There is one thing that has always baffled me when it comes to film awards: doesn’t it feel logical that a Best Picture winner will also take the award for Best Director (maybe with very few exceptions)? It’s strange enough when this doesn’t happen, but it’s even stranger that only the producer receives the merits for best film (the producer and director should at least share the award). So my post today is about six of the greatest directors of all time, all favourites of mine, all classics, who never won the Oscar for Best Director. I am well aware that the Academy hardly regards foreign-language films and film makers other than in the Best Foreign Film category, but are there any technical impediments why they shouldn’t be considered eligible?
As you may have guessed, all of the six directors I’ve chosen were non-American, even though almost all of them made films in the US, thus undeniably contributing to the American film industry, one more reason to question the Academy’s choice to repeatedly overlook their work. One more mention: I’m not taking into consideration the Lifetime Achievement recognitions, because, really, I think these are more like a slap in the face for someone who has never won the real thing.
Charlie Chaplin. Can anyone deny that he was a genius and a visionary? Yet, despite his innovations and ahead of time thinking, movies and film making, he did not win an Oscar for Best Director. Notable directing mentions: The Gold Rush (1925, US) – if only the Academy Awards had started to take place two years earlier, The Circus (1928, US), City Lights (1931, US), Modern Times (1936, US).
Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe one of the great injustices of the American Academy was not honoring Hitchcock’s tremendous contribution to the film world and, why not, to the American film industry. He was a technician and many of his films were experimental, even his American ones. Dial M for Murder was shot in 3D in 1953. As for Vertigo (1958, US), it is now hailed as the best film of all times and it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, let alone for Best Direction. Other notable directing mentions: Rebecca (1940, US), Notorious (1946, US), North by Northwest (1959, US), Psycho (1960, US).
Akira Kurosawa. Who can define his role in the world cinema landscape? You would be right to put him top of the list. His movies are very complex – both from the point of view of the craftsmanship that went into their making and of the way they managed to preserve the national identity, while conveying a universal appeal. Starting up as a painter and later becoming a scriptwriter and an assistant director, Kurosawa was a complete film maker, one who produced one the most consistent bodies of work in the cinematic world. Notable directing mentions: Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Dersu Uzala (1975), Ran (1985).
Jean Renoir. Probably the best director in the French film industry and one of the world’s very best, one that was always left aside due to his unique approach to movie making. Renoir remained true to his belief that cinema is a special moment that should combine great screenplays with natural performances and spellbinding cinematography. Another important figure in the world cinema to be hunted and obliviated by the US’ ‘communism plague’, materializing in his lack of financing later on in his career. Notable directing mentions: La bête humaine (1938), La grande illusion (1937), La règle du jeu (1939).
Fritz Lang. A genius in his own rights, Lang succeeded to be so creatively rich in Germany, where he had a free hand to produce such films as Metropolis (1927), Frau im Mond (1929), and M (1931). Even though the US producer system was not among his favourites, Fritz developed undying characters in movies like Fury (1936, US) and You Only Live Once (1937, US), only to name a couple. A monumental director forgotten and diminished by the American leading producers, who finally became a name with the birth on the French New Wave thanks to Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol.
Ingmar Bergman. Not only one of the world’s greatest directors, but greatest film makers as well. The dialogue, the lean movement of the camera, the crisp cinematography, the naturalness of the Swedish actors are only a few of the reasons I love Bergman’s films. I think I have to watch Persona again one of these days for its beautiful black and white photography and close-up shootings (it felt like Bergman was reinventing the close-up), and for another attempt to grasp its mysteries. And for those of you who haven’t seen a comedy by Bergman, you don’t know what you’re missing, and you should watch Smiles of A Summer Night. Notable directing mentions: Smiles of A Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), Winter Light (1962), Persona (1966).
photos: Charles Chaplin Productions (Modern Times, 1936) / Paramount Pictures & Alfred J Hitchcock Productions (Vertigo, 1958) / Toho Company (Ikiru, 1952) / Réalisations d’Art Cinématographique (La grande illusion, 1937) / Walter Wanger Productions (You Only Live Once, 1937) / Svensk Filmindustri (Persona, 1966)