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Friday, January 25, 2013
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10 Outrageous Oscar Snubs Of Directors With Films Nominated For Best Picture

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor


Anyone who’s been following the Oscar race this year, especially after the nominations were announced, is well aware that some very surprising Best Director snubs occurred. Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper have top-tier Best Picture hopefuls, but all three were left out in the cold for director. The same can be said for Quentin Tarantino, who also saw his film cited but not his own directorial work.

People have been flipping out over those Oscar omissions, but when you think about it, they’re only the latest in a long line of fine directorial efforts not rewarded by the Academy. With only five slots for Best Director, there are always going to be a group of directors snubbed for the prize. It’s the nature of a shortlist.

What you’ll see below are 10 directors who saw their films nominated for Best Picture but were snubbed by Oscar in Best Director. In a pair of cases, I came close to cheating by citing two films for the filmmakers, but I don’t think anyone here will mind too much. Some of the filmmakers listed will surprise you. Others won’t, but one thing is certain: They all deserved the nominations they didn’t receive.

Keep this in mind as we begin this look at some of the impressive names that Affleck, Bigelow, Hooper and Tarantino have joined. Also, we’re only looking at the last 50 years — I needed to cut things off somewhere, so that seemed like as good a number as any.

10. Joe Wright for Atonement

I have a host of problems with Joe Wright’s film Atonement, but his direction is not among them. The cinematography that Seamus McGarvey and Wright brought to screens was breathtaking, and it’s almost impossible not to want to pat Wright on the back for the Dunkirk Beach scene, considering the work that went into it. Nearly every directorial choice here elevates the film, even if the script and book that it’s based on aren’t quite of the same quality to me.

The movie scored seven Oscar nods (and won for Dario Marianelli’s Original Score), but a nomination for Wright was not among them. Granted, the competition was pretty stiff, and he wasn’t the only snubbed director that year (cough, the aforementioned Affleck as well as Sean Penn, cough), but work this strong shouldn’t be ignored by the Academy in an ideal world.

9. Philip Kaufman for The Right Stuff

It was really a shock when doing my prep work for this piece that I found Philip Kaufman to have never once gotten a Best Director nom. While hardly one of the flashier directors out there, he’s incredibly solid and generally consistent. For my money, his career best was The Right Stuff, and that’s where he really deserved the Best Picture nod.

Kaufman did some fine work with his tale of the early days of the space program, and despite the film scoring eight Oscar nominations (and even winning four of them), his name was nowhere to be found when the Best Director list was read. Movies as well-liked as this one tend to bring their directors along for the ride, but that clearly didn’t happen here.

8. Baz Luhrmann for Moulin Rouge!

Say what you will about the films of Baz Luhrmann, but the man knows how to craft a visually impressive movie. Sometimes they don’t capture the eye of the Academy, but when they do, they really do. Such was the case for Moulin Rouge!, which is about as clear an example of a director executing his vision as you can get. For some reason, Oscar voters didn’t see it that way.

Eight citations by the Academy (along with a pair of victories) weren’t enough to find Luhrmann included in the fold. Yes, he can be hit-or-miss, but this seemed like a no-brainer nomination at the time. I’m not a huge fan of Luhrmann, but I think this was a snub and a missed opportunity at that.

7. Ang Lee for Sense and Sensibility

Considering how much the Academy seems to like Ang Lee, it’s interesting to look at how he wound up missing for what was one of his more Oscar-friendly works to date. Lee might wind up winning his second Oscar this year, but back in the mid 1990s, he had this period piece up for consideration. He looked like a solid bet for a nomination until, of course, he wound up on the outside looking in for Sense and Sensibility.

With seven citations from the Academy and a win among those, it was a shock not to see Lee there. This sort of direction is usually Oscar catnip, but in this particular case voters were immune to his charms. Lee has clearly made up for this omission, but a snub is a snub.

6. Steven Spielberg for both Jaws and The Color Purple

My first instance of talking about two snubs for one director is in regard to a man who’s generally accepted as one of the all-time greats. Steven Spielberg is looked at today as a master, but at an earlier point in his career he hadn’t yet been accepted as a truly “serious” filmmaker. To many, he was still an up-and-comer who made popcorn flicks. While that label stuck until Schindler’s List, Jaws and The Color Purple were examples of Speilberg missing out when he should have made it in.

With a surprising four nominations (and three wins), Jaws was a legendary and surprising success story, establishing The Beard as someone to consider a potential great. When The Color Purple hit and was nominated for an impressive 11 Oscars (though it didn’t win any), it was a real slap in the face to Spielberg that he wasn’t cited. He’s clearly had the last laugh, and might just win his third Best Director statue this year, but these misses still sting.

5. Frank Darabont for The Shawshank Redemption

One of the great injustices in my mind is that The Shawshank Redemption went home empty-handed on Oscar night, and that includes the fact that somehow Frank Darabont wasn’t nominated for Best Director. He’s actually never been nominated for that particular prize, which alone boggles my mind.

Besides being my all-time favorite film, Shawshank is consistently ranked as the best or second best film of all time by the Internet Movie Database. Few films are as universally beloved as this one, and even the Academy showed they liked it when they bestowed seven nominations on it. Still, they didn’t like it enough to give it a stature or to give Darabont a chance for one. History has been kind to the film and the director, but that was a painful one at that very moment.

4. Bruce Beresford for Driving Miss Daisy

Perhaps the most unusual case study for this type of snub, Bruce Beresford saw his movie Driving Miss Daisy win Best Picture despite his direction not even being nominated by Oscar voters. True, this wasn’t exactly showy direction, but Beresford got some award-winning performances from his cast and the Academy fell for this flick. Somehow, they didn’t fall for Bruce as well.

Any film with nine Oscar nods (and four wins, including Best Picture) to its credit would seem like an automatic lock for at least a Best Director nom, but this is the big exception to that rule. While someone like Affleck of Bigelow is looking at this precedent for hope, as much as anything this just goes to show that even movies that the Academy loves can still wind up with major snubs.

3. James L. Brooks for both As Good As It Gets and Broadcast News

My other double-down in this post concerns one of the most respected dramedy directors of all time. James L. Brooks has helped pave the way for people such as Judd Apatow, though Brooks has seen his films have more success with the Academy. The exception there is with two of his most beloved works, As Good As It Gets and Broadcast News.

Despite already having won the Best Director statue previously, Brooks did not see one of the seven nominations for Broadcast News go in his direction — the same can be said for As Good As It Gets and its seven (though the latter managed two victories while the former went home without any). Brooks is well liked by the Academy, but they saw fit to snub his masterful directorial balance of comedy and drama.

2. Ron Howard for Apollo 13

There’s no doubt that Oscar voters dig Ron Howard’s direction, but what most consider his best effort is the one that was ignored by the Academy. Films such as Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind are solid outings, but Apollo 13 was Howard’s most exceptional work. A nomination for Best Director should have been in the cards regardless, but Oscar didn’t see it that way.

Among the nine nominations and two wins that the flick received, Howard’s direction was nowhere to be found. A striking omission if there ever were one, it would go down as one of the most outrageous if not for the number one choice I’m about to get into.

1. Martin Scorsese for Taxi Driver

This one always shocks people. Can you believe that Martin Scorsese couldn’t even manage a nomination for directing Taxi Driver? He struggled with winning Best Director for a time, that’s true, but nominations were never his struggle. Scorsese wasn’t quite “Scorsese” at this point, but it’s still an inexcusable snub by Oscar voters no matter how you slice it.

Taxi Driver was cited in four categories by the Academy, but Scorsese’s direction was not among the honors. While he’s now gotten his trophy to go along with a whole host of nominations, this remains one of Oscar’s worst snubs of a director to date. None of Scorsese’s works ever deserved this honor as much, at least in my opinion. But even if you don’t go that far, it’s still a woeful omission.

The directors mentioned above were pretty clearly snubbed by the Academy, especially in the one case in which a snubbed director’s film actually wound up winning Best Picture. Many of these folks were able to score subsequent nominations or even wins, while a few are still searching for that elusive first nod. Those dozen films and 10 directors will all stand the test of time regardless.

To those who are still upset that Affleck missed the cut this year, take solace in the fact that he’s got a long career ahead of him. Worst-case scenario, he can look forward to high placement on a future version of this list.

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  • Jessie

    So weird about Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow!

  • Wow, Kaufman is a total shocker. That film is brilliantly directed.

    I have to respectfully disagree with your choice of Speilberg for The Color Purple, though. The direction of the film is it’s weakest element for me. The performances and production values saved the movie somewhat but I’ve always thought in terms of direction, it was heavy-handed and lacking tooth.

  • Kate M.

    I also remember that Barbra Streisand was a controversial snub back in the day for “The Prince of Tides”. Of course, there is that whole sexist, anti-“females being quality directors” stance that the Academy seems to have had for decades (sans K. Bigelow that ONE time for “The Hurt Locker”). Nevertheless, Babs did an amazing job, and that was one snub lest not be forgotten. :)

  • Parkour

    Christopher Nolan for Inception. That’s the biggest Oscar Snub for a director whose movie was nominated for best picture. Not only did the movie turn out to be amazing. It couldn’t have been directed by anyone else, for only Nolan would make such a great movie and have such a brilliant idea. Also, he writes his own screenplay, which in my opinion, is a mark of independence.