James Cameron, landing higher on the list than his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow proclaims himself king of the world.  He hasn't seen the final revised version yet, though.

James Cameron, landing higher on the list than his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow proclaims himself king of the world. He hasn’t seen the final revised version yet, though.

This is the fifth group of directors who have been nominated at some point for Best Director by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (you know, the Oscars).  They are all ranked and there is a points system that is explained here.

And here we are again with an extra director in the mix.  Why is that you ask?  Well, because on 10 January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards and among the list of nominated directors were two who had never been nominated before: Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin.  So, then, you ask, why is there only one extra director thrown in here?  Well, for two reasons.  The first is that Benh Zeitlin, with a score of 295 ranks down around place #170, so he’s been well passed by already.  The second is that Zeitlin has only directed one feature film so far – Beasts of the Southern Wild – and it seems odd to throw him into the mix with only one film.  Every other director has done at least two films by now, even if their first film was what they earned their nomination for.  So, I will include Zeitlin in the overall ranked list when this process is done, but I’m not gonna bother to sum up his career which consist of only one film.

But that left me with Michael Haneke.  This was going to be easy, I thought; the only new director will be Ben Affleck, whose films I have all seen and who actually ranks pretty high because all three of his films have been great.  But then the Academy threw me the screwball and suddenly I had to go find the other 6 Haneke films I hadn’t yet seen and figure out precisely where he belongs.  Thankfully, he has earned enough points, even without Amour, to get bumped up into the next level and I don’t have to worry about seeing Amour (until tomorrow, when I’m planning on going to see it).

My plan to solve this problem, by the way, is to not wait another f****g year before I finish the last four parts of the list.

There have been some themes with these groupings, because directors with similar careers tend to end up together.  In the 175-151 group we had several directors who had made one great film and the rest of their career was pretty bad.  Here, we have four directors who exceed that – they have made one absolute masterpiece and then a career of mostly okay films.  Their best films are better than those for that previous group (the four films in question are All Quiet on the Western Front, Bonnie and Clyde, The Wizard of Oz and L.A. Confidential) and the rest of their careers are better than for that other group.

There are also the liberals.  Two of the directors on this list were affected by the blacklist – Robert Rossen and Jules Dassin.  One other (King Vidor) was known for making films that spoke about the common man.  A fourth (Stanley Kramer) was well-known for first producing, then directing humanist films with a liberal viewpoint, the kind of films that have long been the Academy’s bread-and-butter.

Another reminder, like always.  The Sarris quotes (and categories) come from The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, which was published in 1968, so it has no directors after that.  The Thomson quotes come from the 2002 edition of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, unless I specifically mention the 5th edition, which was published in 2010.  There are also two other books: Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, which has great information and anecdotes but, and I cannot stress this enough, NO GODDAM SOURCES.  So it’s hard to verify what is in that book.  Also, right before starting this post, I happened to read an interesting book called Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist by Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle.  It is filled with interviews of various people who were blacklisted and that includes Jules Dassin, who is listed below and there are other comments from the book that I quote in relevant places.

Also, a bit of trivia to begin with.  The answer is again at the end and this is relevant to several directors on this list (the relevant films are in green).  What do the following films have in common: The Front Page, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Foreign Correspondent, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Heiress, The 10 Commandments, Doctor Zhivago, The Sand Pebbles, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Exorcist, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Broadcast News, Avatar, 127 Hours, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables have in common?  And what do The Best Years of Our Lives and Lawrence of Arabia have in common on the same theme?  Answer at the end.

  • #126  –  Julian Schnabel
  • #125  –  Peter Bogdanovich
  • #124  –  Frank Lloyd
  • #123  –  Lewis Milestone
  • #122  –  Ron Howard
  • #121  –  Peter Yates
  • #120  –  Arthur Penn
  • #119  –  Victor Fleming
  • #118  –  Rob Marshall
  • #117  –  Stanley Kramer
  • #116  –  Robert Rossen
  • #115  –  Atom Egoyan
  • #114  –  John Sturges
  • #113  –  Curtis Hanson
  • #112  –  Hector Babenco
  • #111  –  King Vidor
  • #110  –  Leo McCarey
  • #109  –  Mervyn LeRoy
  • #108  –  Vincente Minnelli
  • #107  –  Charles Crichton
  • #106  –  James Cameron
  • #105  –  William Friedkin
  • #104  –  Michelangelo Antonioni
  • #103  –  Jules Dassin
  • #102  –  Norman Jewison
  • #101  –  Robert Zemeckis

Julian Schnabel

  • Born:  1951
  • Rank:  #126
  • Score:  374.00
  • Awards:  BSFC, Globe
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly  (2007)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Films I’ve Seen:  4
  • Best Film:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Worst Film:  Miral
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    • ***:  Before Night Falls, Basquiat
    • **.5:  Miral

Career:  As a former artist, it was only appropriate that Julian Schnabel would break into the film world as the director of Basquiat, the biopic of the avant-garde painter who died young.  It was several years before Schnabel made a follow-up film and he again went for a real life story about an artist (this time the poet Reinaldo Arenas).  After another long gap he returned with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (another true story about another writer, Jean-Dominique Bauby), this time to great acclaim – winning several awards and earning an Oscar nomination.  But his next film, made after his shortest gap yet (only 3 years), while using some real characters was a fictional film and it didn’t seem to work as well.  Schnabel’s direction still seemed assured but the film itself was a mess.  He’s 61 now and with only four films to his credit, it’s a question of whether anything more will come of his career.  But for someone who started out in a completely different artistic field, he has certainly made a good run in this one.

Oscar Nomination:  Perhaps there was something more in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly than what I was seeing.  I was seeing a great film yes – a low level **** film – but one that struck me with its writing and the lead performance.  I wasn’t necessarily struck by the direction, whereas clearly other groups were; Schnabel scored across the board nominations and won two awards.  But in a year with the incredible direction of Atonement, from the performances, to the magnificent set-up of the shot at Dunkirk, it was hard to see how Schnabel belonged on the nominee list over Joe Wright.

Peter Bogdanovich

  • Born:  1939
  • Rank:  #125
  • Score:  374.71
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Last Picture Show  (1971)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Last Picture Show (1971)
  • Feature Films:  16
  • Films I’ve Seen:  14
  • Best Film:  The Last Picture Show
  • Worst Film:  Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Last Picture Show
    • ***.5:  Texasville, Paper Moon
    • ***:  Mask, What’s Up Doc, Noises Off, Saint Jack, Nickelodeon, Targets
    • **.5:  The Cat’s Meow, Daisy Miller
    • **:  The Thing Called Love
    • *.5:  At Long Last Love
    • not seen:  They All Laughed, Illegally Yours

Career:  “He remains one of the best directors in America – if he can find the proper material and budgets – and a man persistently devoted to films and their world.”  (Thomson, 5th Ed, p 104)  That’s how David Thomson put it in 2002, but it sounds like something that he might have written in one of the previous editions of the book (the book is bizarre in that he simply re-prints earlier information and then tacks on some paragraphs at the end rather than re-visiting what he might have thought at that earlier time).  Could anyone really still be thinking of Bogdanovich as one of the best directors in America in 2002?  It would have been difficult to make that claim even in the late 70’s, when the early success of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon was already faded through a misfire like Daisy Miller and a complete disaster like At Long Last Love (if you’re going to fall in love with your lead actress and put her in your films, it helps to fall in love with more talented actresses like Woody Allen does rather than Cybill Shepard).  And while he had made 7 films in the space of 9 years (71-79), over the next decade he only made three, two of which are so difficult to find now that I have yet to see them.  In 1990, he made Texasville, a film I avoided for a long time because it looked like such a mess and because The Last Picture Show was so good, so it was an incredible surprise to discover how good the film actually was, how perfectly Bogdanovich was able to re-visit all of those characters.  Then there came Noises Off, a film I have a great fondness for and which has a true ensemble feel, with every actor working off the others (and it has the last performance from one of my favorite actors – Denholm Elliott).  But after the box office failure of Noises Off and The Thing Called Love (which deserved its failure), he would only make it back to the big screen one more time – with The Cat’s Meow, a film that shows how much he still loves films and film history.  Yet, even that film, you watch and wish it could have been better, that he has never really lived up to the expectations that came with The Last Picture Show.

Oscar Nomination:  Though Bogdanovich remained a prime director throughout the seventies, he never again reached the Oscar nomination list after The Last Picture Show.  But this was one of those times where the Oscars got it right – he absolutely belonged on the list (and didn’t quite deserve to win in a year with Kubrick and Friedkin).  But The Last Picture Show is a magnificent film, one which actually grows when you re-watch it and is a reminder of what Bogdanovich once was able to do.

Frank Lloyd

  • Born:  1886
  • Died:  1960
  • Rank:  #124
  • Score:  374.74
  • Awards:  2 Oscars
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars  (sort of)
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Divine Lady  (1928-29), Weary River (1928-29*), Drag (1928-29*), Cavalcade (1932-33), The Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  • Oscar Note:  There were no official nominations for the 2nd Academy Awards.  Though Weary River and Drag are generally listed as nominations (to go along with Lloyd’s win), they are not technically (even though Inside Oscar actually lists them as co-winners).
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  • Feature Films:  30
  • Films I’ve Seen:  16
  • Best Film:  The Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Worst Film:  Maid in Salem
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Mutiny on the Bounty
    • ***.5:  Oliver Twist
    • ***:  Berkeley Square, The Divine Lady, If I Were King, Wells Fargo, The Howards of Virginia, Under Two Flags, The Sea Hawk, Weary River
    • **.5:  Son of the Gods, Cavalcade, Hoop-La, Blood on the Sun, The Last Command
    • **:  East Lynne, Maid in Salem
    • not seen:  Adoration, Drag, Dark Streets, Young Nowheres, The Way of All Men, Age for Love, Passport to Hell, Servants Entrance, Rulers of the Sea, Lady from Cheyenne, This Woman is Mine, Forever and a Day, Shanghai Story

Career:  It is perhaps the final statement on Frank Lloyd that Andrew Sarris did not include him in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968.  There are 219 directors featured in that book, some of whom had only directed one film.  Yet, Frank Lloyd, director of 30 films, twice a winner of the Academy Award for Best Director is not listed among them.  Perhaps that is, ultimately, because he had no actual personal style with which to be classified.  Or it could be that people haven’t cared enough about his film to bother to keep them around.  There are still 13 films of his that I have been unable to track down and watch (which places him the bottom 10 for percentage of films that I have seen).  That list includes one of his nominated films (Drag), which is apparently held by an archive that doesn’t want people to know it has the film.  Of his films that can be found, there is one great one – the Best Picture winner (The Mutiny on the Bounty), one very good one (Oliver Twist, with Lon Chaney as Fagin), though the strength of that one lies in the performance by Chaney rather than the direction from Lloyd.  Mostly, his work was filled with okay and mediocre films and there was no distinguishing style.  He was just another Studio Era director, but one who actually managed to win not one, but two Oscars (neither remotely deserved).

Oscar Nomination:  As I said, here is a man with two Oscars and about whom Andrew Sarris could not be bothered to comment.  Partly that’s because Lloyd had fallen so far off the map, and partly because he never belonged on the map to begin with.  By far his best film, the one time that he really deserved a nomination, was as much a triumph of production and acting as it was the direction.  But Lloyd was rightfully nominated that time (and rightfully lost to John Ford, who won his first Oscar that year).  As for his other nominations?  Well, there was nothing worth noting about the direction of The Divine Lady or Weary River, Drag is not technically a lost film, though it might as well be and Cavalcade is a film that seems to offer less and less any time you revisit it and the direction is a primary reason for that.  Lloyd is so forgotten because the films he was nominated for for the most part deserve to be forgotten.

Lewis Milestone

  • Born:  1895
  • Died:  1980
  • Rank:  #123
  • Score:  378.26
  • Awards:  2 Oscars
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars
  • Oscar Nominations:  Two Arabian Knights  (1927-28 – Comedy Director), All Quiet on the Western Front  (1929-30), The Front Page (1930-31)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30)
  • Feature Films:  33
  • Films I’ve Seen:  27
  • Best Film:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Worst Film:  The Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Films:
    • ****:  All Quiet on the Western Front
    • ***:  Two Arabian Knights, Garden of Eden, Of Mice and Men, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Front Page, The Halls of Montezuma, Rain, Ocean’s 11, The General Died at Dawn, A Walk in the Sun, Anything Goes, Edge of Darkness, The North Star, The Red Pony, Arch of Triumph, The Racket, No Minor Vices, Kangaroo, Pork Chop Hill
    • **.5:  Hallelujah I’m a Bum, Lucky Partners, New York Nights, The Captain Hates the Sea, My Life with Caroline
    • **:  Les Miserables, The Mutiny on the Bounty
    • not seen:  Betrayal, Paris in Spring, Night of Nights, Melba, They Who Dare, Widow
  • Sarris Category:  Less Than Meets the Eye

Career:  “Unfortunately, Milestone’s fluid camera style has always been dissociated from any personal viewpoint.”  (Sarris, p 162-3)  “Nothing suggested that Milestone was more than a competent director.  War showed that he could be a good deal less.”  (Thomson, p 595)  Well, Thomson is not quite right there.  All Quiet showed that he could be well more than a competent director, and with his other early work (Rain, The Front Page), he showed a flair.  But yes, he eventually started to fall apart and his later films, beginning with his World War II films, weren’t all that good.  The last decade of his work produced only one worthwhile film – Ocean’s 11 – which depended far more on the Rat Pack’s charisma than Milestone’s talent.  His other films of that era include three that are hard to find and his two disasters – his 1952 film version of Les Miserables (by far the worst adaptation of the novel) and the epic disaster that was his Mutiny on the Bounty (there is considerable irony that Milestone’s worst film was his remake of Lloyd’s best film, yet Milestone ranks slightly higher).

Oscar Nomination:  Of the four directors who are in this part of the list with one pure masterpiece, Milestone is the only one who actually won the Oscar for his.  I almost want to say that All Quiet is better than all of his other films put together.  It certainly has better direction than all of his other films put together, from the way that Milestone handles the early parts back in the village, all the way through to that final shot of the hand reaching out.  And of course, it gives us one of the best movie anecdotes of all-time: when his producer, Carl Laemmle Jr wanted a happy ending to the film, Milestone replied “Okay.  We’ll let the Germans win the war.”.

Ron Howard

  • Born:  1954
  • Rank:  #122
  • Score:  379.83
  • Awards:  Oscar, 2 DGA, BFCA
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 4 DGA, 2 BAFTA, 3 BFCA, 3 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Beautiful Mind (2001), Frost/Nixon (2008)
  • Oscar Note: Has an Oscar for Producer of A Beautiful Mind
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  21
  • Films I’ve Seen:  21
  • Best Film:  Cinderella Man
  • Worst Film:  Angels and Demons
  • Films:
    • ****:  Cinderella Man
    • ***.5:  Apollo 13, Cocoon, Parenthood
    • ***:  Splash, A Beautiful Mind, Willow, Frost/Nixon, Backdraft, The Paper, Night Shift, The Da Vinci Code
    • **.5:  Gung Ho, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, EdTV, Grand Theft Auto
    • **:  The Missing, Ransom, Far and Away, The Dilemma, Angels and Demons

Career:  “Just as (A Beautiful Mind) won best picture, so Howard is a Thalberg Award winner one day – and a deserved one: he makes Hollywood feel better about itself.  And these days that is a tough trick.  Of course, it might be better for the artist in Howard if he felt less settled or secure about things – about everything.”  (Thomson, p 415)  Ron Howard is an odd quantity and I don’t really know quite how I feel about him as a director.  His two Oscar nominations were for films that were vastly over-rated by the Academy (and, to be fair, by other awards groups as well).  But he has done some very good work as well – how the same director could follow up such a misguided work as The Missing with such a well-done film like Cinderella Man remains an interesting director if nothing else.  But it definitely, to me anyway, seems that his best work is long in the past.  Like Thomson says, he makes Hollywood, and others feel better.  His early work, things like Splash and Cocoon and Parenthood were very good and very enjoyable and his Willow is a film that I have always enjoyed no matter what others might think of it.  But after Apollo 13, when he was passed over for the Oscar, he seemed to decide that he needed to get serious.  So he balances trash like the Grinch or his Dan Brown films with such pseudo-seriousness as A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon.  Sometimes that can work – I would rather watch the ridiculous, but enjoyable Da Vinci Code (and if there is anything that shows that Howard might someday again direct something with real vision watch the incredibly effective ending of that film, with its perfect cinematography and score juxtaposed against the completely ludicrous concept) than the History for Dummies on display in Frost/Nixon.  But sometimes the silly can go too far, as with the awful The Dilemma or Angels and Demons, a film I described as being so ridiculous and stupid that it makes The Da Vinci Code look like established Church doctrine by comparison.

Oscar Nomination:  If the Academy had given Ron Howard the Oscar (or at least a nomination) for Apollo 13, I wouldn’t agree with it, but I wouldn’t complain that much either.  Instead, after passing him up when he was DGA nominated for Cocoon and when he won the DGA for Apollo 13, they gave him the Oscar for his completely over-wrought A Beautiful Mind.  Remember this: in a year where Peter Jackson was nominated, where Robert Altman received what would be his final Oscar nomination, where David Lynch was nominated and where Baz Luhrmann wasn’t nominated for one of the most magnificently directed films of the decade, the Academy decided that the person most deserving of the Oscar for Best Director was Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind, a film in which he manipulates the viewers around the bend and back.  Though that might not have been as bad as his nomination for Frost/Nixon in which nothing about the direction, from the way everything is simplified, to the slow plodding way the film moves, was deserving of a nomination.

Peter Yates

  • Born:  1929
  • Died:  2011
  • Rank:  #121
  • Score:  381.05
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, DGA, 2 BAFTA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Breaking Away (1979), The Dresser (1983)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  23
  • Films I’ve Seen:  20
  • Best Film:  Breaking Away
  • Worst Film:  An Innocent Man
  • Films:
    • ****:  Breaking Away, The Friends of Eddie Coyle
    • ***.5:  Bullitt
    • ***:  The Hot Rock, Eyewitness, The Dresser, John and Mary
    • **.5:  Roommates, The House on Carroll Street, Krull, The Deep, One Way Pendulum, For Pete’s Sake
    • **:  Year of the Comet, Summer Holiday, Curtain Call, Murphy’s War, Mother Jugs and Speed
    • *.5:  Suspect
    • *:  An Innocent Man
    • not seen:  Robbery, Eleni, Run of the Country

Career:  “In America, Yates has done nothing more profound than send hubcaps careering round corners.”  (Thomson, p 951)  Peter Yates works best with people in motion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people being in motion is always going to make for a good Yates film.  Look at what he can do at his best – one of the most lovable comedies of all-time, one of the most under-appreciated crime films of all-time containing one of Robert Mitchum’s very best performances, and one of the films that made best use of Steve McQueen as an action icon – all of them with the wheels spinning out of control.  But he can also do utter crap – things like Mother Jugs and Speed or Year of the Comet.  I must especially mention that last film because it took me so long to see it and it was such an obsession for my friend Tavis and I (as far as I know he still hasn’t seen it).  It was written by William Goldman and in Which Lie Did I Tell he talks about how much he loved his script and how badly the film flopped.  Well, it flopped because it’s a bad film and part of that goes on Goldman and part on Yates.  It has Penelope Ann Miller when she was young and pretty and uses her very badly, it has ridiculous chases and a lead who can’t at all pull off that kind of Han Solo charm that they were going for.  It’s a little bizarre, looking at the list, that Yates would get Oscar nominated for The Dresser, when it is so far removed from everything else that he seemed to do in his career and isn’t even close to being his best film.  And we’re not even talking about his worst films – his “serious” films from the late 80’s that were complete and utter crap.

Oscar Nomination:  In spite of the fact that Peter Yates earned Golden Globe nominations both times that he was nominated for Oscars his two Oscar nominations are two of the more surprising in the Academy’s history.  For the first one, Breaking Away, in which he does a very good job, he earns a nomination for a comedy over Woody Allen in the same year as Manhattan.  For the second one, The Dresser, which really feels like the stage play that it originally was and in which Yates’ direction does nothing to open the film up and allow it to breathe like a film can, he was nominated while Philip Kauffman and his magnificent direction for The Right Stuff was passed over.  Both films might have easily been the kind of films which earn Best Picture but not Best Director nominations, but instead, both became instant non-serious serious contenders – the kind of strange film that is at least still in the race headed to Oscar night because of the two nominations but which no one expects to have a chance of winning.  And while The Dresser hasn’t seemed any better with time, Breaking Away at least is still one of the most charming, likable comedies ever made.

Arthur Penn

  • Born:  1922
  • Died:  2010
  • Rank:  #120
  • Score:  382.96
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 2 DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Miracle Worker (1962), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Alice’s Restaurant (1969)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Bonnie and Clyde  (1967)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Films I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  Bonnie and Clyde
  • Worst Film:  Penn and Teller Get Killed
  • Films:
    • ****:  Bonnie and Clyde
    • ***.5:  The Miracle Worker
    • ***:  Night Moves, Little Big Man, Four Friends, The Chase
    • **.5:  Alice’s Restaurant, Target, Mickey One
    • **:  The Missouri Breaks, The Left-Handed Gun
    • *.5:  Dead of Winter
    • *:  Penn and Teller Get Killed
  • Sarris Category:  Expressive Esoterica

Career:  “For a stage director whose work suffers from an oppressive literalness of effect, Penn has revealed a distinctive flair for the cinema.”  (Sarris, p 136)  “What happened?  Times changed.  Penn may have lost touch with vital friends and audience tastes.  The lesson is clear: auteurship is no protection – great directors can go cold.”  (Thomson, p 674)  But was Arthur Penn really ever an auteur?  Could you feel that you were watching a Penn film just by watching the film?  In his best film, Bonnie and Clyde, a directorial style is there, but do you see such a thing in his other films, especially anything post-1975?  And was Penn ever really a great director?  He was a good one for a while, and then he made some poor films.  But the fans of Penn try to give more credit to a poor film like The Left-Handed Gun than it really deserves.  Unlike two of the other directors on this post who have one masterpiece he didn’t luck into them through being part of the Studio Era.  But neither did he have such a powerful hand in crafting the script for his masterpiece like Curtis Hanson did.  Bonnie had the right director to work with the right people and a masterpiece came out of it.  But I’m not so certain that it ever propelled Penn into the ranks of great directors.

Oscar Nomination:  If there is anyone today who would still think of comparing Penn to Truffaut (which is unlikely), it is Bonnie and Clyde that would make them do so.  Yes, the editing is incredible and the cinematography is magnificent.  Yes, it begins with the script from Benton and Newman.  But looking at those actors, those whom we now think of as great, and think of them then and how new they were and how much Penn’s direction mattered.  Read Pictures at a Revolution and see how important Penn was to how this film developed into one of the single greatest (and most important) films in history.  But then we must remember that Bonnie and Clyde was one of only three nominations for Penn and that it was the direction that was clearly noticed in the other two as there weren’t corresponding Best Picture nominations to go along with them.  The direction in The Miracle Worker is solid, as is everything about the film but not really worthy of a nomination in such a stacked year as 1962.  And Alice’s Restaurant, where it succeeds, does succeed because of the direction – the plodding pace of the film combined with a script that doesn’t really want to go anywhere however, just leaves the film as a whole as a mess.

Victor Fleming

  • Born:  1889
  • Died:  1949
  • Rank:  #119
  • Score:  386.30
  • Awards:  Oscar
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Gone with the Wind  (1939)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Wizard of Oz  (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • Feature Films:  22
  • Films I’ve Seen:  15
  • Best Film:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Worst Film:  Wet Parade
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind
    • ***:  A Guy Named Joe, Joan of Arc, Red Dust, The Virginian, Test Pilot, Reckless, Tortilla Flat
    • **.5:  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Captains Courageous, Bombshell, Adventure, Treasure Island
    • **:  Wet Parade
    • not seen:  The Way of All Flesh, Abie’s Irish Rose, Awakening, Wolf Song, Common Clay, Renegades, The Farmer Takes a Wife
  • Sarris Category:  Miscellany

Career:  “Gone with the Wind is one of the notable exceptions to the notion of directorial authorship.”  (Sarris, p 259)  And yet, to leave Sarris’ comment at that is to understate the problem.  Because we don’t just Gone with the Wind as the biggest argument against the auteur theory – we have its companion film from the same director in the same year – The Wizard of Oz, the true triumph for Fleming.  The rest of Fleming’s career outside of those two films was simply Studio Era work for hire, some better than others (though he did direct the only lost Oscar winning performance in The Way of All Flesh).  There is no question that if there is an overall vision at work in Wind, it is that of David O. Selznick.  Fleming brought a strong hand to the film, but we must also give considerable credit to George Cukor and his work with the actresses in the film.  But before he even went to that film, he had taken over directing Wizard.  Again, it was Cukor whose creativity helped guide the film (and the producer, Mervyn Le Roy, whose production work on the film was far better than any directing he ever did in his career), and Fleming didn’t even complete the film, with King Vidor stepping in to the sepia scenes after Fleming had left to make Wind.  So here we have two acknowledged classics (even if I think Wind is over-rated) and Fleming is the credited director of both.  Yet, it was the guiding hands of other directors (other better directors I might add) and one superstar producer who seemed to have more of an authorship than Fleming ever did.

Oscar Nomination:  Gone with the Wind is a magnificent triumph of film-making even if it is a bad example of story-telling.  Fleming’s direction deserves great credit and ranks as my #3 on the year.  But, on the other hand, it is his directing on The Wizard of Oz, which wasn’t nominated that was my #1 choice for the year.  According to Inside Oscar (with no sources of course) this is the first year where a director couldn’t be nominated for two films, so they had to decide which and it was obviously going to be Wind.  And it was a good choice; it just wasn’t the right one.

Rob Marshall

  • Born:  1960
  • Rank:  #118
  • Score:  387.00
  • Awards:  DGA
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Chicago  (2002)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Films I’ve Seen:  4
  • Best Film:  Chicago
  • Worst Film:  Nine
  • Films:
    • ****:  Chicago
    • ***:  Memoirs of a Geisha, The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
    • **.5:  Nine

Career:  I suspect that many would disagree with placing Rob Marshall this high.  He debuted with Chicago, which won Best Picture, though he lost the Oscar to Roman Polanski (after winning the DGA).  It is ironic, because three years before Sam Mendes had won Best Picture for his first film, American Beauty, and Marshall’s big stage success was as the Broadway director and choreographer of Cabaret, moving it from the London production that had made Mendes’ name as a stage director.  Chicago has often (unfairly) been denigrated as a bad choice for Best Picture but it is flashily directed and a first-rate musical.  There were high hopes then, for Memoirs of a Geisha, with a big name cast and big budget (the novel had been a big success).  But the film turned out to be over-hyped and scored mostly in technical categories (in a telling stat, it was longlisted for 15 BAFTAs, the most of 2005, but only earned 6 nominations and only one was in a non-technical category (Actress)).  Then came Nine, which had just as big expectations (widely expected to compete for Best Picture) dropped off even further, earning scathing reviews.  So Marshall took a different step, returning with the fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean.  This film also got trashed by critics, mainly because it couldn’t measure up to the earlier films.  But viewed in its own right it is an entertaining film and one that took too much heat.  Indeed, even Marshall’s failure (Nine) showed flashiness in the direction and some hope that he’s not on a straight downward trend.  Next up is Into the Woods, one of my absolute favorite musicals and I have hopes that Marshall can regain his momentum.

Oscar Nomination:  It is true that Chicago does not make my top 5 for Best Director for 2002.  But it does make the Top 10 (and is my winner of Best Director – Comedy / Musical) in one of the best years in film history.  It is true that I think Chicago was the weakest of the five Best Picture nominees in 2002.  However, I rank 2002 as the single best year for Best Picture in the history of the Academy.  I rank Chicago as 40th of the 85 Best Picture winners – hardly anything to complain about in the grand scheme of things.  Marshall kept the film interesting and lively and for a first time director taking on such a big challenge deserves more credit than he is generally given.

Stanley Kramer

  • Born:  1913
  • Died:  2001
  • Rank:  #117
  • Score:  387.27
  • Awards:  Globe
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 4 DGA, 5 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Defiant Ones (1958), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
  • Oscar Note:  Has 6 more Oscar nominations as a producer
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Defiant Ones  (1958)
  • Feature Films:  15
  • Films I’ve Seen:  13
  • Best Film:  The Defiant Ones
  • Worst Film:  R.P.M.
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Defiant Ones
    • ***.5:  On the Beach, Inherit the Wind
    • ***:  Judgment at Nuremberg, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Not as a Stranger, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Oklahoma Crude, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
    • **.5:  The Pride and the Passion, Ship of Fools, Bless the Beasts and Children
    • **:  R.P.M.
    • not seen:  The Domino Principle, The Runner Stumbles
  • Sarris Category:  Miscellany

Career:  “If Stanley Kramer had not existed, he would have had to have been invented as the most extreme example of thesis or message cinema.  Unfortunately, he has been such an easy and willing target for so long that his very ineptness has become encrusted with tradition.  He will never be a natural, but time has proved that he is not a fake.”  (Sarris, p 260).  That’s actually Sarris’ entire comment on Kramer – he apparently felt no need to elaborate on his career.  “His own films are middlebrow and overemphatic; at worst, they are among the most tedious and dispiriting productions the American cinema has to offer.”  (Thomson, p 477)  They can be tedious yes, but dispiriting?  Hardly.  In fact, Kramer bothers me.  His liberalism speaks to me and I want to like his films more than I do.  But as a lover of film, I can’t embrace the dullness or preachiness that comes with so many of them.  And there is the extra problem that he decided so often that the spokesman for his values would be Spencer Tracy, the most over-rated actor to come out of Hollywood.  I can’t ever decide if the real problem with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is the cliche-ridden script, the slow plodding direction from Kramer that wants to hit us over the head or the performance from Tracy that just deadens the film, especially as it concludes with his speech that goes on forever.  At his best, Kramer could remember how to tell a story and not feel the need the let the message overwhelm it (which was helped in On the Beach by Nevil Shute’s original novel).

Oscar Nomination:  Watching The Defiant Ones, you can see the flashes of what kind of director Stanley Kramer might have been had he been gifted with editors who could keep the pace moving and scripts that managed to say things without beating us over the head with them.  He actually deserved his nomination (though, granted, it’s kind of a weak year).  But his later nominations are simply because he played right into what the Academy wants.  He gave it a good cause, with its favorite star (both earned Oscar nominations for Spencer Tracy) and big names.  But the direction in both Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are actually part of the weakness – they are meandering and get boring for long stretches.  Dinner plays into all of the very worst things about Kramer that caused Thomson to judge him so harshly and the Academy was a complete sucker for it (see Pictures at a Revolution).

Robert Rossen

  • Born:  1908
  • Died:  1966
  • Rank:  #116
  • Score:  393.05
  • Awards:  NYFC, DGA, Globe
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 3 DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  All the King’s Men (1949), The Hustler (1961)
  • Oscar Note:  Has 3 more Oscar nominations as a producer and writer
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Hustler  (1961)
  • Feature Films:  10
  • Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  The Hustler
  • Worst Film:  Alexander the Great
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Hustler
    • ***.5:  All the King’s Men
    • ***:  Body and Soul, Island in the Sun, They Came to Cordura, Lilith
    • **.5:  Mambo
    • **:  Alexander the Great
    • not seen:  Johnny O’Clock, Brave Bulls
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “For all their seriousness of purpose, Rossen’s films prove only that aspiration is no substitute for inspiration.”  (Sarris, p 200)  “Rossen favored intelligent psychological stories in realistic settings, but that is a long way from political preoccupation, and shows how tentative the ‘Marxist’ element in American cinema has always been.”  (Thomson, p 759)  “I didn’t like Bob Rossen.  I didn’t think he was a nice man, and this I shared in common with Billy Wilder.  We both did not like Bob Rossen.  I remember once, in a little Paris restaurant we used to love, where I knew that if Billy was around I’d find him there, I was at a table and Billy walked in.  I got up to greet him, and he commanded silence.  I asked, ‘Billy, what’s wrong?’  He said, ‘I’ve got terrible news.’  I said, ‘What is it?’  He said, ‘Bob Rossen made a good picture.’ ”  (Jules Dassin, as interviewed in Tender Comrades, p 214).  I have to think that the film must be The Hustler.  Not only because I would find it hard to imagine anyone not thinking it’s a good film but because I can’t imagine what else it possibly could have been.  Rossen was already an Oscar nominee (and his film had won Best Picture) by the time he caved in front of HUAC and started naming names.  Did it do damage to his career?  Clearly it did damage to his name and Tender Comrades is full of those who have lasting enmity towards him.  But his career was always up and down and it remained that way.  The high of The Hustler couldn’t make the low of Alexander the Great go away.  And in spite of caving, he remained considerably less prolific than Jules Dassin who fled the country (and wasn’t as good, either).  In the end, maybe his mixed emotions wore him down and he just couldn’t get the job done.  And yet, in 1961, as the blacklist was finally fading, he made his one unquestioned masterpiece.

Oscar Nomination:  Even in as weak a year for films as 1949, All the King’s Men shouldn’t have won Best Picture and Robert Rossen shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Director.  It is a very good film, but the strength in the film lies in the performances from Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge and the original novel rather than the direction or the script.  It’s not a coincidence that Rossen was nominated for both Director and Screenplay and lost them both.  It would be another 51 years before another Best Picture winner would fail to win either Director or Screenplay.  But his direction of The Hustler is first-rate and deserved its Oscar nomination, just as the film deserves its reputation as a classic (indeed, it wins my Best Director – Drama but loses the overall Nighthawk to West Side Story).

Atom Egoyan

  • Born:  1960
  • Rank:  #115
  • Score:  393.73
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
  • Feature Films:  12
  • Films I’ve Seen:  12
  • Best Film:  The Sweet Hereafter
  • Worst Film:  Family Viewing
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Sweet Hereafter
    • ***.5:  Felicia’s Journey, Exotica
    • ***:  Where the Truth Lies, Ararat, Chloe, Next of Kin, The Adjuster, Calendar
    • **.5:  Speaking Parts, Adoration, Family Viewing

Career:  “He does not seem to have been swayed away from his own course, which is quiet, introspective, rather wistful, and very fond of that delicate area where the imagination becomes the spirit.”  (Thomson, p 265)  There have been a couple of slip-ups, films that can’t quite raise up a level of mediocrity.  Yet, Egoyan, in 12 tries, has never made a bad or a boring film.  At his very best, with The Sweet Hereafter, he achieves a bittersweet poignancy.  It’s not just the source novel (though it is currently my staff rec at work – a very cold winter book for cold winter nights) – it is what Egoyan does with it, from the structure of the film to the haunting presence of Ian Holm in the center of it.  More importantly, as a Canadian director, Egoyan has managed to do what American directors seem so afraid of – actually make use of adult sexuality as a theme and not shy away from it, no matter what the consequences may be.  Thus, we can get films like Exotica, Where the Truth Lies or Chloe, films that seem like Americans can’t be trusted to handle properly.  Next up he’s got Devil’s Knot, a film based on the West Memphis Three.

Oscar Nomination:  Of all the unexpected Best Director nominations of the last 30 years (ones who didn’t earn Best Picture nominations and who hadn’t earn any other nominations), the one for Atom Egoyan for The Sweet Hereafter may have been the best job that the Academy did.  This was a film that hadn’t received almost any awards attention (it had won Best Supporting Actress at the Boston Society of Film Critics, but earned nothing from the Globes, guilds, BFCA or BAFTAs), yet suddenly appeared on nomination morning with nominations for Director and Adapted Screenplay.  That it was one of the best films in a great year for film made it all the sweeter that the Academy had gotten something so right.

John Sturges

  • Born:  1910
  • Died:  1992
  • Rank:  #114
  • Score:  398.13
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Great Escape  (1963)
  • Feature Films:  42
  • Films I’ve Seen:  35
  • Best Film:  The Great Escape
  • Worst Film:  By Love Possessed
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Great Escape, Bad Day at Black Rock
    • ***.5:  The Magnificent Seven
    • ***:  Mystery Street, Last Train from Gun Hill, The Hallelujah Trail, Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall, Never So Few, Joe Kidd, Jeopardy, The Eagle Has Landed, Right Cross, Kind Lady, The Law and Jack Wade, Hour of the Gun, Marooned, Escape from Fort Bravo, Scarlet Coat, Sergeants 3, The Old Man and the Sea, It’s a Big Country
    • **.5:  The People Against O’Hara, McQ, Walking Hills, The Capture, The Girl in White, The Magnificent Yankee, Chino, For Love of Rusty, The Satan Bug, Fast Company, Ice Station Zebra
    • **:  Underwater, A Girl Named Tamiko, By Love Possessed
    • not seen:  The Man Who Dared, Shadowed, Alias Mr. Twilight, Keeper of the Bees, Sign of the Ram, The Best Man Wins, Backlash
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Even in the era of Mystery Street, The People Against O’Hara, and Escape From Fort Bravo, the director’s easily acquired reputation as an expert technician was incomprehensible.  Where Daves attracts attention with his debasing crane, Kubrick with his meaningless tracks, and Wise with the IBM perforations of his montage, Sturges’s stock-in-trade for superficial analysis is the wasteful pan.”  (Sarris, p 202)  “It should be said that whenever Sturges forsook the Western or the West he was inclined to be clumsy.”  (Thomson, p 845)  There’s no question that there is a view of the man in action, specifically as embodied in Steve McQueen that was the perfect subject for Sturges.  His best films keep the action rolling and no one has to think too much.  The only time he ever slowed up in the slightest and still worked with some proficiency is in Mystery Street.  He could even find a way to make Spencer Tracy move around a bit and not be so damn stiff and he got the best performance out of Tracy in a long decade full of stuffed shirts.

Oscar Nomination:  When John Sturges finally broke through and ended up as an Oscar nominee it was in a rather odd year.  1955 was one of those years when only two directors were nominated along with their films, and the directors, with Bad Day at Black Rock and East of Eden, where showing a hell of a lot more taste than the general Academy voters who managed to nominate Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  Bad Day at Black Rock is an excellent thriller, with a lively performance from Spencer Tracy and until Sturges got his two changes with McQueen years later it was the only really worthwhile film he made.

Curtis Hanson

  • Born:  1945
  • Rank:  #113
  • Score:  402.60
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • Oscar Note:  Won an Oscar for writing L.A. Confidential
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • Feature Films:  13
  • Films I’ve Seen:  10
  • Best Film:  L.A. Confidential
  • Worst Film:  Losin It
  • Films:
    • ****:  L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys
    • ***:  In Her Shoes, 8 Mile, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
    • **.5:  The River Wild, Bad Influence
    • **:  The Bedroom Window, Lucky You, Losin It
    • not seen:  Sweet Kill, Little Dragons, Of Men and Mavericks

Career:  Here’s our fourth of the four directors on this part of the list who directed one absolute masterpiece.  But, he has also had a bit more success.  While Milestone and Penn never came close again to a masterpiece and while Fleming lucked into two in one year, Hanson scored a second great film with his next film.  But those two great films still aren’t enough to move him far up the list.  There is too much baggage in the early part of his career.  He was a film writer who turned writer and director and his early films are either pretty weak or impossible to find.  He began to make a name for himself in the late 80’s and early 90’s with thrillers that had a sexual edge to them but that didn’t mean that those thrillers were actually any good.  But then he managed to turn his collaboration with Brian Helgeland on L.A. Confidential (they wrote the script together and Hanson directed) into one of the best films of the 90’s.  He followed that strongly with Wonder Boys, but then he began to drift into the baggage again.  In Her Shoes is a good film and 8 Mile is okay, but Lucky You is pretty dumb and it’s beginning to look more and more like those two great films were the exception and that his early flawed works were the standard.

Oscar Nomination:  What more really needs to be said?  Hanson swept all the critics awards – the first director to ever do so and the first film to do so since Schindler’s List.  But then he managed to lose every award to James Cameron (except the BAFTA which he lost to Baz Luhrmann).  Is there any serious film fan who thinks Titanic is a better film or that Cameron deserved that Oscar?  And aside from the direction, the script is one of the single best examples of how to turn a novel into a film, keeping the characters and the ideas while getting rid of what needs to be dumped.

Hector Babenco

  • Born:  1946
  • Rank:  #112
  • Score:  403.73
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
  • Feature Films:  9
  • Films I’ve Seen:  6
  • Best Film:  Kiss of the Spider Woman
  • Worst Film:  At Play in the Fields of the Lord
  • Films:
    • ****:  Kiss of the Spider Woman
    • ***.5:  Pixote
    • ***:  Ironweed, Carandiru, Lucio Flavio o Passagerio de Agonia
    • **.5:  At Play in the Fields of the Lord
    • not seen:  O Rei da Noite, Foolish Heart, El Pasado

Career:  “Babenco is an idealist, possessed of a vivid documentary eye.”  (Thomson, p 44)  Hector Babenco shows all the strengths and weaknesses of a nominating a foreign director for Best Director, though Babenco’s nomination was for a film in which the primary language spoken is English, which makes him a bit different right there.  The strengths are clear with someone like Babenco – he does have that documentary eye and his Pixote is a gut-wrenching film.  Getting nominated for an Oscar makes people like me (and others) seek out his other films and they can find an audience they might have never had.  On the other hand, it can also be hard to find those films.  I have seen 2/3 of Babenco’s films, which gets him just out of the bottom 20.  But in that bottom 20 are Troell (61.5%), Cacoyannis (57.1%), Wertmuller (52.1%) and Molinaro (46.9%).  Just because their most popular films have become more accessible doesn’t mean that those of us in the States can find the rest of them, both before and after their nominations.  The other problem with foreign directors earning that Oscar nomination is what comes after, when they decide to make films in America.  A film like Ironweed can work because of the pathos in the story and the performances when you put a Nicholson and Streep together.  But a mess like At Play in the Fields of the Lord?  That kind of thing happens when you give a Hollywood budget to a director who’s used to something much different.

Oscar Nomination:  As much as it might seem natural now – after all Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for only four Oscars, but it was the big four – Babenco’s nomination was actually a big surprise when it happened.  He hadn’t been nominated for by the Globes or the DGA, and unlike the only other director to that in the previous five years, he wasn’t Woody Allen.  But it was the right choice that the Academy made – in a year where they chose to give the Oscar to Sydney Pollack for Out of Africa, they at least got Babenco into the nominees where he belonged.

King Vidor

  • Born:  1894
  • Died:  1982
  • Rank:  #111
  • Score:  410.53
  • Nominations:  5 Oscars, DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Crowd (1927-28), Hallelujah (1928-29), The Champ (1930-31), The Citadel (1938), War and Peace (1956)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  35
  • Films I’ve Seen:  33
  • Best Film:  Show People
  • Worst Film:  The Fountainhead
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  Show People
    • ***:  The Big Parade, Our Daily Bread, La Boheme, Duel in the Sun, The Citadel, Wild Oranges, Hallelujah, Northwest Passage, Beyond the Forest, War and Peace, Bardelys the Magnificent, The Patsy, Lighting Strikes Twice, Man Without a Star, Street Scene, H.M. Pullham Esq., An American Romance
    • **.5:  Cynara, Texas Rangers, Stella Dallas, On Our Merry Way, The Wedding Night, So Red the Rose, Comrade X, The Crowd, Bird of Paradise, Japanese War Bride, Solomon and Sheba
    • **:  Not So Dumb, The Champ, Ruby Gentry, The Fountainhead
    • not seen:  Billy the Kid, The Stranger’s Return
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “King Vidor is a director for anthologies.  He has created more great moments and fewer great films than any director of his rank.”  (Sarris, p 117)  “Vidor’s eye for composition is unendingly based on the emotional content of man’s struggle.”  (Thomson, p 897)  There are probably a couple of different approaches here.  The first would say, wait, how the hell did King Vidor never win an Oscar?  That can’t possibly be right.  He was bringing social humanism to films when so many directors were struggling with the whole concept of how to frame a shot without showing the microphone.  But then there are those who probably will say, wait King Vidor is tied for second place all-time among directors without an Oscar with five nominations?  He’s tied with Alfred Hitchcock?  That can’t be right?  (Imagine what they say when they realize that they’re in second place behind Clarence Brown).  Of course, I am in the second camp, as is clear.  King Vidor is the second highest-ranked director on my list who doesn’t have a four star film to his credit (Antonioni is above him).  But not only does Vidor not have a four star film, he only has one ***.5 film.  Yes, there is humanism in his works.  Yes, he celebrates the lives of the common man and he can do so with poignancy, like in Our Daily Bread.  But he can also do so with overwhelming dullness, like in The Crowd, one of the most severely over-rated films in history.  And it doesn’t end there either – there are those who champion the wretchedness of The Fountainhead, merging Rand’s disgusting notion of philosophy with the aw shucks performance of Gary Cooper in a film that doesn’t work as a philosophical outlook or a work of art.

Oscar Nomination:  It’s a fairly well-known story that Vidor’s The Crowd would have won Best Production at the initial Academy Awards had not Louis B. Mayer (who had released the film) talked the jury out of it.  That it took this for Sunrise, one of the great silent films, possibly the best film made in America to that point, to win Best Production is a shame.  That The Crowd, which tells a poignant story, but never manages to do so in an interesting or compelling manner almost won shows that it was over-rated from the beginning.  Then, in 1956, Vidor was quoted as saying “I wish Stevens would hold Giant back a year so I can have a crack at an Oscar.” (Inside Oscar, p 271)  Vidor would in fact end up nominated for War and Peace that year, and though I wouldn’t have done so, it isn’t a bad choice – Vidor’s direction is the best thing about the film, its epic scope helping to gloss over the fact that it bungled the casting.  In the years between, Vidor would be nominated for the solid, but uninspiring Hallelujah, for the truly wretched The Champ and for the good The Citadel, though he would never actually win the Oscar.

Leo McCarey

  • Born:  1896
  • Died:  1969
  • Rank:  #110
  • Score:  410.97
  • Awards:  2 Oscars, NYFC, Globe
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 2 DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  The Awful Truth (1937), Going My Way (1944), The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
  • Oscar Note:  Has 8 total Oscar nominations and 3 total Oscars (one for Screenplay)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Awful Truth (1937)
  • Feature Films:  24
  • Films I’ve Seen:  21
  • Best Film:  Duck Soup
  • Worst Film:  The Kid from Spain
  • Films:
    • ****:  Duck Soup, The Awful Truth
    • ***:  Make Way for Tomorrow, Ruggles of Red Gap, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Indiscreet, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Rally Round the Flag Boys, Love Affair, The Milky Way, My Son John, Liberty, Wrong Again, Satan Never Sleeps, Belle of the Nineties
    • **.5:  Six of a Kind, Good Sam, An Affair to Remember, Let’s Go Native, The Kid from Spain
    • not seen:  Wild Company, Part Time Wife, You Can Change the World
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “Noted less for his rigorous direction than for his relaxed digressions, McCarey has distilled a unique blend of farce and sentimentality in his best efforts.”  (Sarris, p 100)  “McCarey is best with the audience in the palm of his hand, encouraged to improvise by that confidence, but never betraying the characters in his story.”  (Thomson, p 581)  Leo McCarey only directed one Marx Brothers film, but it was the best of all of them.  Before that, he had done some drama, comedy and musicals, but nothing worth remembering.  Afterwards, he would find a way to make Charles Laughton funny, to win an Oscar for directing a comedy and make some poignant films.  But he never really made it as a truly great director.  His best moments were in comedy, but his best moments were also over by 1937 with much of his career still ahead of him, including the original Love Affair (a decent film) and its 1957 remake (a pretty stupid one).

Oscar Nomination:  It is said that The Awful Truth was made by Columbia in an effort to show Frank Capra that they could get along without him.  It was nominated for Best Picture and it won Best Director, in between two years in which Capra himself won Best Director.  What a time that was, when three comedies in a row could win Best Director.  Only three comedies have won Best Director in my lifetime and unless you want to count My Fair Lady as a comedy there haven’t been back-to-back comedy winners since Capra won that final Oscar in 1938.  The ironic thing was that McCarey himself preferred his more human drama from earlier in the year, Make Way for Tomorrow, about older parents who are pushed aside by their uncaring children and after he won, said “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” (Inside Oscar, p 82).  Actually, I think they gave it him for the right picture.  Even though it’s my #3 on the year for both Picture and Director, it is a well-directed classic screwball comedy and feels very much like the best of Capra.

Mervyn LeRoy

  • Born:  1900
  • Died:  1987
  • Rank:  #109
  • Score:  411.00
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 3 DGA, Globe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Random Harvest (1942)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang  (1932-33)
  • Feature Films:  65
  • Films I’ve Seen:  56
  • Best Film:  I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • Worst Film:  The Bad Seed
  • Films:
    • ****:  I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
    • ***.5:  Random Harvest, Five Star Final
    • ***:  Little Caesar, Three on a Match, Johnny Eager, Gypsy, Two Seconds, Waterloo Bridge, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, A Majority of One, Home Before Dark, Without Reservations, East Side West Side, Tonight or Never, Toward the Unknown, They Won’t Forget, Escape, Heat Lightning, Lovely to Look At, Madame Curie, Fools for Scandal, Any Number Can Play, Show Girl in Hollywood, Broadminded, Sweet Adeline, You John Jones, The Gold Diggers of 1933
    • **.5:  Blossoms in the Dust, Top Speed, Latin Lovers, Big City Blues, Gentleman’s Fate, The World Changes, I Found Stella Parrish, Tugboat Annie, Anthony Adverse, Quo Vadis, Rose Marie, Million Dollar Mermaid, Homecoming, No Time for Sergeants, The FBI Story, Little Women, Numbered Men, Happiness Ahead, Mary Mary
    • **:  The Devil at 4 O’Clock, Local Boy Makes Good, Elmer the Great
    • *.5:  Moment to Moment, The Bad Seed
    • not seen:  Little Johnny Jones, Playing Around, Too Young to Marry, Heart of New York, Hi Nellie, Oil for the Lamps of China, Page Miss Glory, Unholy Partners, Wake Me When It’s Over
  • Sarris Category:  Lightly Likable

Career:  “From Little Caesar to Gypsy, Le Roy has converted his innate vulgarity into a personal style.  As long as he is not mistaken for a serious artist, Le Roy can be delightfully entertaining.”  (Sarris, p 184)  “The great thing about Renoir was, he knew exactly what he wanted.  It wasn’t like Mervyn LeRoy and some of those other Hollywood guys who were shooting postcards.”  (Mickey Knox, as interviewed in Tender Comrades, p 371)  Mervyn LeRoy had a very long career and what came out of it was a lack of anything distinctly his or even distinctly interesting.  How could the man who directed such a dark, brilliant film as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang go on to direct a big epic mess like Quo Vadis or an utter piece of crap like The Bad Seed?  There is a lack of cohesion there.  He made some fine films early on, including one absolute classic in 1932.  But he also worked for a long time, through the end of the Studio Era and beyond and never approached anything like it again.

Oscar Nomination:  It was typical of the Academy in the early years to skip a film like I Am a Fugitive for Best Director, in spite of it being miles better than any of the nominated directors (especially the winner, Frank Lloyd).  Instead, they would nominate him for Random Harvest – solid direction, but not outstanding and not really worthy of a nomination a year where Orson Welles wasn’t nominated for The Magnificent Ambersons.

Vincente Minnelli

  • Born:  1903
  • Died:  1986
  • Rank:  #108
  • Score:  411.34
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, Globe
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 6 DGA, 3 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  An American in Paris (1951), Gigi (1958)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
  • Feature Films:  33
  • Films I’ve Seen:  33
  • Best Film:  The Bad and the Beautiful
  • Worst Film:  A Matter of Time
  • Films:
    • ****:  The Bad and the Beautiful
    • ***.5:  Home from the Hill
    • ***:  The Band Wagon, Lust for Life, The Clock, The Story of Three Loves, Some Came Running, An American in Paris, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate, Kismet, Tea and Sympathy, Brigadoon, Designing Woman, Yolanda and the Thief, Bells are Ringing, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Long Long Trailer, The Sandpiper, Cabin in the Sky, I Dood It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
    • **.5:  Two Weeks in Another Town, The Reluctant Debutante, Goodbye Charlie, Gigi, Madame Bovary, Father’s Little Dividend, Father of the Bride, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, The Cobweb
    • **:  Undercurrent, A Matter of Time
  • Sarris Category:  The Far Side of Paradise

Career:  “If he has a fatal flaw as an artist, it is his naive belief that style can invariably transcend substance and that our way of looking at the world is more important than the world itself. . . Minnelli believes more in beauty than in art.”  (Sarris, p 102)  “Minnelli’s stress on style is itself reaching out for the dream: the fluid, self-sufficient sequences of fantastic imagery.  That could explain the occasional feeling of indifference to narrative, just as it directs attention to his style.”  (Thomson, p 602)  Minnelli always had style, always managed to make his films look good and many of them (those that weren’t too overly serious) were great fun.  At times he was in material that was out of his range – his attempts to do classic literature, or too get too ridiculous.  And some of his most well known films – films like Gigi and Father of the Bride – are among his weakest films.  He is remembered for his musicals more than anything, especially his two Best Picture winners.  But his best work was actually in dramas.  His The Bad and the Beautiful is a singular film in Oscar history.  Until 1996 it was the only film to win Best Adapted Screenplay without a Best Picture nomination.  It is one of only two films (along with Thief of Bagdad) to lead the year in total Oscars without a Best Picture nomination.  Of the 62 films in Oscar history to win 5 or more Oscars, 61 of them were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.  It was nominated for neither.  Yet, it is a great film, a magnificent film, easily his best film.  And it wasn’t just that – there was Home from the Hill, Lust for Life, The Clock – all good films, all better than nearly all of his musicals.  And he should be remembered for those musicals, but for more than that as well.  And he should be remembered for The Band Wagon, because that’s his best musical.

Oscar Nomination:  A Place in the Sun won 6 Oscars in 1951, including Director and Screenplay.  A Streetcar Named Desire won 4, including three for acting.  Yet, An American in Paris won Best Picture – one of the strangest choices the Academy ever made.  It’s an enjoyable film, and the most boring part of it, the ballet, isn’t on Minnelli – that was orchestrated by Gene Kelly himself.  But Gigi?  Well, just remember this.  In the same year that Gigi won 9 Oscars, including Picture and Director, Touch of Evil was nominated for none.  And which one is today considered the all-time classic?

Charles Crichton

  • Born:  1910
  • Died:  1999
  • Rank:  #107
  • Score:  412.98
  • Nominations:  Oscar, BAFTA, 2 DGA
  • Oscar Nominations:  A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Films I’ve Seen:  11
  • Best Film:  A Fish Called Wanda
  • Worst Film:  Against the Wind
  • Films:
    • ****:  A Fish Called Wanda, The Lavender Hill Mob
    • ***.5:  Hunted
    • ***:  Hue and Cry, Titfield Thunderbolt, Law and Disorder, Man in the Sky, Floods of Fear, The Battle of the Sexes, The Third Secret, Against the Wind
    • not seen:  For Those in Peril, Girl of the Canal, Another Shore, Dance Hall, Love Lottery, The Divided Heart, The Boy Who Stole a Million, He Who Rides a Tiger

Career:  It’s hard to get a true measure on Crichton’s career, which is unfortunate.  Crichton was one of the primary directors at Ealing Studios throughout the 50’s and 60’s and his The Lavender Hill Mob is perhaps the defining Ealing Comedy (see the Ealing post).  In fact, it was his direction of Lavender that convinced John Cleese to pull him out of 20 years of television directing and have him direct A Fish Called Wanda, the best film Crichton would make, the film that would finally make him an Oscar nominee at 78.  Both films work together – they are not only the best of his work, but they are both heist films that go very badly and unbelievably funny.  The rest of Crichton’s work with Ealing isn’t on the same level – some of it comedies, some dramas, but all of it is good and all of it is enjoyable and worth watching.  Those you can watch, of course.  Of the 8 films I haven’t been able to watch, 6 of them are from his Ealing days and The Divided Heart was nominated for 5 BAFTAs and won two.

Oscar Nomination:  Charles Crichton hadn’t directed a theatrical feature in 23 years when John Cleese unearthed him to direct A Fish Called Wanda (“He’s the only director I’ve ever worked with who’s still trying to get over the impact of the talkies,” Cleese joked (Inside Oscar, p 728).  And yet, the Academy nominated the 78 year old for Best Director, showing that they clearly recognized the talent he had for comic timing.  It’s such a bizarre feat to earn a Best Director nomination for a comedy when the film isn’t nominated for Best Picture.  And yet, the directors had better sense than the general membership – it’s not only one of the best films of 1988 (with some of the best direction), but one of the funniest films ever made.

James Cameron

  • Born:  1954
  • Rank:  #106
  • Score:  413.55
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, BFCA, 2 Globes
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, 2 BAFTA, BFCA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  Titanic (1997), Avatar (2009)
  • Oscar note:  Has 3 Oscars and 6 total Oscar nominations
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  8
  • Films I’ve Seen:  8
  • Best Film:  Aliens
  • Worst Film:  Piranha Part Two: The Spawning
  • Films:
    • ****:  Aliens
    • ***.5:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    • ***:  Titanic, Avatar, The Terminator, True Lies
    • **.5:  The Abyss
    • .5:  Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

Career:  “It could be said of Cameron that no one did so much to redeem the eighties genre of high-tech threat through the overlay of genuine human interest stories.  But that description smacks of the formulaic.  Perhaps it would be more to the point to ask who smothered so many promising stories with effects and apparatus?”  (Thomson, 5th Ed, p 144)  Cameron began with a bad horror sequel that was actually taken out of his hands.  Yet, after that he was given a chance to write and direct The Terminator and he managed to create a franchise out of almost thin air.  He then became the man for big budget action sci-fi films (this is an important distinction, in that his Aliens is an action film in a science-fiction setting, whereas Alien was a horror film in a science-fiction setting).  Some of that turned out to be great, not only for entertainment value, but also as films, and Aliens and the second Terminator deserve their status.  But then he decided to make Titanic and decide that he was a serious filmmaker.  The film brought in millions of teenage girls and crushed all box-office records and then managed to win 11 Oscars.  After that, he was out of the main game for over a decade, creating a television show, making documentaries, and finally re-emerging with Avatar, which he had been working on for years.  Like Titanic, Avatar was a spectacle, with amazing effects, solid direction and a script so bad it made you want to scream.  And like Titanic, it obliterated box-office records.  And so, James Cameron is like a more talented Michael Bay – making big noisy films where the effects are the star.  Yet, Cameron has talent as a director and if only he could find another writer he could potentially produce a classic.

Oscar Nomination:  On the one hand, I am not a particular fan of either Titanic or Avatar, the two highest-grossing films of all-time, neither of which belongs there and neither of which belonged anywhere near the Best Picture race.  On the other hand, the direction in both films is one of the better things about them.  Cameron always seemed destined to win in 1997 (which is ironic, because Curtis Hanson absolutely deserved to win but Cameron actually ranks above him in overall rank), even if he really didn’t deserve it.  It’s much better that he was passed over in 2009 for his ex-wife, whose direction really was worthy of a win.  Although, in a further bit of irony, though Bigelow initially ended up ranked below Cameron (and went on the printed list that way), now, after Zero Dark Thirty, she has leaped past him – instead of appearing the post before him, she actually now belongs in the post after him.

William Friedkin

  • Born:  1935
  • Rank:  #105
  • Score:  415.53
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, 2 Globes
  • Nominations:  2 Oscars, 2 DGA, BAFTA, 2 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)
  • Feature Films:  19
  • Films I’ve Seen:  19
  • Best Film:  The French Connection
  • Worst Film:  The Guardian
  • Films:
    • ****:  The French Connection, The Exorcist
    • ***:  To Live and Die in L.A., The Boys in the Band, Blue Chips, The Brink’s Job, The Birthday Party, The Night They Raided Minsky’s
    • **.5:  Bug, Killer Joe, The Hunted, Rules of Engagement
    • **:  Sorceror, Good Times, Cruising
    • *.5:  Deal of the Century, Rampage, Jade
    • .5:  The Guardian

Career:  There are those who think that Friedkin’s fall is one of the most dramatic among directors – up there with Rob Reiner.  But those people usually forget that before The Boys in the Band, Friedkin had directed three films, none of which were all that great and one of which, Good Times, was pretty bad.  Yes, in the mid 70’s, he was looking around, being marketed as an auteur, having done two magnificent films that were both box-office and critical successes.  Then he did his remake of Wages of Fear, Sorceror, and it was pretty bad.  And then he never really bounced back.  He would make a solid film like The Brink’s Job or To Live and Die in L.A., but then he would follow these up with utter crap like Cruising or Rampage.  And by the end of the 90’s, he had only made four films in the previous 15 years and three of them were quite bad.  He has made four films this century – all of them mediocre (though some of them get much higher marks from people other than me).  But not only has he not made another classic since 1973, he’s never even come close.

Oscar Nomination:  It actually hurts a little that I don’t give Friedkin an Oscar for either film.  There are a lot of years where either one of those films would win Best Picture and Best Director from me.  They are both expertly directed, with great timing, great command of the actors, great shots and incredible energy.  However, they both happen to be released in tough years – the former goes up against A Clockwork Orange and the latter against Cries and Whispers.  The French Connection falls on a list with films like The Hurt Locker or The Godfather Part II – they aren’t my choice, but I’m not particularly upset that they won because they are great choice.  As for The Exorcist – well, it would have been a better choice than The Sting, especially for Best Director and I’m guessing that if Friedkin hadn’t won just two years before he probably would have at least taken home the Director prize.

Michelangelo Antonioni

  • Born:  1912
  • Died:  2007
  • Rank:  #104
  • Score:  416.63
  • Awards:  NSFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Blow-Up (1966)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Feature Films:  15
  • Films I’ve Seen:  15
  • Best Film:  L’Aventurra
  • Worst Film:  Zabriskie Point
  • Films:
    • ***.5:  L’Aventurra
    • ***:  Red Desert, Story of a Love Affair, La Notte, Blow-Up, Lady Without Camelias, Identification of a Woman, I Vinti, Le Amiche, The Passenger, Il Grido, The Eclipse, The Mystery of Oberwald, Beyond the Clouds
    • **:  Zabriskie Point
  • Sarris Category:  Fringe Benefits

Career:  “In Blow-Up, Antonioni acknowledged for the first time his own divided sensibility, half mod and half Marxist.  Unlike Fellini, however, Antonioni converted his confession into a genuine movie that objectifies his obsessions without whining or self-pity.”  (Sarris, p 146)  “Antonioni’s world of sentimental and metaphysical dismay ought to include just such a figure as himself: a man of vast intellectual sensibility and artistic aspiration; a film director capable of stripping people down to fragile skins that can hardly brush against one another without pain; but a visionary of emotional alienation, so morbidly convinced of the apartness of people that he sometimes ends by photographing figures in a landscape.”  (Thomson, p 23), though in the 5th Edition, Thomson adds “Antonioni is more than that – he is the modern novelist at the movies . . . If he had liked laughter a little more, he would stand with Renoir.” (p 28).  Blow-Up is, in some ways, the quintessential Antonioni film and it is good evidence of why he is precisely here on the list.  Antonioni ranks higher than any other director on the list who has never made a **** film.  Part of this is because he has considerable talent as a director, but his scripts always seem to be lacking something (I think he is a post-modernist novelist at the movies, unable to quite pull off anything coherent, but with talent).  So he earns points in various fields, but never has any film that can rise to the level of greatness.  But there has always been a tendency among film critics to worship these kinds of directors, to favor talent over coherency, and thus Antonioni ranks in the Top 20 for points earned from the external Top 1000 list.  And Blow-Up is a perfect example of all of this – well-directed, but with narrative problems, a good film that can’t quite raise to the level of a great film, but which is often worshipped by serious lovers of film.

Oscar Nomination:  I’ve always been a bit torn about Blow-Up, since I saw it in a film class back in 1995.  The direction is very good, and it’s very stylish (especially the appearance by the Yardbirds).  But, on the other hand, it’s kind of a narrative mess, which is appropriate for Antonioni.  So, for the nomination for Best Director, I’m mostly okay with it, especially since it was better directed than any of the three Best Picture nominees it was earning the Director nomination over (The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, The Sand Pebbles, Alfie).  But, if I ever do a post on Original Screenplay, I’ll have serious issues with a nomination for such a convoluted script.

Jules Dassin

  • Born:  1911
  • Died:  2008
  • Rank:  #103
  • Score:  420.85
  • Nominations:  Oscar
  • Oscar Nominations:  Never on Sunday (1960)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Night and the City (1950)
  • Feature Films:  23
  • Films I’ve Seen:  20
  • Best Film:  Night and the City
  • Worst Film:  Circle of Two
  • Films:
    • ****:  Night and the City
    • ***.5:  Brute Force, Rififi, Thieves Highway
    • ***:  The Naked City, Phaedra, Affairs of Martha, Reunion in France, Up Tight, A Letter for Evie, He Who Must Die, The Law, Topkapi, 10:30 PM Summer
    • **.5:  Promise at Dawn, A Dream of Passion, Young Ideas
    • **:  Never on Sunday, The Canterville Ghost
    • *.5:  Circle of Two
    • not seen:  Nazi Agent, Two Smart People, Rehearsal
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Confronting a career that verges on the grotesque, one might say that it is easier to drive a director out of Hollywood than to drive Hollywood out of a director.  Dassin’s softheaded social consciousness has never obscured his minor talents.”  (Sarris, p 191)  “The gap in Dassin’s career during the early 1950s followed his departure from America for political reasons.  But in Europe he found Melina Mercouri instead.  Together, they made some of the most entertainingly bad films of the sixties and seventies: pictures that outstrip their own deficiencies and end up being riotously enjoyable as one waits to see how far pretentiousness will stretch.”  (Thomson, p 205)  ” ‘According to the filmographies, you appear to have specialized, for part of the time in comedy.’  ‘I specialized in shit.  They were awful.’ ”  (Jules Dassin, as interviewed in Tender Comrades, p 206)  Now, that is a bit of a harsh assessment on the early films that Dassin made at MGM.  And he would later in the interview call Brute Force a “really dumb picture”.  But he looked fondly on most of the later films that he made after fleeing the States.  When HUAC come down on him in the late 40’s, Darryl Zanuck suggested he gave him the novel Night and the City and said “Here’s a book.  You’re going to London.  Get a screenplay as fast you can and start shooting the most expensive scenes.  Then they might let you finish it.”  (Tender Comrades, p 208)  That ended up in the best film that Dassin would ever make.  But his early years were better than he wanted to remember them – Brute Force and Thieves Highway are very good films and some of his MGM films, like Affairs of Martha and Reunion in France are enjoyable comedies.  They aren’t great art, but neither is a lof of the stuff he made after he left the States.  While Rififi is very good, Never on Sunday is just a mess (and sadly, the film he was nominated for) and Topkapi is very over-rated.  Although, he at least realized that Circle of Two was pretty bad (“Well, when you cast the [role of the] magical creature with Tatum O’Neal, you’re dead. [Laughs.]” (Tender Comrades, p 222)

Oscar Nomination:  As was clear from the comments above, neither Sarris nor Thomson were fans of Never on Sunday.  And they might actually have a higher opinion of it than I do.  It is one of those films that the Academy enjoyed namely because it was foreign and funny.  But it was never really that funny, Mercouri isn’t all that good in it and the direction (and the film itself) fall flat.  It pushes me away and I can’t understand how that was the film for which Hollywood decided to make some amends to Dassin for driving him away.

Norman Jewison

  • Born:  1926
  • Rank:  #102
  • Score:  428.43
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars, 3 DGA, 3 Globes
  • Oscar Nominations:  In the Heat of the Night (1967), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Moonstruck (1987)
  • Oscar Note:  7 total Oscar nominations
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  • Feature Films:  24
  • Films I’ve Seen:  22
  • Best Film:  In the Heat of the Night
  • Worst Film:  Rollerball
  • Films:
    • ****:  In the Heat of the Night
    • ***.5:  And Justice for All, A Soldier’s Story, The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, Moonstruck
    • ***:  The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Hurricane, Fiddler on the Roof, In Country, The Art of Love, Best Friends, The Thrill of It All, Agnes of God, Only You
    • **.5:  Jesus Christ Superstar, The Statement, Send Me No Flowers, Other People’s Money, Gaily Gaily, F.I.S.T.
    • **:  Rollerball
    • not seen:  40 Pounds of Trouble, Bogus
  • Sarris Category:  Strained Seriousness

Career:  “Unfortunately, Jewison’s films suffer from the director’s compulsion to be strenuously cinematic.  Jewison does not so much direct as overdirect and too often to diminishing returns.”  (Sarris, p 195)  “He remains unpredictable, a gadfly among directors, lavish with real locations, but indifferent to authenticity.”  (Thomson, p 441)  Norman Jewison has been well-respected by the various awards groups over the years – 5 Best Picture nominations at the Oscars, several nominations from the Oscars, DGA and Globes.  Yet, on the Top 1000, he only earned 3 points.  The films were admired at the time but have faded in the minds of many.  Some of them deserved their place as great films (In the Heat of the Night), some of them suffered from Jewison’s direction and didn’t deserve their place (Fiddler on the Roof) and some of them were just in the right place at the right time (Moonstruck).  Jewison has managed a solid career of mostly good or even very-good films and not too many missteps.  But he is one of those directors whose films seem to be constantly better than the direction, as the Academy clearly noticed.

Oscar Nomination:  It’s very clear that the general Oscar voting population is much more fond of Norman Jewison’s films than the director’s branch of the Academy.  Is there a director in the 5-nominee Best Picture era (1944-2008) who had a greater disparity between Best Picture and Best Director?  Perhaps because they noticed that the films themselves always seemed to rise above the direction.  And thus, there were Best Picture nominations for A Soldier’s Story and Russians but no Director nomination.  And in 1967 when In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture, Jewison wasn’t a winner alongside it.  He is the only director in this era to have his film out-achieve its director three times.  And, well, it was warranted.  You’ll notice he only earns one Nighthawk nomination.  His direction of Heat was very good, but in a year of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, it doesn’t measure up.  I think his direction of Fiddler is fairly flat – it’s the cinematography that’s the star there.  As for Moonstruck?  Well, he’s not exactly Woody Allen with comedy and it was a surprise that he managed to make it into the final 5 in 1987.

Robert Zemeckis

  • Born:  1951
  • Rank:  #101
  • Score:  431.00
  • Awards:  Oscar, DGA, CFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, 2 DGA, BAFTA
  • Oscar Nominations:  Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
  • Feature Films:  16
  • Films I’ve Seen:  15
  • Best Film:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • Worst Film:  What Lies Beneath
  • Films:
    • ****:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future
    • ***.5:  Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future Part III
    • ***:  Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future Part II, The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, I Wanna Hold Your Hand
    • **.5:  Used Cars, Contact, Beowulf
    • **:  Death Becomes Her, What Lies Beneath
    • not seen:  Flight

Career:  “No other contemporary director has used special effects to more dramatic and narrative purpose.”  (Thomson, p 959)  In 1997, a writer for The Oregonian tried to compare Zemeckis and Spielberg with Zemeckis coming out on top.  His argument was that Zemeckis was a serious filmmaker, that his films Forrest Gump and Contact (which had just come out and prompted the article) showed the depth of his ideas whereas Spielberg was pure entertainment (they were deliberately compared, as Zemeckis was mentored by Spielberg and Spielberg was a producer on many of Zemeckis’ early films).  I found the comparison laughable then and even more so now.  Zemeckis is the one whose films lack coherent ideas – even in 1997, when Zemeckis was making Contact (all I can think about is the “South Park” scene – Mr. Garrison has just had surgery and they keep telling him about these horrible things they did to him, sawing through bone and such, but then, when leaving, the doctor asks Garrison if he has ever seen Contact and Garrison just starts projectile vomiting – “Waited the entire movie to see that alien and it was her goddam father!”) that his films were shallow and empty – that they used visual effects to great effect but since deciding he was serious, with Gump and then with Contact, he had gone away from what had made him a good filmmaker.  After a couple of early films, he scored with three films in a row – Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all of them a hell of a good time and the last two of them two of the best most enjoyable films of the eighties and two of the films that best merge comedy with science-fiction.  But after moving on to more serious stuff, he lost his way.  And then it was made worse when he decided to start making all these motion capture animated films – not a one of them really worth seeing.  Has he come back with Flight?  I’ll have to see.  It could move him up and be his first real worthwhile film in over 20 years.

Oscar Nomination:  In a career of films that combines special effects with storytelling, using comedy and drama, what a shame that Robert Zemeckis was nominated for the most insipid of those types of films.  In a year of really great nominated films like 1994, it had to be Zemeckis that won the Oscar over Tarantino, Kieslowski, Allen and Redford (or the non-nominated Burton, Darabont and Jackson).  There was nothing more awards-worthy in the direction of the film than there was in the film itself, a bizarre attempt at merging Being There with Zelig but without the real charm or intelligence of either one.


All of the films listed above (The Front Page, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Foreign Correspondent, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Heiress, Doctor Zhivago, The Sand Pebbles, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Exorcist, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Broadcast News, Avatar, 127 Hours, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables) were not only nominated for Best Picture, but they were follow-up films to Best Picture winners.  And of course, the other two, The Best Years of Our Lives and Lawrence of Arabia are from William Wyler and David Lean, the only directors to win Best Picture with two films in a row, though both came after longer intervening time (4 and 5 years).  Now, there have been 19 occasions when a film won Best Picture and the director’s follow-up was also nominated for Best Picture.  But, in 10 of those cases, the director was not nominated with his (or her) follow-up: The Front Page, Foreign Correspondent, The 10 Commandments, The Sand Pebbles, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Conversation, Broadcast News, 127 Hours, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables.  But there have only been three times when a director was nominated for his Best Picture follow-up, but his film wasn’t – Elia Kazan for East of Eden, John Schlesinger for Sunday Bloody Sunday and Woody Allen for Interiors.

Here’s the interesting thing about the time on this – prior to 1962 this had only happened 8 times (a follow-up getting nominated for Best Picture).  But from 1962 to 1974 we had six directors whose follow-up was nominated for Best Picture (and another one for Best Director).  Then it went cold again – from 1975 to 2007, only twice did a film win Best Picture and the director’s next film was nominated, though a lot of them, like Wall Street, Avalon, Philadelphia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Road to Perdition and Memoirs of a Geisha were expected to compete and many of them were nominated for several Oscars.  But then, three directors in a row – Danny Boyle in 2008, Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 and Tom Hooper in 2010 managed to get their next film into the Best Picture race – although, I feel I need to point out that is the expanded Best Picture race and that none of those three ended up being nominated for Best Director.

All of this was prompted by a rhetorical question in the last group of what was the worst film ever to be followed up by a Best Picture winner.  The answer turned out to be Her Alibi, directed by Bruce Beresford just before directing Driving Miss Daisy.  So what is the worst film ever to follow a Best Picture winner?  Well, I’m gonna go with Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, though Hannibal, directed by Ridley Scott is also pretty damn bad.  I suspect there are many out there who would make a strong argument for The Postman, directed by Kevin Costner.