The first part of this list is going to concern 10 directors who got no Oscar nominations of any kind–not even for writing or producing. Also, I’m only including directors I’ve seen at least one film from. I’m also going to allow honorary Oscars, so Godard is not making this first list.
- David Cronenberg – Granted, a lot of his films aren’t really Academy-friendly (though A History of Violence got a couple of nominations), but it’s still surprising that he’s gotten absolutely no nominations throughout his career. And he really should have. 1986, Best Director–does anyone think Roland Joffe’s work on The Mission was better than Cronenberg’s on The Fly? Or in 2005, did Bennett Miller really need a Best Director nomination for Capote when Cronenberg could’ve finally gotten recognized for History? Hopefully they rectify this before it’s too late.
- Brian De Palma – To be fair, his career got kind of shaky in the 90s and his 21st-century work hasn’t made a huge impression, but between Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito’s Way, he should’ve gotten something (I’m thinking he should’ve been in the 1987 Best Director race for Untouchables over Norman Jewison for Moonstruck.)
- Carl Th. Dreyer – Nothing for Day of Wrath (which made the NBR Top 10), Ordet (which co-won the Golden Globe), or Gertrud (which was Denmark’s submission to the Oscars). Given that the Academy in the 50s and 60s was pretty open to giving writing nominations to foreign films, it’s strange they totally overlooked Dreyer.
- John Frankenheimer – The Globes nominated his direction for The Manchurian Candidate, a directing job so fine it gives David Lean’s work on Lawrence of Arabia a run for its money. The same year, he directed Birdman of Alcatraz and All Fall Down (kind of forgotten now, but it was in competition at Cannes). And yet, his achievements that year were overlooked in favor of Frank Perry’s direction of David and Lisa, a nice little film, but nowhere in the league of Candidate. And his work on later films like Seven Days in May, The Train, Seconds, and Grand Prix went totally unrecognized by the Academy. His later career was fairly rough, but he should have been noticed in his mid-60s heyday.
- Sergio Leone – He actually got a Globe nomination for Once Upon a Time in America. And really, had it not been for the studio interference, he might have secured an Oscar nod too. But instead the director of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West went totally ignored, while Clint Eastwood, whose career took off thanks to his films, went on to win Best Director twice.
- Richard Lester – Here’s just a partial list of films he directed: A Hard Day’s Night, The Knack…and How to Get It (not a very good film, but it won the Palme d’Or), Help!. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Petulia, The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers, Juggernaut, Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, The Ritz…and yet out of all that, he got absolutely nothing (his short The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film was nominated, but Peter Sellers was the only listed nominee).
- Yasujirô Ozu – While I’ve only seen his silent comedy I Was Born, But…, he was making major films well into the era of the Foreign Film category, yet got nothing. Tokyo Story, now considered one of the greatest films ever made, was totally overlooked. I also considered putting Kenji Mizoguchi, but he died only a year or two after the Foreign Film category was officially created, so I’ll give the Academy a pass on that one.
- Alain Resnais – Another director whom I’ve only seen one film from, in his case his brilliant Holocaust documentary Night and Fog. But while Resnais’ films Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad received nominations for their scripts (by Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, respectively), Resnais himself got nothing. He just died, but the Academy could posthumously nominate his final film, Life of Riley.
- Douglas Sirk – The Director’s Guild nominated him for his masterpiece, Imitation of Life, and the Academy paid some attention to his Written on the Wind (it won Best Supporting Actress), but the Academy never even gave him an honorary award. Because Jack Clayton’s direction on Room at the Top was so much better.
- Andrei Tarkovsky – His difficult relationship with the Soviet authorities didn’t help; only his first film, Ivan’s Childhood/My Name is Ivan, was submitted and it wasn’t nominated. Oddly, his post-defection films, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice, also failed to get attention, though the latter won the BAFTA and Tarkovsky came in 2nd place for the National Society of Film Critics’ Director award. But between Andrei Rublev, Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker, he deserved more.
And now, 15 directors who never received a nomination for Best Director:
- Carroll Ballard: All he personally received was a nomination for producing the documentary Harvest. But he made The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf, two beautiful, beautifully directed family films that should have gotten more Academy attention (especially the latter) than they did.
- Tim Burton: Like I even need to say anything. He got a Globe nomination for directing Sweeney Todd, but the Academy has only nominated him for producing Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie. Maybe Big Eyes will finally get him recognized.
- Cameron Crowe: He made Jerry Maguire, a Best Picture nominee, but wasn’t nominated for directing it. He won Original Screenplay for Almost Famous, but was denied either a Best Director or a Best Picture nomination for it. Since then, he’s been on shaky ground, but hopefully he’ll bounce back someday.
- Stanley Donen: Let me just list some films he directed or co-directed: On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, It’s Always Fair Weather, Funny Face, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees!, Charade, Two For the Road, and Bedazzled. Oh, and Movie Movie, which sounds fascinating. And all he’s ever gotten was an honorary award. Pathetic.
- Richard Fleischer: He won for the Documentary Design for Death, then went on to direct the following: The Happy Time (Globe nomination), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Compulsion, Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle (flawed, but better than its reputation suggests), The Boston Strangler, Tora! Tora! Tora!, 10 Rillington Place, The New Centurions, and Soylent Green. Maybe not a master director, but I think they could’ve made room for him.
- Terry Gilliam: His only nomination was for co-writing Brazil. The Academy couldn’t even give him a Best Director nomination. And as for his other works–Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King (Globe nomination), 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas–the Academy didn’t so much as sniff at him.
- Jean-Luc Godard: He got an honorary award in 2011 which he didn’t even bother to pick up in person. And only two of his films (Pierrot le Fou and Every Man for Himself) were Best Foreign Film submissions, and neither got nominated. But really, wouldn’t a nomination for him look better now than Jules Dassin’s nomination for Never on Sunday? I’ve never really taken to his work, but his influence can’t be denied.
- Werner Herzog: All he’s ever gotten was a nomination for producing the documentary Encounters at the End of the World. But for Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Stroszek, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo, Invincible, Rescue Dawn, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans…bupkis.
- Lawrence Kasdan: Director of two Best Picture nominees (The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist). Also directed Body Heat, Silverado, and Grand Canyon. Nothing. Only writing nominations and a producing nomination for Tourist. He also wrote or co-wrote the following: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi. Yet he’s never won anything. His career did cool off considerably after Grand Canyon, but he was on fire in the 80s.
- Spike Lee: Nominated for writing Do the Right Thing and producing the documentary 4 Little Girls. But for directing Do the Right Thing? Or for Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Clockers, Crooklyn, He Got Game, Get on the Bus, 25th Hour, or Inside Man? Not even close. The Malcolm X snub seems especially bad, since it’s the sort of film that normally gets recognized for its direction (that is, an epic-length biopic). Again, though, one hopes the Academy will rectify this someday.
- Paul Mazursky: Nominated four times for his writing and once for producing his lone Best Picture nominee (An Unmarried Woman), but never for his direction. Admittedly, a lot of his films are very much of their time and haven’t held up terribly well, but just look at his filmography: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Moscow on the Hudson, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Enemies: A Love Story. That’s not even all of them. He really should’ve gotten more Academy attention.
- Sam Peckinpah: Nominated for co-writing The Wild Bunch, his direction of that film was overlooked. Arthur Hiller was instead nominated for Alice’s Restaurant, a film based on the Arlo Guthrie song. I think that says it all.
- Michael Powell: This one hurts me, personally. He also directed two Best Picture nominees (49th Parallel/The Invaders and The Red Shoes), and his sole nomination was for co-writing One of Our Aircraft is Missing. That would be bad enough, but he directed two absolutely stunning films, A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven and Black Narcissus, the latter of which is one of the greatest films ever made and which actually won two Oscars (for its sets and cinematography, both richly deserved), yet Powell was snubbed. Add in his work (in tandem with Emeric Pressburger) on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I Know Where I’m Going!, The Tales of Hoffman, and (solo) Peeping Tom, and you’ve got one damnably over-looked director.
- Rob Reiner: The man made This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men (and his only nomination to date is for producing that film). After that things went downhill (North is…wow), but he’s still working, and there’s still hope. But really, that run he had from 1984 to 1992 was just incredible. The Globes actually nominated him four times for directing (Stand by Me, Harry/Sally, Men and The American President), but the Academy never did (which might be a record, I’m not sure).
- Lars von Trier: He actually has an Oscar nomination, for co-writing one of the songs in Dancer in the Dark. But even Breaking the Waves, which won him several critics’ awards and got a nomination for its star, Emily Watson, failed to bring him a nomination. I doubt Nymphomaniac will break the streak, but one can always hope.
10 more worth mentioning:
– Robert Aldrich: His films fared well with the Academy–at least 17 nominations (including 5 acting nominations) and two wins–but he was totally overlooked. Yet he made, among others, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Knife, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, Ulzana’s Raid, Emperor of the North, and The Longest Yard.
– Roy Andersson: Sweden has submitted three of his films over the years, two of which are extraordinary (Songs From the Second Floor and You the Living), yet none of them were nominated. Shameful.
– Dorothy Arzner: The only major female director of the Hollywood studio era. I haven’t seen any of her films, so I couldn’t put her in the top 10, but I’m betting she was more deserving than at least one nominee during her active career.
– Richard Donner: Superman? Lethal Weapon? The Goonies? Or the massively underappreciated Inside Moves? No?
– John Landis: Animal House, The Blues Brothers (which…tough category, but I don’t think Roman Polanski needed to be nominated for Tess), An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, and Coming to America. And not one nomination. Sad.
– Penny Marshall: She got a Best Picture nomination for Awakenings, and did Big and A League of Their Own on either side of it. Yet she got nothing.
– Guy Ritchie: What? Snatch and Lock, Stock are two of my favorite films, both incredibly written (by Ritchie) and directed. And here’s the five films the Academy nominated for Original Screenplay over Snatch: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot, Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, and You Can Count on Me. One of those (take your pick) could be ditched in favor of Snatch‘s wit and invention.
– Nicolas Roeg: Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Namely the latter, because…watch that movie.
– Don Siegel: Roll-call: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hell is For Heroes, Madigan, The Beguiled (fascinating film), Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist, Escape from Alcatraz…I’m just saying.
– Andy & Lana (Larry) Wachowski: The Matrix, you know. And Bound, if you needed another reason.