of these changes when all is said and done.  And of course, as people continue to make films, they continue to fluctuate.  And I can keep writing these posts until I die.

One last little trivia question, prompted by a rhetorical question that I ask down below.  What do the following films have in common: Lost Horizon, The Wizard of Oz, The Little Foxes, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Double Indemnity, Henry V, Father of the Bride, The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, The Conversation, Tootsie, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Mystic River and The Aviator have in common?  And what do Mrs. Miniver and The Bridge in the River Kwai have in common along the same theme?  Answer at the end.

  • #150  –  Jack Clayton
  • #149  –  Edward Dmytryk
  • #148  –  Claude Lelouch
  • #147  –  Chris Noonan
  • #146  –  Clarence Brown
  • #145  –  Lasse Hallstrom
  • #144  –  Franklin J. Schaffner
  • #143  –  Gregory La Cava
  • #142  –  John Cassavetes
  • #141  –  Bruce Beresford
  • #140  –  Tony Richardson
  • #139  –  W.S. Van Dyke
  • #138  –  Martin Ritt
  • #137  –  Gillo Pontecorvo
  • #136  –  Michael Radford
  • #135  –  Kathryn Bigelow
  • #134  –  John Madden
  • #133  –  Robert Mulligan
  • #132  –  Robert Benton
  • #131  –  Jane Campion
  • #130  –  Wolfgang Petersen
  • #129  –  Henry King
  • #128  –  Sam Wood
  • #127  –  Frank Borzage
  • #126  –  Tim Robbins

Jack Clayton

  • Born:  1921
  • Died:  1995
  • Rank:  #150
  • Score:  324.43
  • Awards:  NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Room at the Top  (1959)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  7
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  7
  • Best Film:  The Pumpkin Eater
  • Worst Film:  Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Films: 
    • ***.5:  The Pumpkin Eater, Room at the Top
    • ***:  The Innocents, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
    • **.5:  Our Mother’s House, The Great Gatsby
    • **:  Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “The only Clayton constant is impersonality, but such studied impersonality seems out of date.” (Sarris, p 191)  “Despite a lauded debut, curiously identified in some quarters as a revived British cinema, Clayton had difficulty sustaining projects.”  (Thomson, p 162)  Yet, in spite of Thomson’s statement, the presence of Room at the Top was important to British cinema – it helped to launch the angry young man series of films into international circles and helped to bring attention to the careers of such directors as Tony Richardson, John Schlesinger and Linsday Anderson.  And it was a very good film.  That his career, after the very solid success of that and The Pumpkin Eater should slide into the strained seriousness is sad but true.  That there should be solid performances from Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne does not excuse that he spent seven years before he finally got a badly cast and badly made Gatsby into theaters and then passed the rest of his career with one bad film and one solid one to round out his career.

Oscar Nomination:  Room at the Top benefits more from the magnificent Oscar-winning performance from Simone Signoret and the star-making performance of Laurence Harvey than it is the direction.  Clayton is the biggest drawback of the film and he made it into the Oscar race more on the strengths of the film than of his actual direction (as evidenced by his lack of other nominations).

Edward Dmytryk

  • Born:  1908
  • Died:  1999
  • Rank:  #149
  • Score:  325.77
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Crossfire  (1947)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Crossfire  (1947)
  • Feature Films:  52
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  37
  • Best Film:  Crossfire
  • Worst Film:  Bluebeard
  • Films:
    • ****:  Crossfire
    • ***.5:  The Caine Mutiny
    • ***:  Raintree Country, Christ in Concrete, Broken Lance, The Young Lions, Till the End of Time, The Carpetbaggers, Warlock, The Hidden Room, So Well Remembered, The Sniper, Alvarez Kelly, The End of the Affair, Back to Bataan, Cornered, The Mountain, Mutiny, Mirage, Shalako
    • **.5:  The Juggler, The Devil Commands, Walk on the Wild Side, Where Love Has Gone, Soldier of Fortune, The Left Hand of God, Murder My Sweet, Counter-Espionage, Captive Wild Woman, Tender Comrade, Hitler’s Children
    • **:  The Reluctant Saint, Anzio, Behind the Rising Sun, Seven Miles to Alcatraz
    • *:  The Human Factor, Bluebeard
    • haven’t seen:  Television Spy, Emergency Squad, Golden Gloves, Mystery Sea Raider, Her First Romance, Under Age, Sweetheart of the Campus, Blonde from Singapore, Secrets of the Lone Wolf, Confessions of Boston Blackie, Falcon Strikes Back, Eight Iron Men, Three Lives, Blue Angel, He is My Brother

Career:  “(The Caine Mutiny) proved him as a director of expensive, dramatic material.  Sadly, it also showed his characteristic waste of meaty stories and dramatic actors.”  (Thomson, p 241)  Billy Wilder, speaking of the Hollywood 10, once said “Of then ten, two had talent and the rest were just unfriendly.”  I’m not necessarily inclined to say that Dmytryk was one of the two.  Dmytryk, of course, was one of the Hollywood 10 and went to prison for contempt.  But he was one of the first to move away from the others, naming names in 1951 and returning to work.  In fact, by 1954, when many blacklisted writers and directors were still struggling to support themselves, he was directing The Caine Mutiny, which would be nominated for Best Picture.  He then became a steady director and many of his best films actually came after he was blacklisted rather than a lot of the B-level studio films he had directed before.  But either way, his career was filled with a whole lot of dead weight, more than balancing out his best two films, the two he’ll be remembered for (though he is more likely to be remembered as one of the Hollywood 10 than for anything else).

Oscar Nomination:  Crossfire was Dmytryk’s masterpiece – by far his best film in a long career filled with a lot of crap.  It is smart, and suspenseful, it never wavers, it is filled with strong acting and in a weak year like 1947, deserving of both its Best Picture and Best Director nominations.

Claude Lelouch

  • Born:  1937
  • Rank:  #148
  • Score:  328.55
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Man and a Woman  (1966)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  37
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  25
  • Best Film:  Les Miserables
  • Worst Film:  Cat and Mouse
  • Films:
    • ****:  Les Miserables
    • ***.5:  And Now My Love, A Man and a Woman
    • ***:  Live for Life, Happy New Year, The Crook, And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, Roman de Gare, L’aventure c’est l’aventure, Une fille et des fusils, La belle histoire, Une pour toutes
    • **.5:  Robert et Robert, Le courage d’aimer, Ces amours-la, The Good and the Bad, Le genre humain, Si c’etait a refaire, Love is a Funny Thing, Smiac Smac Smoc, Bolero, In the Affirmative
    • **:  Another Man Another Chance, Cat and Mouse
    • haven’t seen:  Life Love Death, Marriage, Us Two, Edith and Marcel, Long Live Life, Partir revenir, Attention Bandits, There Were Days and Moons, Tout ca pour ca, Hommes femmes moe d’emploi, Hasards and Coincidences

Career:  “His work is as clammy, strident and wearying as color Sunday supplements and, like them, it manages to be profitable by smothering the prickly realities of people and by insinuating the style of advertising into fiction.” (Thomson, p 513)  I always wonder what goes through the minds of the Academy.  In 1966, they were swept away with the charm and wit of A Man and a Woman and gave it a Director nomination and the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Film.  But 30 years later, when Claude Lelouch returned with a film that was a good step up, his visionary reimagining of Les Miserables, it was completely ignored.  In the years in between (and the years since), he made a number of films, some more charming than others.  And some are much harder to find than others.  Perhaps it says something that so few of his films are available on Netflix, that he has never quite managed a solid international reputation and many of his films have kind of drifted away because they weren’t really worth people searching out and finding.

Oscar Nomination:  The Academy has a long history of nominating foreign films for Best Director and Screenplay (usually original, but not always) without a Best Picture nomination to go with it.  This tendency was strongest in the 60’s, when it happened six times.  So, in a year when only two films were nominated for Picture and Director, A Man and a Woman was one of the films that slid in to the major nominations.  It’s a very good film, and well-remembered, but not really strong enough to compare with the best films of the year (though in a weak year like 1966, not that bad of a choice either and its win for Original Screenplay isn’t a bad choice in one of the weakest years for original scripts).

Chris Noonan

  • Born:  1952
  • Rank:  #147
  • Score:  331.00
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Babe  (1995)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  2
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  2
  • Best Film:  Babe
  • Worst Film:  Miss Potter
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Babe
    • ***:  Miss Potter

Career:  There are a few directors in this post who have had very small directorial outputs.  But this is the worst.  Chris Noonan was a television director and writer who finally made a theatrical feature, Babe, and managed to earn a Best Director nomination when the film became a huge popular hit.  But then he moved away from films again, only coming back a decade later to make a biopic about Beatrix Potter.  Babe was a very good film.  Miss Potter was an okay film.  So, though he is supposedly at work on a third film, this is all we have, and this is where he ends up.

Oscar Nomination:  It is an interesting note to the 1995 Best Director race that the two non-nominated directors of Best Picture films, Ron Howard and Ang Lee, would both go on to win Oscars for Best Director and are ranked higher (Howard – #121) and way way way higher (Lee – #16) than any of the nominated directors from that year, three of whom are in this post.  This was the debut film for Chris Noonan and it was well-loved, but it was the least likely of the Picture contenders to carry its director into the Oscar race, especially as he had no pre-cursors.  Instead, it was Howard and Lee who were out and somehow Noonan was in for his pleasant (but not great) kids film.

Clarence Brown

  • Born:  1890
  • Died:  1987
  • Rank:  #146
  • Score:  331.22
  • Nominations:  6 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  Romance  (1929-30), Anna Christie  (1929-30), A Free Soul  (1930-31), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1945), The Yearling (1946)
  • Feature Films:  41
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  31
  • Best Film:  Of Human Hearts
  • Worst Film:  A Free Soul
  • Films:
    • ***:  Of Human Hearts, Anna Christie, The Human Comedy, National Velvet, Flesh and the Devil, Conquest, Intruder in the Dust, The Eagle, Edison the Man, Angels in the Outfield, Anna Karenina, The Gorgeous Hussy, Last of the Mohicans, Romance, The Yearling, Kiki, Trail of 98, Idiot’s Delight, Emma, A Woman of Affairs
    • **.5:  Night Flight, Come Live with Me, It’s a Big Country, Wife vs. Secretary, The White Cliffs of Dover, Plymouth Adventure, Sadie McKee, The Rains Came, To Please a Lady, Song of Love
    • **:  A Free Soul
    • haven’t seen:  Wonder of Women, Navy Blues, Inspiration, Letty Lynton, The Son-Daughter, Looking Forward, Chained, Ah Wilderness, They Met in Bombay, The Schumann Story, When in Rome
  • Sarris Category:  Subjects for Further Research

Career:  “His main claim to fame is that he was Garbo’s favorite and most frequent director.”  (Sarris, p 228)  “But these are not Garbo’s best films – just as the Crawford movies (he directed) are more reserved than those she made with, say, Michael Curtiz or Robert Aldrich.”  (Thomson, p 115)  Clarence Brown has the highest overall point total for a director to earn no directing points from me.  So, given my complicated point system, what does that mean?  It means that I don’t think any of his directing in the 31 films I have seen was worth mentioning in any years.  Even his best films don’t actually show much of a directing touch to them.  It boggles my mind that the Academy nominated him six times.  What’s even stranger is that four of those times his film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.  Which means that the Academy thought the directing was the best thing of these films, when in fact, it is often the weakest thing about these films.  It might also say something that all of those films also earned acting nominations (8 total, with 2 wins), almost all of them undeserved in my opinion (I only agree with the nominations for Anna Christie and A Free Soul, and the latter are helped by an extremely weak year).  So, clearly the Academy seemed to divine a link between the acting and the directing in those films, whereas I think that both aren’t nearly as good as the Academy would like to think.  Outside of the Oscar films, he also directed a number of major literary adaptations – Intruder in the Dust, Anna Karenina, Last of the Mohicans – none of them terrible, but none of them great either.

Oscar Nomination:  The mediocrity of Brown shows through in his nominations.  He was nominated twice in the 1930, then again the next year.  Then, in the 40’s, he picked up three more nominations.  Of the six, only Anna Christie was even close to deserving of any directorial acclaim.  Romance is a fairly standard film, Anna Christie mainly shines through in Garbo’s performance, A Free Soul is quite simply terrible, The Human Comedy is over-the-top in its sentimentality, National Velvet is a kids film that has a higher reputation than it deserves and The Yearling is a fairly standard kids film that occasionally gets a Best Picture nomination, but doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the Director race.  To show how much the Academy screwed it up, while Brown was earning nominations, here are three films that earned Best Picture nominations, but not Director in those races: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944) and Henry V (1946).

Lasse Hallstrom

  • Born:  1946
  • Rank:  #145
  • Score:  332.50
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  My Life as a Dog  (1987), The Cider House Rules  (1999)
  • Feature Films:  21
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  14
  • Best Film:  My Life as a Dog
  • Worst Film:  Dear John
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules
    • ***:  Children of the Noisy Village, Chocolat, The Shipping News, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Casanova, Something to Talk About, The Hoax, An Unfinished Life, Once Around, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
    • **.5:  ABBA: The Movie
    • *.5:  Dear John
    • haven’t seen:  A Guy and a Girl, Jag ar med barn, Tuppen, Tva killar och en tjej, More About the Children of the Noisy Village, The Hypnotist

Career:  Which part of Lasse Hallstrom’s career seems stranger?  That he would make these small charming films in Sweden until one of them finally got noticed on the international level and two years later somehow ended up with an Oscar nomination for Best Director or that he would eventually come to Hollywood and actually succeed enough with classy adaptations that he would eventually be able to make it back into the Oscar race, buoyed by the very strong marketing support of Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax machine?  Hallstrom’s films in America actually bear a resemblance to his Swedish films in their subtle humor and the fact that they often aren’t as serious as they might seem.  But, unfortunately, sometimes he does seem to forget that and he makes a piece of complete crap like Dear John, or he lacks a directorial vision and the humor and quasi-seriousness end up at cross purposes like in Salmon Fishing.  Hallstrom, it could be argued, should rank higher, because he rarely ever makes a film not worth watching.  Since coming to America the only film that is really a failure is the truly wretched Dear John.  On the other hand, while so many of his films are very charming, he has never actually made a great film and that seems to be what is really holding him back.

Oscar Nomination:  Hallstrom was barely known in this country before his first nomination.  My Life as a Dog slipped into the Oscar race as a film that everyone loved (two years after it was made), but without enough support to make it into the Best Picture race; it did what so many well-admired foreign films does, and earned Director and Screenplay nominations without Picture.  But his second nomination was a benefit of the way the race was headed going into the nominations.  The Cider House Rules was getting the big Miramax push at Harvey Weinstein’s height of Oscar power (having just won two out of three Best Pictures).  So even though he had been skipped by almost all the pre-cursors, as the big alternative to American Beauty (which would eventually win in the Dreamworks vs. Miramax rematch), Hallstrom slipped in with the film and the script (which did win the Oscar).

Franklin J. Schaffner

  • Born:  1920
  • Died:  1989
  • Rank:  #144
  • Score:  334.02
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Patton  (1970)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Patton  (1970)
  • Feature Films:  14
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  Patton
  • Worst Film:  The Sphinx
  • Films:
    • ****:  Patton, The Best Man
    • ***:  Planet of the Apes, Papillon, Yes Giorgio
    • **.5:  The Boys from Brazil, Welcome Home, The War Lord, Islands in the Stream
    • **:  The Double Man, Nicholas and Alexandra, Lionheart
    • *:  The Sphinx
    • haven’t seen:  Good Years
  • Sarris Category:  Lightly Likable

Career:  Two great films (one vastly under-rated), three good films (two of them often remembered as being a bit better than they actually are), four mediocre films (two of which have at least pretty solid acting), three bad films (one of which was inexplicably nominated for Best Picture) and one very bad film.  That all makes for a pretty well-balanced career.  Schaffner didn’t even seem to have much of an identity for his films.  Indeed, given that he directed such prominent films as Planet of the Apes, Patton and The Boys from Brazil without being to make them in any way identifiable as the work of the same director makes Schaffner almost like a product of the old Studio system (and indeed, since these were all 20th Century Fox films, that’s pretty much what he was).  He was a director for hire and sometimes he made good films and sometimes he didn’t.  And after Patton, as Thomson points out “thereafter, Schaffner was booked in for big pictures – long, slow and allegedly ‘major’.” (p 778)

Oscar Nomination:  Patton is a very big epic film, anchored by an incredible performance by George C. Scott.  And it is a great film, though a bit too long.  But watching it again, it seems like it’s Scaffner’s direction that kind of holds it back.  Yes, it has an epic scale, but he wants to make too much of the epic scale and not enough of the fascinating man himself.  He won in a weak year and because it was a big enough step that the Academy nominated Robert Altman – they sure weren’t giving him an Oscar for M*A*S*H.

Gregory La Cava

  • Born:  1892
  • Died:  1952
  • Rank:  #143
  • Score:  335.22
  • Awards:  NYFC
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  My Man Godfrey  (1936), Stage Door  (1937)
  • Feature Films:  25
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  17
  • Best Film:  My Man Godfrey
  • Worst Film:  Laugh and Get Rich
  • Films:
    • ****:  My Man Godfrey
    • ***.5:  Stage Door
    • ***:  Running Wild, Living in a Big Way, Primrose Path, Private Worlds, She Married Her Boss
    • **.5:  What Every Woman Knows, Gabriel Over the White House, Half-Naked Truth, 5th Avenue Girl, Bed of Roses, Affairs of Cellini
    • **:  Symphony of Six Million, Big News, Age of Consent, Laugh and Get Rich
    • haven’t seen:  Half a Bride, Feel My Pulse, Saturday’s Children, His First Command, Smart Woman, Gallant Lady, Unfinished Business, Lady in a Jam
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “He is remembered now for a few interludes of antic desperation in the midst of the Depression.”  (Sarris, p 95)  It’s good that the Academy nominated for Gregory La Cava, because it means that Academy enthusiasts will watch those two films.  Only a complete freak like me is going to comb through the rest of his work and watch all those other films that have been mostly forgotten.  Because let’s make this clear – most of the work of Gregory La Cava deserves to be forgotten.  The two films for which he was Oscar nominated are easily the best of his career.  He did a few other films which weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t memorable either.  And then the rest of his work is just a long, slow slog through mediocrity.  Most of it is very hard to even find nowadays and the reason I was able to watch so much of it is because in the midst of this project, TCM decided to do an entire day of La Cava films.

Oscar Nomination:  My Man Godfrey is probably the single oddest instance in Academy history.  It was the first film ever nominated in all four acting categories and is the only film nominated in all four to not earn a Best Picture nomination.  That it also earned Director and Screenplay nominations makes it even stranger.  Indeed, it is one of only five films to be nominated for Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress and not get a Picture nomination.  On my list, there’s a slight variation.  It earns a Picture nomination but misses out on Best Director, with La Cava coming in sixth.  This is because Fury, which has better direction but isn’t as good of a film slides in above it.  But it’s a good choice for Best Director.  Stage Door, in a weaker year, manages my 8th spot.  It’s not quite up to the level of My Man Godfrey.  But I rank it third among the nominees, so it’s not too bad of a choice.

John Cassavetes

  • Born:  1929
  • Died:  1989
  • Rank:  #142
  • Score:  343.97
  • Nominations:  Oscar, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Woman Under the Influence  (1974)
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  Faces
  • Worst Film:  A Child is Waiting
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Faces
    • ***:  Shadows, A Woman Under the Influence, Minnie and Moskowitz, Opening Night, Gloria, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Love Streams
    • **.5:  A Child is Waiting
    • **:    Big Trouble
    • haven’t seen:  Too Late Blues
  • Sarris Category:  Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers

Career:  “His direction, like his acting, hovers between offbeat improvisation and blatant contrivance.”  (Sarris, p 209)  “He was seldom a graceful filmmaker; whereas, Welles was maybe cursed with the knack of making everything seem oiled and easy – except writing.  There’s the rub with many American independents.  The Cassavetes films are far more thoroughly written than was once believed; and they are badly written.”  (Thomson, p 145)  This one is gonna cost me with the serious film lovers; I may have Thomson on my side but he’s not really a person I want on my side.  I don’t have the objections to Cassavetes that I do to Godard, but in both cases, my view that they are vastly over-rated runs contrary with a more established consensus among serious film lovers.  But, while I think Cassavetes made some interesting films and only two of them are flawed enough to drop below three stars, I just don’t see the greatness that others do.  Yes, he was an individualist and he worked outside the system, making independent films long before the independent film industry rose among the ranks, and that’s a very good thing.  It’s just that, I don’t think any of them are great films, and with the exception of Faces, I don’t think any of them even rise above three stars.  Even A Woman Under the Influence, I think is best watched for the two lead performances, but it’s actually just marital melodrama – granted marital melodrama viewed through the lens of an independent filmmaker rather than a Hollywood studio – but marital melodrama just the same.

Oscar Nomination:  Cassavetes seemed to luck out because Francis Ford Coppola had two films nominated for Best Picture (The Godfather Part II and The Conversation) and Academy rules prevented him from being nominated for Best Director twice.  A Woman Under the Influence is a good film, but the direction is hardly what I would spotlight and it seems surprising that it made the final five rather than Sidney Lumet who had earned a DGA nomination for Murder on the Orient Express.

Bruce Beresford

  • Born:  1940
  • Rank:  #141
  • Score:  344.75
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Tender Mercies  (1983)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Breaker Morant  (1980)
  • Feature Films:  28
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  22
  • Best Film:  Breaker Morant
  • Worst Film:  Her Alibi
  • Films:
    • ****:  Breaker Morant
    • ***:  The Fringe Dwellers, Black Robe, Crimes of the Heart, Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy, Don’t Party, Mister Johnson, The Adventures of Barry MacKenzie
    • **.5:  Paradise Road, Evelyn, Barry MacKenzie Holds His Own, Bride of the Wind, Getting of Wisdom, Rich in Love, Mao’s Last Dancer
    • **:  Puberty Blues, King David, Double Jeopardy, Last Dance
    • *.5:  The Contract
    • *:  Her Alibi
    • haven’t seen:  Side by Side, Money Movers, Club, A Good Man in Africa, Silent Flal, Peace Love and Misunderstanding

Career:  Bruce Beresford actually won Best Picture for Driving Miss Daisy – an absolutely ridiculous choice in one of the best years in film history.  But what he should really be grateful for is that he directed Breaker Morant.  Taking out Breaker Morant costs him over 50 points and he lands somewhere in the 180’s rather than here at #141.  And it seems more appropriate for it to be his best film.  After all, before coming over to America to direct a bunch of mediocre (and bad – is there any director who followed up a worse film than Her Alibi by winning Best Picture?) films, Beresford was very distinctly Australian.  Not just that he was from Australia and working in the Australia film industry, but that his films reflected Australia and its history.  So Breaker Morant is the perfect culmination of that kind of work and it’s really what he should be remembered for rather than the undeserved Best Picture nominations for Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy.

Oscar Nomination:  Bruce Beresford received an Oscar nomination for Tender Mercies in a year when Philip Kaufman’s direction of The Right Stuff didn’t make the final five.  But then five years later he won Best Picture for Driving Miss Daisy and didn’t even earn a nomination at all.  That his earlier film, Breaker Morant, didn’t get anything other than a Screenplay nomination just shows that the Academy is foolish when it comes to Beresford.

Tony Richardson

  • Born:  1928
  • Died:  1991
  • Rank:  #140
  • Score:  347.78
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, NYFC, NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Tom Jones  (1963)
  • Feature Films:  20
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  17
  • Best Film:  Tom Jones
  • Worst Film:  The Hotel New Hampshire
  • Films:
    • ****:  Tom Jones
    • ***.5:  Charge of the Light Brigade
    • ***:  A Taste of Honey, Look Back in Anger, Hamlet, The Entertainer, A Delicate Balance, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The Loved One, Mademoiselle
    • **.5:  Sanctuary, The Border, Ned Kelly, Joseph Andrews
    • **:  Blue Sky, Dead Cert, The Hotel New Hampshire
    • haven’t seen:  The Sailor from Gibraltor, Red and Blue, Laughter in the Dark
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Tony Richardson has become the most prolific and the most prosperous of the Sight and Sound crop of directors, and ultimately the least respected.”  (Sarris, p 199)  “The last years do no persuade me to moderate my opinion – that he was a wretched film director.” (Thomson, p 736)  Tony Richardson had his comfort zone and he worked well within it.  With John Schlesinger and Lindsay Anderson, he emerged among the “angry young man” films in Britain in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  And Richardson, the first to catch fire (his Look Back in Anger seemed to birth the movement on film and he won the Oscar for Tom Jones when many of the directors were still mostly unknown) did a lot of strong work in the sixties, mostly dealing with various aspects of British society – whether class differences, anger or even classic British works.  But then look at the lesser works in his oeuvre – attempting to take on the American South (Sanctuary), an American sex farce (Hotel New Hampshire), or god forbid, trying to direct Mick Jagger (Ned Kelly), he was unsuccessful.  And his final film, Blue Sky, which would win Jessica Lange an undeserved Oscar, was long-delayed and only played in theaters three years after Richardson had died.  His work after the sixties gained him nothing in my chart and cost him 30 points and 16 places on the list.

Oscar Nomination:  Now, Tom Jones does not make my top 5 of the year for Best Director.  However, it does come in at #7, and five of the films above it are foreign films getting their U.S. release.  So I have it as the second best English-language direction of the year behind The Great Escape.  So, I’m not too bothered that it won the Oscar and it was clearly the best of a weak field (though the Best Director field, with Fellini and Ritt in place of How the West Was Won and Cleopatra was miles above the Best Director race).

W. S. Van Dyke

  • Born:  1889
  • Died:  1943
  • Rank:  #139
  • Score:  348.22
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Thin Man  (1934), San Francisco (1936)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Thin Man  (1934)
  • Feature Films:  43
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  40
  • Best Film:  The Thin Man
  • Worst Film:  Stand Up and Fight
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Thin Man
    • ***.5:  After the Thin Man
    • ***:  Night Court, Another Thin Man, I Love You Again, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, Tarzan the Ape Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, Manhattan Melodrama, Guilty Hands, The Pagan, Penthouse, The Prizefighter and the Lady, White Shadows in the South Seas, Marie Antoinette, Eskimo, Forsaking All Others, Hide-Out, Bitter Sweet, Rose Marie, Personal Property, Naughty Marietta
    • **.5:  I Live My Life, His Brother’s Wife, Love on the Run, I Married an Angel, Cairo, Journey for Margaret, Feminine Touch, The Devil is a Sissy, Sweethearts, It’s a Wonderful World, Trader Horn, San Francisco, Rage in Heaven, I Take This Woman
    • **:  They Gave Him a Gun, Cuban Love Song, Stand Up and Fight
    • haven’t seen:  Wyoming, Under the Black Eagle, Dr. Kildare’s Victory
  • Sarris Category:  Miscellany

Career:  “Woody Van Dyke made more good movies that his reputation for carelessness and haste would indicate.”  (Sarris, p 267)  “He was a trusted servant of MGM, able to turn his hand to most of the studio’s idioms and to invent one of the most beguiling.”  (Thomson, p 892)  Woody Van Dyke was a consummate professional during the Studio Era, keeping very busy from the start of the Sound Era, right up until his death.  He is, of course, best known for the Thin Man films, and they dominate the list of his best films.  But he also did other work.  His on-location work on Trader Horn lead to his being the director for the first Tarzan film.  And he branched out in other directions as well – melodrama (Marie Antoinette) and musicals (Naughty Marietta) were not outside his range.  But, except for the first two Thin Man films, most of his films weren’t above the level of good and if not for the series, he might be mostly forgotten today.

Oscar Nomination:  Van Dyke’s first nomination was for The Thin Man, which I actually thought was the best direction of 1934.  But then his second nomination was for San Francisco, which was a relentlessly mediocre film without a trace of decent direction about it.

Martin Ritt

  • Born:  1914
  • Died:  1990
  • Rank:  #138
  • Score:  348.36
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Hud  (1963)
  • Feature Films:  26
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  24
  • Best Film:  Hud
  • Worst Film:  The Outrage
  • Films:
    • ****:  Hud
    • ***.5:  The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Front
    • ***:  Sounder, No Down Payment, The Great White Hope, The Molly Maguires, Hombre, Pete n Tillie, Murphy’s Romance, Norma Rae, Edge of the City, Nuts, The Sound and the Fury, Five Branded Woman, Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, Paris Blues, Brotherhood
    • **.5:  The Long Hot Summer, Conrack, Stanley and Iris, Cross Creek, Casey’s Shadow
    • **:  The Outrage
    • haven’t seen:  Black Orchid, Back Roads

Career:  In some ways, it is very appropriate that Martin Ritt is ranked higher than Tony Richardson.  And the difference between them stems from two films from the same source author with the same star.  Richardson directed Sanctuary, with Lee Remick in the starring role as Temple Drake.  And it’s the one time where you watch someone give a lackluster performance and you don’t think to yourself, how could they have cast her?  Because if you watch The Long Hot Summer, it’s immediately apparent why Remick was cast.  In The Long Hot Summer, Remick is wild and sexy and a perfect Southern girl out of control – exactly what we would have expected for Temple Drake.  But, when directed by Richardson in Sanctuary, not only do her dramatic parts fall flat (Remick was never a great actress), but so do the parts where she should be wild and sexy and out of control.  Richardson could do the British anger and class, but couldn’t really find the southern heart as Ritt had done.  Not that Long Hot Summer is a great film – it is a deeply flawed film (as Thomson says “His versions of Faulkner are shamefully dull, no matter how much Fox flinched away from the density of Yoknapatawpha County.” (p 739)  But at least Ritt got the performance out of Remick that he needed.  And he was an actor’s director, with 13 Oscar nominations (and 3 wins) coming in his films.  So why is he down here?  Well, because the acting in his films was usually better than the films themselves.  And he clearly loved working with the couple – he directed Joanne Woodward in four films and Paul Newman in six (including two where he directed them both – one of which was their first collaboration – The Long Hot Summer).

Oscar Nomination:  Hud is one of the strangest films in Academy history.  The Academy clearly thought highly of it – giving it 7 nominations (including Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor) and it won 3 Oscars including Actress and Supporting Actress.  It came in second on points for the year, yet it didn’t earn a Best Picture nomination, getting passed over for Cleopatra, a film savaged by critics and that almost sank an entire studio.  So what to make of that?  Well, Hud was much better than 4 of the 5 nominees that year and the direction was excellent.  It is my #10 for the year, but to be fair, 6 of the films above it are foreign films getting a U.S. release.  So, for English-language films, it is only behind The Great Escape, Tom Jones (which won the Oscar) and The Birds.  So I have no real complaint about the nomination; in fact I’m more irritated that it failed to be nominated for Picture rather than films like Cleopatra and How the West Was Won.

Gillo Pontecorvo

  • Born:  1919
  • Died:  2006
  • Rank:  #137
  • Score:  349.00
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Battle of Algiers  (1968)
  • Feature Films:  5
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  4
  • Best Film:  The Battle of Algiers
  • Worst Film:  Burn
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Battle of Algiers
    • ***:  Kapo, Wide Blue Road
    • **:  Burn
    • haven’t seen:  Ogro

Career:  It’s always hard to tell what to do with the directors who didn’t produce much in their career.  Pontecorvo directed one undisputed masterpiece.  He also directed a film that is just a complete mess on every level.  Then he directed two other films – one which I don’t quite admire as much as others do (Kapo), and one which is good enough.  Then there is one other film that is hard to find.  So what to make of all that?  This is why I came up with all the complicated mathematical formulas.  Once I decided to do this ranking, there’s really no other way to compare someone with a career like this to people who directed well over 50 films.

Oscar Nomination:  This really was a fantastic film with great directing.  This is a really tough year with several eligible films that the Academy ignored (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Rosemary’s Baby, Belle de Jour), so it ends up in sixth place.  What’s so incredible about this film, is that because it doesn’t just use professional actors and because of the story in the film, you can watch the entire film and think you’ve been watching a documentary.  It never slows down and it never lets up and it does everything just about right.

Michael Radford

  • Born:  1946
  • Rank:  #136
  • Score:  349.40
  • Awards:  BAFTA
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Il Postino  (1995)
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  Il Postino
  • Worst Film:  Dancing at the Blue Iguana
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Il Postino, The Merchant of Venice, 1984
    • ***:  White Mischief, Another Time Another Place
    • **.5:  B.Monkey, Flawless, Dancing at the Blue Iguana

Career:  If not for his Oscar nomination, most of Michael Radford’s career would have passed me by.  I had seen his 1984 because of my fondness for the book.  And I saw his Merchant of Venice because I try to see any major Shakespeare release.  But the other films?  I had never seen them before I began this process and they feel like a big blank in my mind.  Radford is a competent enough director but many of his films just hold no interest for me and even the films that are worth remembering don’t have direction that is particularly notable.  And he is one of the least productive people on the list, having only directed 8 films in all the time that he has been a film director (nearly 30 years).

Oscar Nomination:  As already mentioned above, this was a really odd year.  They cut two of the biggest Best Picture contenders off at the knees by not nominating them for Best Director, but they nominated the kids director and the foreign director.  The irony here is that the direction is far from the best thing about the film.  It’s solid, but it’s not great and certainly not as good as Howard or Lee.  But Radford’s films have always felt like the acting and writing are better handled than the directing and that again seems to be the case with Il Postino.

Kathryn Bigelow

  • Born:  1951
  • Rank:  #135
  • Score:  352.35
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Satellite, NYFC, LAFC, NSFC, BSFC, CFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Globe, Satellite
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Hurt Locker  (2009)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Hurt Locker  (2009)
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
  • Worst Film:  Point Break
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Hurt Locker
    • ***:  K-19: The Widowmaker, Near Dark, Strange Days, The Loveless
    • **.5:  The Weight of Water
    • **:  Blue Steel
    • *.5:  Point Break

Career:  When I watched Keanu Reeves say “The FBI wants to pay me to surf?” (yes – I saw it in the theaters – I was 16), I would have bet anything that this was a director going nowhere.  I hadn’t bothered to see her Blue Steel, but it hadn’t looked good (it wasn’t, as it turned out).  Even when she made Strange Days, a film I liked more than most people (mostly because of Ralph Fiennes), I wouldn’t have thought her career worth paying attention to.  So, where are we now after she has made The Hurt Locker, a brilliant film that was worthy of all its accolades?  Well, it might be a better idea to wait until after Zero Dark Thirty before we really can get a sense of it.  We’ve got some dead weight, we’ve got some films that are okay, and we have one truly great film.  But it’ll be for the future to see if that’s the way forward or just an aberration.

Oscar Nomination:  This was the film that made me redo how I do awards points.  Under my old system, Bigelow would have nearly maxed out her awards points because she got so much for The Hurt Locker.  It didn’t seem right that she would end up with more points than Frank Capra, with his three Oscars, for just one film.  So, I changed it to a scaled system based on each year, with a max of 20 points (or 25, if they won by a long ways, which she did).  But the film is fantastic and her direction is a key reason for it.  Though she comes in #2 to Tarantino in my awards, all the acclaim is deserved and it’s nice to see a female director finally win the Oscar.  This was the start of a string of three straight years where my choice didn’t win, but it was close enough that I didn’t mind who actually did win.

John Madden

  • Born:  1949
  • Rank:  #134
  • Score:  356.64
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Shakespeare in Love  (1998)
  • Feature Films:  9
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  9
  • Best Film:  Shakespeare in Love
  • Worst Film:  Golden Gate
  • Films:
    • ****:  Shakespeare in Love, Proof
    • ***.5:  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
    • ***:  Mrs. Brown, Ethan Frome
    • **.5:  The Debt
    • **:  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Killshot, Golden Gate

Career:  After a couple of films that hadn’t shown either a lot of promise or a lot of failure, John Madden suddenly went on the radar with Mrs. Brown.  That film, with a magnificent performance from Judi Dench, was an Oscar contender for Best Picture and the next year the two reunited for what turned out for the best for both of them.  That film, of course, was Shakespeare in Love, and Dench won the Oscar and though Madden didn’t, the film won Best Picture.  But after that, Madden seemed to sink away.  His next film was the hopelessly mediocre Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  After that, the one film he really excelled with – Proof – was almost completely overlooked come awards time (so much so that I made it my over-looked film of 2005).  Then he made yet another complete dud (The Debt) before finally bouncing back, perhaps significantly, with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a truly delightful film that might simply be enough of a success to end up in awards talk come the end of this year.

Oscar Nomination:  Though his film was a strong contender and an eventual winner of Best Picture, John Madden never stood a chance of winning Best Director.  It seemed that he just needed to make it into the nominations so the film could stand a chance of winning Best Picture.  The direction of Shakespeare in Love is solid, if not quite up there with the top 5 of the year.

Robert Mulligan

  • Born:  1925
  • Died:  2008
  • Rank:  #133
  • Score:  360.68
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  To Kill a Mockingbird  (1962)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  To Kill a Mockingbird  (1962)
  • Feature Films:  20
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  18
  • Best Film:  To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Worst Film:  The Other
  • Films:
    • ****:  To Kill a Mockingbird
    • ***.5:  Love with the Proper Stranger
    • ***:  Baby the Rain Must Fall, Same Time Next Year, Bloodbrothers, Inside Daisy Clover, Rat Race, Fear Strikes Out, Summer of 42
    • **.5:  The Pursuit of Happiness, Clara’s Heart, Man in the Moon, The Stalking Moon, Up the Down Staircase
    • **:  Come September, Nickel Ride, Kiss Me Goodbye
    • *:  The Other
    • haven’t seen:  The Great Imposter, The Spiral Road
  • Sarris Category:  Expressive Esoterica

Career:  “What Mulligan lacks is not technique, but the rudimentary artistic discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff in his material.”  (Sarris, p 134)  “There is something wrong with a thirty-five year career of twenty movies that is still indistinct and tentative.”  (Thomson, p 617)  Robert Mulligan has run the whole gambit of films – one great, one truly bad.  His career looks like a bell curve, with the great majority of them coming in the okay range.  His best film was much more a triumph of material that Mulligan lucked into than any vision of his.  Perhaps if there’s interesting about his career (and his career really isn’t that interesting), it’s that he directed two of the better Steve McQueen performances the only two times they worked together – Love with the Proper Stranger and Baby the Rain Must Fall.

Oscar Nomination:  This is one of the easiest nominations to look at.  It was perfectly deserved, and there was no way Mulligan was going to win over David Lean for Lawrence of Arabia.  The Academy got it right by nominating Mulligan and got it right again by giving the Oscar to Lean.

Robert Benton

  • Born:  1932
  • Rank:  #132
  • Score:  361.80
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, LAFC, NSFC
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Kramer vs. Kramer  (1979), Places in the Heart  (1984)
  • Feature Films:  11
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  Kramer vs. Kramer
  • Worst Film:  Feast of Love
  • Films:
    • ****:  Kramer vs. Kramer
    • ***.5:  Nobody’s Fool
    • ***:  Places in the Heart, Bad Company, The Late Show, The Human Stain, Twilight
    • **.5:  Billy Bathgate
    • **:  Nadine
    • *.5:  Feast of Love
    • haven’t seen:  Still of the Night

Career:  “Benton may be the rank humanist in American film, when the species is hard to identify.”  (Thomson, 5th Edition, p 93)   How ironic that Robert Benton, who first burst into film with the incredible script for Bonnie and Clyde – a truly daring original script – seems unable to do anything other than adapt novels to the screen.  True, he won an Oscar for his Original Screenplay for Places in the Heart, but that was a very bad choice, and it was mostly based on his memories anyway.  He has done good work with novels – his Kramer vs. Kramer is still a great example of bringing human drama to the screen without getting overly sentimental.  And Nobody’s Fool was a very good example of paring down a 500+ page novel into a very good human comedy.  Even Billy Bathgate, which is very uneven, is never boring.  But he never was very prolific and he seems to be mostly done.  Since 1998 he has only made two films – the mixed adaptation of Human Stain (with a very badly cast Gary Sinise) and the very bad Feast of Love.  What became apparent early on in his directing is that Benton is most comfortable dealing with human emotion and what directions they pull people and he has done a solid job with that.

Oscar Nomination:  Watching Kramer vs. Kramer again to review it, I was impressed at how solid it is.  When I had first seen, over 20 years ago, I was very impressed, but time had diminished it.  But it is a first-rate film and the direction is very solid.  However, in a year with Apocalypse Now, Alien, Manhattan, Picnic at Hanging Rock, All That Jazz and Being There, that’s just not enough to make it past #7.  And for the Academy to go for Benton over Coppola or Fosse perhaps has something to do with the fact that they had both already won Oscars earlier in the decade.  As for Benton’s second nomination?  Well, that’s just pure “Academy film” right there.  Places in the Heart comes nowhere near being deserving of being in the race.  The direction just adds to the sentimental, maudlin feel of the film that just becomes too much to bear.

Jane Campion

  • Born:  1954
  • Rank:  #131
  • Score:  361.91
  • Awards:  NYFC, LAFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Piano  (1993)
  • Oscar note:  Won an Oscar for writing The Piano
  • Feature Films:  7
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  7
  • Best Film:  The Piano
  • Worst Film:  In the Cut
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  The Piano
    • ***:  An Angel at My Table, Holy Smoke, Bright Star, Sweetie, Portrait of a Lady
    • **.5:  In the Cut

Career:  “Campion remained most interested in awkward, shy, or marginal young women, people close to being outcasts or rejects, but in whom there is a great strength of private vision and tranquility.”  (Thomson, p 130)  I have never quite found myself able to buy a ticket for the Jane Campion train.  When The Piano first came out, I found it cold and off-putting.  Though I have come to admire aspects of it, I still think it is over-rated.  And her work since The Piano, while it continues to make a certain group of film fans passionate, I have never been able to fully buy into.  Her films keep falling short, though I must admit, she is one of the best directors for actresses currently at work.  But not even her ardent critics would attempt to claim that In the Cut was successful.

Oscar Nomination:  The Piano is a film that is so well-made enough that it has continued to creep up my list for 1993 awards in spite of how much I personally dislike it.  That said, it has not been enough to move Campion into my top 5 for the year, lodging her at #8.  Her film was widely admired as was her direction and I think the direction is much better than the over-hyped script that won the Oscar and which was my biggest issue with the film.

Wolfgang Petersen

  • Born:  1941
  • Rank:  #130
  • Score:  367.15
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Das Boot  (1982)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Das Boot  (1982)
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  11
  • Best Film:  Das Boot
  • Worst Film:  Enemy Mine
  • Films:
    • ****:  Das Boot, In the Line of Fire
    • ***:  Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, The Never-Ending Story
    • **.5:  Outbreak, Consequence
    • **:  Shattered, Poseidon, Troy, Enemy Mine
    • haven’t seen:  One or the Other

Career:  Wolfgang Petersen is very much a mixed bag.  He did a phenomenal job with Das Boot, making us feel claustrophobic and getting us to sympathize with a tub full of Nazis.  And he’s always been able to bring a sense of suspense to his films, even things that should be more pedestrian like Air Force One.  But he seems to have moved towards a sense of emptiness with large effects – just look at the trio of The Perfect Storm, Troy and Poseidon.  And his lack of imagination doomed Troy – witness his comments that he didn’t feel the Greek Gods were necessary.  So, we get an empty epic without a sense of fate and instead just get a big waste with a kingdom destroyed because of a misunderstanding.

Oscar Nomination:  Das Boot was one of those foreign film that manages to slide in and earn Best Director and Screenplay nominations without getting into the Best Picture race.  And like a lot of those films, it definitely deserved to be in the Best Picture race, and its direction was the best of the year.  The overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia that Petersen manages to evoke is palpable and he gets a great performance from Jurgen Prochnow, unlike any other ever seen from him.  In a weaker year between Raiders and Fanny and Alexander and with a Nighthawk winner that relies more on its acting and writing than direction (Sophie’s Choice), this slips in to win my award.

Henry King

  • Born:  1886
  • Died:  1982
  • Rank:  #129
  • Score:  367.68
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 4 DGA, Golden Globe
  • Awards:  Golden Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Song of Bernadette  (1943), Wilson  (1944)
  • Feature Films:  52
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  29
  • Best Film:  The Gunfighter
  • Worst Film:  Tender is the Night
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Gunfighter
    • ***.5:  The Bravados
    • ***:  State Fair, Twelve O’Clock High, Carousel, The White Sister, Lloyds of London, Jesse James, Seventh Heaven, Wilson, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, The Song of Bernadette, The Prince of Foxes, King of the Khyber Rifles, Way Down East, Deep Waters
    • **.5:  A Yank in the R.A.F., The Captain from Castile, The Sun Also Rises, Stanley and Livingstone, Little Old New York, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Marie Galante, In Old Chicago, Black Swan, Margie
    • **:  Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, David and Bathsheba, Tender is the Night
    • haven’t seen:  The Magic Flame, Woman Disputed, She Goes to War, Hell Harbor, Eyes of the World, Lightnin, Merely Mary Ann, Over the Hill, The Woman in Room 13, I Loved You Wednesday, Carolina, One More Spring, Country Doctor, Maryland, Chad Hanna, Remember the Day, A Bell for Adano, I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, Wait till the Sun Shines Nellie, This Earth is Mine, Beloved Infidel
  • Sarris Category:  Subjects for Further Research

Career:  “Would film history have been radically altered if Henry King had directed The Grapes of Wrath and John Ford Jesse James, instead of vice versa?  Not likely.  Ford lifted a Western like Stagecoach above its customary level of significance, whereas King muffed such fashionably liberal opportunities as Wilson and A Bell for Adano.”  (Sarris, p 233-234)  Henry King directed seven films that were nominated for Best Picture but he himself was only nominated for Best Director twice.  That shows that even though the Academy kept getting suckered in by his films, they usually seemed to recognize that King wasn’t really all that talented a director.  And his best work was pretty much ignored by the Academy.  King was perfect for the Studio Era – someone they could bring in for whatever project they had and do a serviceable enough job not to screw it up.  He’s the kind of person who seems to run almost contrary to the auteur theory.  Or, as Sarris puts it later on the same page: “Even at his best, King tended to be turgid and rhetorical in his storytelling style.”

Oscar Nomination:  Henry King’s nominations were for those kind of “Academy films” that really aren’t all that great.  The Song of Bernadette was a solid film, but over-rated more for its subject matter.  Wilson was a heavily marketed biopic, revered at the time as a great film, but one that doesn’t stand up to the test of time at all.  The direction in neither film is really all that great.

Sam Wood

  • Born:  1883
  • Died:  1949
  • Rank:  #128
  • Score:  369.79
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  Goodbye Mr. Chips  (1939), Kitty Foyle  (1940), Kings Row  (1942)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  For Whom the Bell Tolls  (1943)
  • Feature Films:  40
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  29
  • Best Film:  For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Worst Film:  Heartbeat
  • Films:
    • ****:  For Whom the Bell Tolls
    • ***.5:  A Night at the Opera, Kings Row
    • ***:  Pride of the Yankees, The Devil and Miss Jones, Casanova Brown, Goodbye Mr. Chips, A Day at the Races, Beyond the Rocks, Our Town, Ambush, The Stratton Story, Command Decision, Saratoga Trunk, Stablemates, The Guest Wife, Navy Blue and Gold, Ivy
    • **.5:  Whipsaw, It’s a Great Life, The Unguarded Hour, Kitty Foyle, The Girl Said No, Hold Your Man, The Barbarian, Stamboul Quest, Madame X
    • **:  Lord Jeff, Heartbeat
    • haven’t seen:  Latest from Paris, Telling the World, So This is College, They Learned About Women, Paid, A Tailor Made Man, The New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford, Christopher Bean, Let em Have It, Raffles, Rangers of Fortune

Career:  Sam Wood is a good example of how this is all a fluid process.  I looked at him and looked at Henry King and thought, they are very similar.  They were both solid Studio Era directors who did a lot of work for hire, often got nominated for Best Picture, but didn’t really have anything about them that stood out.  They each directed one great film (and weren’t nominated for it).  But Wood’s best films were a bit better than King’s.  How did King end up higher on the list than Wood?  Well, it was because of the subjective score – I actually had Wood rated at a 60.  Looking at it again, I thought that wasn’t deserved.  I bumped Wood to a 65 and he moved past King on the list, which is where I think he belongs.  He belongs with King, anyway – the two of them earned a combined 13 nominations for Best Picture but only five for Best Director (and neither ever won either).

Oscar Nomination:  Sam Wood was a solid director in the Studio Era, and he directed important films that the Academy liked to nominate for Best Picture and Director.  That one of them doesn’t hold up as well on a second viewing (Kings Row), one of them was solid but not great (Goodbye Mr. Chips) and one of them was relentlessly mediocre with one of the worst Best Actress choices in history (Kitty Foyle) isn’t ironic.  The irony stems from the fact that he earned three nominations in four years, but the year after that he made his best film, with his best directing and though it was nominated for Best Picture and 8 other Oscars, For Whom the Bell Tolls somehow didn’t end up in the Best Director race.

Frank Borzage

  • Born:  1894
  • Died:  1962
  • Rank:  #127
  • Score:  368.85
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  7th Heaven  (1927-28), Bad Girl  (1931-32)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  7th Heaven  (1927-28), Lucky Star  (1929-30)
  • Feature Films:  48
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  42
  • Best Film:  7th Heaven
  • Worst Film:  The Magnificent Doll
  • Films:
    • ****:  7th Heaven
    • ***.5:  Lucky Star
    • ***:  Lazybones, Street Angel, Desire, After Tomorrow, Three Comrades, Liliom, Bad Girl, A Farewell to Arms, The Circle, Moonrise, River, No Greater Glory, Green Light, Flight Command, Man’s Castle, Big City, Strange Cargo, The Big Fisherman, Vanishing Virginian, Stage Door Canteen, Little Man What Now, Song o My Heart, Seven Sweethearts, Big City, His Butler’s Sister, Mannequin
    • **.5:  They Had to See Paris, I’ve Always Loved You, History is Made at Night, The Mortal Storm, Secrets, Young America, Smilin Through, Living on Velvet, Shipmates Forever, China Doll, Flirtation Walk, Hearts Divided
    • **:  The Shining Hour, The Magnificent Doll
    • haven’t seen:  Doctors Wives, Young as You Feel, Disputed Passage, Till We Meet Again, Spanish Main, That’s My Man
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “Frank Borzage was that rarity of rarities, an uncompromising romanticist . . . Borzage never needed dream worlds for his suspensions of disbelief.  He plunged into the real world of poverty and oppression, the world of Roosevelt and Hitler, the New Deal and the New Order, to impart an aura to his characters, not merely through soft focus and a fluid camera, but through a genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of lovers in the midst of adversity.”  (Sarris, p 86)  The Murnau, Borzage and Fox box set might be the best thing to happen to a critical assessment of Borzage’s career.  A lot of the films in the box were hard to find before the release (especially the Oscar winning Bad Girl).  But, more importantly, it has the best work of someone who was once one of the most important directors in Hollywood – his four best films and six of his top 8 are in the box.  If you care about film, it’s a box you at least need to rent.  The problem is what happens once you get beyond that box.  There’s a lot of work in his career, but not much depth.  The down side to the box is that it’s obvious how much more talented Murnau was.  Only two films above good in a career as long as Borzage’s was just shows that he didn’t quite have enough.

Oscar Nomination:  Borzage won the very first Academy Award for Best Director and it was actually a pretty good choice.  It was certainly the best choice among the nominees and my #3 choice of the year behind Fritz Lang (Metropolis) and F.W. Murnau (Sunrise).  He does a magnificent job with Janet Gaynor and it includes the fantastic shot going up the stairs at the conclusion of the film.  Bad Girl, on the other hand, was a much stranger choice.  It’s not a bad film, but certainly not a great film and it might have gotten lucky in that Grand Hotel, which won Best Picture, wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  Borzage is one of only seven directors to win his first two nominations.  But, since the other six all went on to other nominations (which they lost), his is the only perfect record for someone with more than one nomination.

Tim Robbins

  • Born:  1958
  • Rank:  #126
  • Score:  372.00
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Dead Man Walking  (1995)
  • Feature Films:  3
  • Feature Films I’ve Seen:  3
  • Best Film:  Bob Roberts
  • Worst Film:  The Cradle will Rock
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking
    • ***:  The Cradle Will Rock

Career:  “It’s obvious by now that Robbins stands up for liberal sentiments – which makes the balance and human depth of Dead Man Walking all the more admirable.”  (Thomson, p 745)  Tim Robbins is one of the oddest directors on the entire list.  Not because of his personality (though he has always stuck me as a bit odd), but because of the strange career he had as a director.  I say had because it’s been over a decade since his last film and he doesn’t seem to be interested in doing any more.  His first film was very understandable – a personal project that would be difficult to market, starring himself.  And it was a critical success.  So, it easily could have just been the one film.  But then he took another dive into directing and managed to help his partner, Susan Sarandon, win an Oscar.  But then he took one more try at it – a very uneven film about the Marc Blitzstein musical that became a controversy.  It would have worked better if it had been more focused (dropping the Rockefeller stuff, for example), but it was what it was.  And then he focused a bit more on acting, finally won his own Oscar (this may be stunning for people to realize, but his Oscar for Mystic River is his only nomination for acting).  He still acts (branching a lot into small humorous roles), but his directing now seems to be limited to television.  It was never a great career, but he certainly was a good enough director to make it almost halfway up the list with only three films.  So, I write all that and they finally announce he’s going to make a fourth film.  Who knows where this will bring him as a director.

Oscar Nomination:  Tim Robbins, like Chris Noonan (in the same year), managed to land in the Oscar race without any precursors.  It was the first time since 1979 and only the second since 1962 when two directors without a DGA, BAFTA, Globe nomination or any critics awards ended up nominated by the Academy.  And they both made it in over Ang Lee and Ron Howard, completely changing the Best Picture race.  For that reason alone, it was not a particularly good nomination.  Robbins does a fine job directing, but in some ways this seemed to be the Academy saying, “Oh, well the actors were stupid and didn’t nominate you for The Player or Shawshank, so we’ll nominate you for directing.”  It’s a solid film, but not a great film.


All of the films listed above (Lost Horizon, The Wizard of Oz, The Little Foxes, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Double Indemnity, Henry V, Father of the Bride, The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, The Conversation, Tootsie, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Mystic River and The Aviator) were not only nominated for Best Picture, but they were all Best Picture nominees that were followed by a Best Picture win.  It’s an interesting group, because it happens a lot in the early years (when there were 10 nominees), but then tails off.  However, after only happening twice between 1969 and 2002, we had it happen three times in the next four years.  And Mrs. Miniver and The Bridge on the River Kwai are the only two Best Picture winners in Academy history, to be followed up by the directors with another Best Picture win (The Best Years of Our Lives and Lawrence of Arabia).  That just goes to show that waiting helps – the 4 year gap for Wyler and the 5 year gap for Lean are two of the largest gaps in directing before a Best Picture win.  This all comes from my rhetorical question in the Bruce Beresford paragraph as to whether Her Alibi is the worst film to ever be followed up by a Best Picture.  Granted that there are a few films in the 30’s I haven’t seen, the answer is easily an unqualified yes.  The only films that even come close are Death Becomes Her (Zemeckis) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Howard).

As for the best film ever to be followed by a Best Picture winner?  Well, of the 77 films on the list (7 directors won Best Picture for their debut, which is interesting in that except for 1955, with Delbert Mann, all six of them were in the stretch from 1980 to 2002, including back to back in 80 and 81) there are 12 films that I rank as ****.  Eleven of them are on that list above for being nominated (or winning) Best Picture.  So what is the only four star film in history to fail to earn a Best Picture nomination, only to have the director follow it up by winning Best Picture?  That would be Some Like It Hot.