11 filmmakers that have never won a Best Director Oscar RE: IndieWire




It’s the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony, Best Director gets announced, the winner, Ron Howard, gets out of his seat and makes his way to the stage to accept the award for A Beautiful Mind. For a few seconds, as he makes his way up to the stage, the camera pans to fellow nominee David Lynch going up to other nominee, the late great Robert Altman, and consoling him about the defeat. With one arm around Altman, we can’t quite make out what Lynch is telling him, but rest assured it wasn’t “the best man won”. At that point we kind of had a feeling that this was Altman’s last shot at getting the golden statuette. Just five years later the director of classics such as Nashville, MASH, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Player, 3 Women, Shortcuts, and The Long Goodbye would pass away at the age of 81 years old. Sadly, stories such as Altman’s aren’t uncommon. One can go through a list of late great filmmakers who never won a Best Director Oscar: Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Sidney Lumet, Howard Hawks, Arthur Penn – and that’s only the American-born list.

The sad tradition of not honoring the right filmmakers will likely continue for the Academy. Further proof can be found with these 11 greats who haven’t won yet, with some not even having a single nomination to their name; unfortunately they will likely never muster a win because of the visionary daring they bestow upon their every film. Originality can sometimes be so ahead of its time that it will scare voters away. It takes time to comprehend and acknowledge how some were just ahead of their time and produced some of the most important cinematic experiences imaginable. One only hopes that a few of the following eleven directors will make it up to the stage in the near future.


Ridley Scott
Although The Martian wasn't the greatest thing he's ever done, most people were not only predicting a Ridley Scott nomination, but even a win! The fact that he was snubbed, put all those hopes to rest and put the 78-year-old director in a precarious position at the tail end of his illustrious career. Don't get me wrong, this master still has quite a few more gems left in him, but The Martian was his best shot – a crowd-pleaser that made a ton of money and solidified his stamp as a great visionary of sci-fi. Up next for him is Alien: Covenant, a prequel to the famous series and a follow-up to his much debated 2012 film, Prometheus.

Five Best Movies: Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, American Gangster, Black Hawk Down
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Three.

Jean-Luc Godard
Although the academy has never awarded a foreign film the Best Director award, exceptions could have been made in the 1960s for Jean-Luc Godard's tremendous streak of films. The films Godard churned out on a yearly basis were astounding. Starting with 1960's Breathless, his role in France's Nouvelle Vague movement helped shape not only his country's cultural movement, but also influence the way films would be shot and told in the American studio system. Now 85 years old, he strays far away from conventional cinema and instead opts for a requiem-sensed way of telling a story: It's bold, original, but vital filmmaking that still allows him to win awards at Cannes. Just don't expect him to win any Oscars for these films, as they are way too groundbreaking for the Academy's tastes. That's why a couple of years ago he was awarded an Honorary Oscar: they know.

Five Best Movies: Breathless, Contempt, Alphaville, Pierrot Le Fou, Band Of Outsiders
Oscar Nominations For Directing: Zero.

David Fincher
If a case could ever be made about how awards-worthy David Fincher is, he probably wouldn't want to hear about it anyways. That's how much he cares about awards. He's more interested in making vital art. If his films are at first met with polite approval, check out release date reviews of Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, they instead end up lingering in our heads, aging like fine wine and becoming stone-cold classics. His static, highly controlled camera compositions enhance feelings of dread and coldness to the characters and situations he portrays. In fact, his cold, detached style has made him become the heir apparent to Alfred Hitchcock, whose films shared similar traits to and were also widely divisive back in the day. Next up for Fincher is a remake of Hitch's Strangers on a Train, set on a plane. A match made in heaven.

Five Best Movies: The Social Network, Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en, Gone Girl
Oscar Nominations For Directing: Two.

David Lynch
The day David Lynch wins an Oscar will probably be the day our society has a significant cultural shift and abstract surrealist cinema would actually be making millions at the American box-office. Suffice to say, this will not be happening in the foreseeable future, which probably means Lynch will have to wait for his much-deserved honorary Oscar. But imagine a society where a David Lynch could potentially become mainstream; it briefly happened in the early ‘90s when, for one season, ABC'S Twin Peaks was the toast of the town and the obsession in millions of American homes. Of course Lynch couldn't help it and slowly veered the series' tone into, well, a David Lynch kind of world filled with abstract ideas, unresolved mysteries, and the strangest of characters. With all that being said, the fact that he has been nominated three times for Best Director is quite a beautiful miracle in itself.

Five Best Movies: Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, Wild At Heart, The Straight Story
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Three.


Pedro Almodóvar
Although he hails from Spain, Pedro Almodóvar has gained a solid following in the United States. His films, critical hits, also tend to make quite a bit of money. He even got a Best Director nod in 2002 for his masterwork, Talk to Her. He is such an imposing cinematic force that his movies usually get presented as an "Almodóvar film". Often portraying strong female characters, his films have that acerbically comic wit that we've all grown to love ever since his 1987 breakout hit, Law of Desire. His aesthetic brilliance goes far beyond surface beauty, he has written some of the strongest, most eloquent roles for female actresses in the history of the art form and basically kick-started Penelope Cruz's career into Hollywood stardom. If there ever was a foreign filmmaker who could defy the odds and become the first one to ever win a Best Director Oscar for a foreign film, it's Almodóvar.

Five Best Movies: Talk To Her, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, Broken Embraces, The Skin I Live In, All About My Mother
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Zero.

Paul Thomas Anderson
Starting off his career with the Altman/Scorsese-inspired Hard Eight, Boogie Night, and Magnolia, there seemed to have been a shift in his style post-Punch-Drunk-Love in 2002. The best living filmmaker working today, P.T. Anderson has quintessentially reinvented cinema with his twin peaks There Will Be Blood and The Master – two bold, unique, ambitious films that signified a forward step in American filmmaking. They were character studies that defined the American character and the dark soul of this country. These were such exceptional works, from a director boldly going into new places, that comparisons to Kubrick were inevitable. These were movies that would surely be remembered in all their lasting glory in the years and decades to come. In fact, if there ever was a director today who could be compared to Kubrick, it would P.T. Anderson. Kubrick never got his due, winning only Best Special Effects, and one can only hope that Anderson won't be given the same fate.

Five Best Movies: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk-Love
Oscar Nominations for Directing: One.


Terry Gilliam
Starting off with the Monty Python comedy troupe in the ‘70s would have been enough to love this man, he gave us Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but the fact that he also became an influential filmmaker in the eighties and nineties fully justifies his inclusion on this list. Terry Gilliam is a visionary. He saw stuff that was far beyond anyone's reach at the time. In 1985 he made Brazil, an important cinematic milestone that wasn't even going to get released until the L.A. Film Critics Association managed to screen it for its members and consequentially named it their Best Picture of 1985. His heavy use of wide angle lenses might take you aback at first – actually every single unusual camera angle he concocts would – but his style is unmistakably Gilliam, and the wonder of the worlds he creates are claustrophobic, dreamy, and richly detailed. He's never been nominated for Best Director, which is a crime, but if one looks at his filmography, they'll find something better: lasting works of art.

Five Best Movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Zero.

David Cronenberg
If one theme keeps resonating among the directors of this list, it’s that they never seem to play it safe; these are directors who don’t make movies that are meant for Awards consideration. Oscar bait they are not, which perfectly describes the films of Canadian master David Cronenberg. He’s never gotten a single writing, directing, or producing nomination in his 40+ year career. That means classics such as Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises were not even mentioned in their respective years – as if they never existed. Time always has a way of making things better and that’s what’s happened to these films: they’ve lasted. Cronenberg will turn 73 in March, and he still makes smart, urgent films about his deepest obsessions, and never strives for the conventionality that wins awards. His parasite-filled, sexually tabooed and ultra violent films are what dreams are made of. Or is that nightmares?

Five Best Movies: Videodrome, the Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Zero.

Brian De Palma
If David Fincher has been channeling Hitchcock for the last two decades, Brian De Palma has been doing it for the last five decades. De Palma has referenced Hitch by constantly casting blondes as leading ladies, using Hitchcock regular Bernard Hermann’s scores and – more importantly – copying camera techniques of such films as Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho. Of course De Palma still managed to infuse his own “auteur” voice in the films; he’s one of the very best filmmakers for the long take/tracking shot and his constant use of the split screen has been nothing short of revolutionary. If you are too young to have lived through the ‘70s and ‘80s you wouldn’t know that at one point he was releasing one great movie after another. His familiar obsessions still linger inside him as he continues making movies this decade, but an Oscar nomination, in any category, still hasn’t happened.

Five Best Movies: Blow Out, Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Carlito’s Way, Scarface, Body Double
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Zero.


Spike Lee
If any director can attest to getting the shaft from the academy, it’s Spike Lee. His greatest movie, Do the Right Thing, didn’t even get a Best Picture nomination in 1989, with the academy instead opting for the safer, gentler, but nevertheless forgettable, whimsical depiction of racism in Driving Miss Daisy. We all know which film stood the test of time and which film, as Lee pointed out recently, is taught in film schools all across the U.S. It wasn’t just that movie, either: his incendiary film about Malcom X couldn’t muster anything, except a Best Actor nomination for Denzel Washington. Just like some of the great directors of his time, Lee’s films have aged very well and he keeps pushing the envelope, most recently in last year’s undervalued Chi-raq. He’s also responsible for starting the whole #Oscarssowhite debate when he refused to accept his honorary Oscar for this year’s upcoming ceremony.

Five Best Movies: Do the Right Thing, Malcom X, The 25th Hour, Summer of Sam, Inside Man
Oscar Nominations for Directing: Zero.


Quentin Tarantino
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the impact Quentin Tarantino has had on film culture over the last 25 years. Contrary to the other filmmakers on this list, he has actually won an Oscar before, actually two, both for Best Original Screenplay. No Best Director Oscar, which I guess he can’t really be too bummed about, especially since he keeps saying he’s going to retire after his tenth film, and well, let’s face it, his films are polarizing and always split the Academy vote. It’s already pretty impressive how his brand of filmmaking has transferred to the mainstream and actually makes money. Even when Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 nobody would have thought Tarantino would release a film 15 years later that would amass 320 million dollars in worldwide box office receipts (Inglourious Basterds).

Five Best Movies: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds

Oscar Nominations for Directing: Two. 

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