As the highly anticipated biggies like “Lincoln” and “Les Miserable” were revealed to be going up against one another for the Best Picture nod, a lot more attention has since been focused on the so-called “shockers” — those who did not get nominated, despite early expectations that they would.
This year, the focus was on two big Oscar snubs in the Best Director category: why in the world, folks are blogging and screaming about on social media sites, did Kathryn Bigelow not get nominated for directing “Zero Dark Thirty,” or why Ben Afflack was bypassed for directing “Argo.” It was one of those “Huh?” moments that Academy Award critics drool over.
As with most discussions related to the inanity known as the Academy Awards, it’s virtually impossible to fully speculate on why the Hollywood insiders who nominate these Oscar candidates opt to ignore one of their own. Politics? Personal envy? A dislike for the snubbed director as a person? Failure to actually read the instructions on the nomination forms? Too many psychedelic drugs floating around in Beverly Hills?
If it helps make the supporters of both Bigelow and Afflack feel any better, they’re in good company. Since the very beginning of the Academy Awards, Hollywood has had a strange tendency to nominate films for Best Picture — then ignore the director, as if the movie’s overall success had to do with something outside of the director’s creative vision, talent and expert crafting of the entire film. You gotta love Hollywood.
So, with that in mind, here’s a stroll down memory lane to some of Hollywood’s most egregious directorial snubs.
1. John Huston, “The Maltese Falcon,” 1941.
In 1941, Hollywood was still nominating 10 movies for Best Picture, a practice abandoned in 1944 in favor of five nominations, then revived in 2011. So obviously if you have 10 Best Picture nominees and just five for Best Director, not every director will make the cut.
But looking back at how extraordinarily well “The Maltese Falcon” has aged, or the fact that this early Humphrey Bogart classic was the real frontrunner for the dark and brilliant film noir series that continued throughout the 1940s, it’s hard to figure out why Hollywood ignored John Huston for Best Director.
The fact that Huston would win the Best Director award seven years later for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” and then go on to make such classics as “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The African Queen” and “Moulin Rouge,” makes his snub for his classic directorial debut that much harder to fathom.
Best Director in 1941: John Ford, “How Green Was My Valley.”
2. Orson Welles, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” 1942.
Orson Welles moved from the stage and radio to the big screen in 1940 with a film that some still consider the greatest motion picture ever made: “Citizen Kane.” A box office flop at the time, “Citizen Kane” was recognized by the Academy Awards, which nominated this trend-setting work for Best Picture and Best Director, and Welles won an Oscar for his screenplay. A year later, he made another film considered by many critics to be an enduring classic, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” that nostalgic evocation of a lost time in history. The movie did get a Best Picture nomination, but this time Welles was ignored in the director’s category. Why?
It’s hard not to wonder if there was some resentment over the fact that Welles was just 25 years old when he made “Citizen Kane,” that it was his first attempt at directing a movie — and it was positively brilliant. The fact that Welles’ future classics — “The Lady From Shanghai,” “Touch Of Evil,” and “The Trial,” for example — got ignored by the Oscars altogether suggests that Welles may have been far too talented for Hollywood, and he became a permanent exile from the big studios after “Magnificent Ambersons,” save for the movies he acted in.
Best Director in 1942: William Wyler, “Mrs. Miniver.”
3. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, “Cleopatra,” 1963.
What do you do when you make a four-hour-long movie, lavish beyond belief in recreating Egypt in 48 B.C., capture stunning performances by Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall, and generate a major scandal when the two stars — Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, both married to others — fall in love on the set and keep the scandal pages chattering about adultery and immorality for a year …. and at the same time run up the largest budget at that time for a single motion picture?
“Cleopatra” was deemed a “failure” at the time because its box office receipts never matched the movie’s hefty budget, but seeing it today, it’s understandable why Hollywood nominated it for Best Picture. This is gorgeous and riveting account of Cleopatra’s reign, made by a director who had already given Hollywood some amazing motion pictures, including “All About Eve,” “5 Fingers” and “Suddenly Last Summer.” Mankiewicz was a Hollywood pro, and “Cleopatra” demonstrates that. But it also seems likely that the controversy that “Cleopatra” generated — whether it was the excessive budget that nearly bankrupted Twentieth Century Fox studios, or the Taylor-Burton sex scandal, may have been responsible for his directorial snub.
Best Director in 1963: Tony Richardson, “Tom Jones.”
4. Steven Spielberg, “Jaws,” 1975.
Considering that Spielberg has won the Best Director award for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” has been nominated repeatedly in that category and could win this year for “Lincoln,” it would be hard to say Hollywood or the Academy Awards have been rough on him. But in retrospect it’s clear that the Academy Awards may have nominated Spielberg’s second big screen effort, the thriller “Jaws,” largely because it was a huge box office smash, and not necessarily because it was considered to have the same artistic value as other nominees that year.
In fact, looking at the film today, it’s easy to comprehend why Spielberg has become a Hollywood titan. This is one of the greatest scare movies of all time, a classic in the horror genre, and one that will leave you on the edge of your seat every time you watch it.
No, this wasn’t just a knock-off shark movie like all the crummy sequels that followed it. This one was made with skill, talent, and imagination — and Hollywood failed to acknowledge that by nominating Spielberg for Best Director.
Best Director in 1975: Milos Forman, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
5. Martin Scorsese, “Taxi Driver,” 1976.
Until Martin Scorsese picked up the Best Director award in 2006 for “The Departed,” the joke in Hollywood was about how a director so supremely talented to have made “Raging Bull,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator” had not won earlier.
At least he was nominated for Best Director for those movies. After impressing Hollywood a bit with his third movie, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” in 1974, Scorsese wowed more than a few critics with his dark, moody drama “Taxi Driver,” creating one of the greatest roles ever for Robert DeNiro, demonstrating that a very young Jodi Foster was on her way to a long and amazing career, and giving the cinema one of its most disturbing portraits of urban hell.
“Taxi Driver” got a Best Picture nomination, but Scorsese was ignored for Best Director. Fortunately, Hollywood wouldn’t make that mistake a second time.
Best Director in 1976: John Avildsen, “Rocky.”
6. Bruce Beresford, “Driving Miss Daisy,” 1989.
This has to be one of the most puzzling examples of the directorial snub — since this was a very rare example of a film being nominated for Best Picture, and winning the top prize … without garnering a Best Director nomination. (This actually happened just once before, in 1932, when Best Picture winner “Grand Hotel” didn’t snag a Best Director nomination for Edmund Goulding.)
Part of the reason “Driving Miss Daisy” won without a Best Picture nomination may have been politics. Typically when a movie fails to secure a Best Director nomination, it doesn’t win Best Picture, either. But in 1989, a lot of movie critics were anticipating that the winning movie would be “Born on the Fourth of July,” the controversial anti-Vietnam War film made by Oliver Stone — who did in fact win the Best Director award, as he had for his anti-Vietnam War movie “Platoon” in 1986.
Maybe enough voters disliked either Stone’s politics or the controversy he seemed to invoke, and decided that he didn’t deserve both top awards. Public sentiment then seemed to shift toward this more sentimental drama about race relations in the Deep South, which also picked up wins for Best Actress (Jessica Tandy) and Best Screenplay.
As for Beresford, there’s no question he’s a talented director, who was nominated in 1983 for directing “Tender Mercies,” and also made other memorable films, like “Breaker Morant” and “Crimes of the Heart.” Had he been nominated, would he have defeated Stone for Best Director?
Best Director in 1989: Oliver Stone, “Born on the Fourth of July.”
7. Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” 2002.
In 2001, the first in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” series, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, losing both.
His second installment in 2002, “The Two Towers” got nominated for Best Picture, but Jackson was snubbed as director. In 2003, the third installment, “The Return of the King,” won for Best Picture and Best Director.
So the first one was well directed, the second one kinda good but not as well directed, and the third really well directed?
There’s no figuring out Hollywood.
Best Director in 2002: Roman Polanski, “The Pianist.”
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