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Saturday, December 24, 2016
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Oscars: How Often Is There a Split Between Best Picture and Best Director?

'La La Land' and 'Moonlight' (Courtesy: Dale Robinette; David Bornfriend/A24)

‘La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ (Courtesy: Dale Robinette; David Bornfriend/A24)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

Nothing is certain at the Oscars, and that absolutely applies to the best picture and best director categories. While it is common for films to win both of these trophies in a given year, sometimes they can go to two different works. There’s a chance that La La Land and Moonlight could split these categories at the upcoming ceremony — but how often does that happen?

Both of these films are considered frontrunners in both the best picture and best director category at the upcoming Oscars. This site’s namesake, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, lists La La Land — written and directed by Damien Chazelle — and Moonlight — written and directed by Barry Jenkins — as the top two contenders in both categories in his latest check-in on the race. The two films have been splitting awards from festivals and critics groups alike, so figuring out what might come to pass at the Oscars is proving a tough job.

Throughout the history of the Oscars there have been 24 times when the film that won for best picture didn’t see its filmmaker win the trophy for best director. Here are the ceremony years this transpired in: 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1968, 1973, 1982, 1990, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2013, 2014, and 2016. If you work out the math, that means a split has cropped up about one-quarter of the time, or ~27% of the time.

As you can see, this occurred six times in the 1930s, four times in the 1950s, three times in the 2000s and 2010s, two times in the 1940s and 1990s, and only one time in the 1920s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It seems as though this manifestation was something that happened in the early years and could be making a bit of a comeback these days with a long period in between when the Academy tended to award the top honors to a single film-director combo.

Here’s a more extensive look at these years when there was a split between the two awards:

  • 1929: Frank Borzage (7th Heaven) and Lewis Milestone (Two Arabian Knights) won best director while Wings (Lucien Hubbard) won best picture;
  • 1930: Frank Lloyd (The Divine Lady) won best director while The Broadway Melody (Irving Thalberg and Lawrence Weingarten) won best picture;
  • 1931: Norman Taurog (Skippy) won best director while Cimarron (William LeBaron) won best picture;
  • 1932: Borzage (Bad Girl) won best director while Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding) won best picture;
  • 1936: John Ford (The Informer) won best director while Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd) won best picture;
  • 1937: Frank Capra (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) won best director while The Great Ziegfeld (Robert Z. Leonard) won best picture;
  • 1938: Leo McCarey (The Awful Truth) won best director while The Life of Emile Zola (William Dieterle) won best picture;
  • 1941: Ford (The Grapes of Wrath) won best director while Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock) won best picture;
  • 1949: John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) won best director while Hamlet (Laurence Olivier) won best picture;
  • 1950: Joseph Mankiewicz (A Letter to Three Wives) won best director while All the King’s Men (Robert Rossen) won best picture;
  • 1952: George Stevens (A Place in the Sun) won best director while An American in Paris (Arthur Freed) won best picture;
  • 1953: Ford (The Quiet Man) won best director while The Greatest Show on Earth (Cecil B. DeMille) won best picture;
  • 1957: Stevens (Giant) won best director while Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson) won best picture;
  • 1968: Mike Nichols (The Graduate) won best director while In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison) won best picture;
  • 1973: Bob Fosse (Cabaret) won best director while The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) won best picture;
  • 1982: Warren Beatty (Reds) won best director while Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson) won best picture;
  • 1990: Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July) won best director while Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford) won best picture;
  • 1999: Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) won best director while Shakespeare in Love (John Madden) won best picture;
  • 2001: Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) won best director while Gladiator (Ridley Scott) won best picture;
  • 2003: Roman Polanski (The Pianist) won best director while Chicago (Rob Marshall) won best picture;
  • 2006: Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) won best director while Crash (Paul Haggis) won best director;
  • 2013: Lee (Life of Pi) won best director while Argo (Ben Affleck) won best director;
  • 2014: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) won best director while 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen) won best picture;
  • 2016: Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) won best director while Spotlight (Tom McCarthy) won best picture.

There are clear indicators why the Academy might choose to focus on either La La Land or Moonlight. La La Land, for example, is hailed as a modern take on a beloved genre — read: musicals — that is a love letter to Los Angeles as the city is a living and breathing character. As for Moonlight, it is a film that features an all-black cast, comes from a black director, and is a coming-of-age story of a black man — three things the Oscars could bare recognizing. Other than that, both are deemed to be very much worthy of taking home the bragging rights.

It’s a pretty safe bet to expect La La Land and Chazelle as well as Moonlight and Jenkins to be nominated for Oscars in both the best picture and best director categories on January 24 — though anything could happen. What’s more intriguing is seeing which sides of this great fight will reign supreme when the envelope is opened on February 26. Let the games begin!

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