The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide — Best Director

Here is my subset of The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide, specifically for Best Director.

A reminder about the color code:

Films in RED are films that are essential. These are films you need to see, whether you like them or not. Though you’ll probably like most of them. A few of these may be part of a personal bias, but this is my list. Just think of the films in red as films you need to see if you want to be film literate (in the most basic sense). At least 70% of these are films that, if you haven’t seen them, you should be ashamed of yourself. These are the prerequisites you need to get into the class. (5-star films.)

Films in ORANGE are films that are my personal favorites (that aren’t already marked red). While not “essential” per say, these are films that I love dearly. They’re essential to me. They’re films that I will tell you that you need to see. I’d say that 80% of the time, these are going to be films that most people would enjoy. A few of them might be subjective to me, but on the whole, these are all very good films. I tried to limit the orange ones to only the best of the best, my absolute favorites. But either way, I love them, and you should definitely see at least 80% of them. (My 5-star films. At worst, most people’s 3-star films. Generally 4’s for everybody.)

Films in YELLOW are films I rate as “very good” films. Not too many people can deny that these films are good films, and whether or not they like them will come down to personal preference. The yellows are the most expansive category. They are by far the biggest bunch. Some of them are 5 stars, but just aren’t ones I love enough to make them orange. Most are solid 4s and come highly recommended. Some are weak 4s and high 3s and come recommended. The strength of the recommendation can be gauged by checking the articles. I’d say at least 60% of them are ones that most people would definitely enjoy, sight unseen. You may want to check a synopsis to be sure, but the rule of thumb is, you see yellow, it’s a good film. You should definitely check out a good portion of these. (4-star films. Maybe a 5 or a 3 here or there.)

Films in GREEN are films that are good films, but ones that probably won’t be for everybody. These probably cover the most ground in terms of my ratings. These will be anywhere from films I feel are solidly 4 stars, to films I don’t even like so much but understand and appreciate that they’re good films. I think the major commonality among the films is that they’re very divisive. They’re all good, but, some people might really like them, some people might not. You almost definitely want to check the synopses on these. Because some of these I love, and some of these I really don’t like, but I mark them green because I know they are good films on some level and don’t want to discount them entirely. These will be the hardest to gauge in terms of my opinion on them based solely on the color. I recommend you get more information on these. But generally most people would rate these at least a 3. (These are generally 3-4 star movies. Many 3s, many 4s, it depends.)

Films in BLUE are — well — the other films. These are films that I enjoyed, but didn’t really love all that much. They’re ones that are one step above the next level below this. Think of these as films that I enjoyed, but not more than a “meh, that was pretty good” kind of way. You’ll get a feel for it when you see which ones are marked blue. They’re ones that, while not totally for me, have their high points, and are not “bad” enough to be put in the final category. Do your homework on these. You may find ones you like here that I don’t like (it’s entirely possible), or you may find something that you like a lot more than I did. This is all based on my personal opinion. The first thing you should know before doing this is how my opinions match yours. NOTE: ALL WINNERS ARE AT LEAST BLUE. Having won, they carry at least that much of a coding. I may not feel so strongly about them, but they do earn that much. So, if you see a WINNER in blue, chances are I don’t like the film too much. (3 star films. Almost exclusively. <5% 4 stars and 2 stars combined here.)

Films NOT in any color (or, whatever the default color of this page is) are films that I don’t like. I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, since they are Oscar nominees, and that at least merits a certain amount of respect, but we’ll put it like this: these are ones I DO NOT recommend. Or, they’re films that just really weren’t for me. By elimination, there have to be a few of these on this list. So, the ones that are blank are ones that either I don’t like or are completely indifferent towards. And complete indifference means, they may be good, but I don’t care. I just didn’t care for it, whether because I think it’s a bad film, a boring film, or because it just really wasn’t for me. Read the articles if you want specifics. (3 stars or 2 star here. Nothing nominated for an Oscar gets a 1. They’re not completely inept. Mostly 2s, some 3s.)

(Note: Winners appear first and bolded. If a performance/directorial effort is italicized, I consider it to be one of the best. If an asterisk (*) appears after a film, it means it hasn’t been nominated before and is appearing for the first time (in the order of Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director). Also, the colors are uniform throughout. I’ve rated the films, not the performances.)

(Anything flush right on the page is a film I’ve yet to see.)


2013 – Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

David O. Russell, American Hustle

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

2012 – Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Michael Haneke, Amour

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

2011 – Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

2010 Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

David Fincher, The Social Network

David O. Russell, The Fighter

2009 Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

James Cameron, Avatar

Lee Daniels, Precious

Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

2008Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Stephen Daldry, The Reader

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant, Milk

2007 Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Jason Reitman, Juno

Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly *

2006Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima

Stephen Frears, The Queen

Paul Greengrass, United 93 *

Alexander Gonzalez Iñárritu, Babel

2005 Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck

Paul Haggis, Crash

Bennett Miller, Capote

Steven Spielberg, Munich

2004 Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Marc Forster, Finding Neverland

Taylor Hackford, Ray

Alexander Payne, Sideways

Martin Scorsese, The Aviator

2003 Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Clint Eastwood, Mystic River

Fernando Meirelles, City of God *

Peter Weir, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

2002 Roman Polanski, The Pianist

Pedro Almodóvar, Talk to Her *

Stephen Daldry, The Hours

Rob Marshall, Chicago

Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York

2001 Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind

Robert Altman, Gosford Park

Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

David Lynch, Mulholland Drive *

Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down *

2000 Steven Soderbergh, Traffic

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot

Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Ridley Scott, Gladiator

Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich

1999 Sam Mendes, American Beauty

Lasse Hallström, The Cider House Rules

Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich

Michael Mann, The Insider

M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

1998 Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan

Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

John Madden, Shakespeare in Love

Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line

Peter Weir, The Truman Show

1997 James Cameron, Titanic

Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty

Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter *

Gus Hanson, L.A. Confidential

Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting

1996 Anthony Minghella, The English Patient

Joel & Ethan Coen, Fargo

Miloš Forman, The People vs. Larry Flynt

Scott Hicks, Shine

Mike Leigh, Secrets and Lies

1995Mel Gibson, Braveheart

Mike Figgis, Leaving Las Vegas

Chris Noonan, Babe

Michael Radford, Il Postino

Tim Robbins, Dead Man Walking

1994Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump

Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway

Krystof Kieślowski, Three Colors: Red *

Robert Redford, Quiz Show

Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction

1993Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List

Robert Altman, Short Cuts *

Jane Campion, The Piano

James Ivory, The Remains of the Day

Jim Sheridan, In the Name of the Father

1992Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

Robert Altman, The Player *

Martin Brest, Scent of a Woman

James Ivory, Howards End

Neil Jordan, The Crying Game

1991Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs

Barry Levinson, Bugsy

Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise

John Singleton, Boyz N the Hood *

Oliver Stone, JFK

1990Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part III

Stephen Frears, The Grifters

Barbet Schroeder, Reversal of Fortune

Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas

1989Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July

Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors

Kenneth Branagh, Henry V

Jim Sheridan, My Left Foot

Peter Weir, Dead Poet’s Society

1988Barry Levinson, Rain Man

Charles Crichton, A Fish Called Wanda

Mike Nichols, Working Girl

Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning

Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ *

1987Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor

John Boorman, Hope and Glory

Lasse Hallström, My Life as a Dog *

Norman Jewison, Moonstruck

Adrian Lyne, Fatal Attraction

1986Oliver Stone, Platoon

Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters

James Ivory, A Room with a View

Roland Joffé, The Mission

David Lynch, Blue Velvet *

1985 Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa

Héctor Babenco, Kiss of the Spider Woman

John Huston, Prizzi’s Honor

Akira Kurosawa, Ran *

Peter Weir, Witness

1984 Miloš Forman, Amadeus

Woody Allen, Broadway Danny Rose *

Robert Benton, Places in the Heart

Roland Joffé, The Killing Fields

David Lean, A Passage to India

1983James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment

Bruce Beresford, Tender Mercies

Ingmar Bergman, Fanny and Alexander *

Mike Nichols, Silkwood

Peter Yates, The Dresser

1982Richard Attenborough, Gandhi

Sidney Lumet, The Verdict

Wolfgang Petersen, Das Boot *

Sydney Pollack, Tootsie

Steven Spielberg, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

1981Warren Beatty, Reds

Hugh Hudson, Chariots of Fire

Louis Malle, Atlantic City

Mark Rydell, On Golden Pond

Steven Spielberg, Raiders of the Lost Ark

1980Robert Redford, Ordinary People

David Lynch, The Elephant Man

Roman Polanski, Tess

Richard Rush, The Stunt Man

Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull

1979Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer

Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now

Bob Fosse, All That Jazz

Édouard Molinaro, La Cage aux Folles *

Peter Yates, Breaking Away

1978Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter

Woody Allen, Interiors

Hal Ashby, Coming Home

Warren Beatty & Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait

Alan Parker, Midnight Express

1977Woody Allen, Annie Hall

George Lucas, Star Wars

Herbert Ross, The Turning Point

Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Fred Zinnemann, Julia

1976John G. Avildsen, Rocky

Ingmar Bergman, Face to Face

Sidney Lumet, Network

Alan J. Pakula, All the President’s Men

Lina Wertmüller, Seven Beauties

1975Miloš Forman, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Robert Altman, Nashville

Federico Fellini, Amarcord *

Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon

Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon

1974Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II

John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence

Bob Fosse, Lenny

Roman Polanski, Chinatown

François Truffaut, Day for Night

1973George Roy Hill, The Sting

Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers

Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris

William Friedkin, The Exorcist

George Lucas, American Graffiti

1972 Bob Fosse, Cabaret

John Boorman, Deliverance

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sleuth

Jan Troell, The Emigrants

1971 – William Friedkin, The French Connection

Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show

Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof

Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange

John Schlesinger, Sunday Bloody Sunday

1970 Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton

Robert Altman, MASH

Federico Fellini, Satyricon *

Arthur Hiller, Love Story

Ken Russell, Women in Love

1969 John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy

Costa Gravas, Z

George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Arthur Penn, Alice’s Restaurant *

Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

1968Carol Reed, Oliver!

Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter

Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey *

Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers *

Franco Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet

1967 Mike Nichols, The Graduate

Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood *

Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night

Stanley Kramer, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde

1966 Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons

Michelanelo Antonioni, Blowup *

Richard Brooks, The Professionals *

Claude Lelouch, A Man and a Woman

Mike Nichols, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1965Robert Wise, The Sound of Music

David Lean, Doctor Zhivago

John Schlesinger, Darling

Hiroshi Teshigahara, Woman in the Dunes *

William Wyler, The Collector

1964George Cukor, My Fair Lady

Michael Cacoyannis, Zorba the Greek

Peter Glenville, Becket

Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Robert Stevenson, Mary Poppins

1963Tony Richardson, Tom Jones

Federico Fellini, 8½ *

Elia Kazan, America, America

Otto Preminger, The Cardinal

Martin Ritt, Hud

1962David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia

Pietro Germi, Divorce, Italian Style

Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird

Arthur Penn, The Miracle Worker

Frank Perry, David and Lisa *

1961 Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, West Side Story

Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita *

Stanley Kramer, Judgment at Nuremberg

Robert Rossen, The Hustler

J. Lee Thompson, The Guns of Navarone

1960Billy Wilder, The Apartment

Jack Cardiff, Sons and Lovers

Jules Dassin, Never on Sunday

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho

Fred Zinnemann, The Sundowners

1959William Wyler, Ben-Hur

Jack Clayton, Room at the Top

George Stevens, The Diary of Anne Frank

Billy Wilder, Some Like it Hot

Fred Zinnemann, The Nun’s Story

1958Vincente Minnelli, Gigi

Richard Brooks, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Stanley Kramer, The Defiant Ones

Mark Robson, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness *

Robert Wise, I Want to Live!

1957David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai

Joshua Logan, Sayonara

Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men

Mark Robson, Peyton Place

Billy Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution

1956George Stevens, Giant

Michael Anderson, Around the World in 80 Days

Walter Long, The King and I

King Vidor, War and Peace *

William Wyler, Friendly Persuasion

1955Delbert Mann, Marty

Elia Kazan, East of Eden

David Lean, Summertime

Joshua Logan, Picnic

John Sturges, Bad Day at Black Rock

1954Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront

Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window *

George Seaton, The Country Girl

William A. Wellman, The High and the Mighty

Billy Wilder, Sabrina

1953 Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity

George Stevens, Shane

Charles Walters, Lili

Billy Wilder, Stalag 17

William Wyler, Roman Holiday

1952John Ford, The Quiet Man

Cecil B. DeMille, The Greatest Show on Earth

John Huston, Moulin Rouge

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 5 Fingers *

Fred Zinnemann, High Noon

1951George Stevens, A Place in the Sun

John Huston, The African Queen

Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire

Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris

William Wyler, Detective Story

1950 Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve

George Cukor, Born Yesterday

John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle

Carol Reed, The Third Man *

Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard

1949Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives

Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol *

Robert Rossen, All the King’s Men

William A. Wellman, Battleground

William Wyler, The Heiress

1948John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Anatole Litvak, The Snake Pit

Jean Negulesco, Johnny Belinda

Laurence Olivier, Hamlet

Fred Zinnemann, The Search

1947Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement

George Cukor, A Double Life

Edward Dmytryk, Crossfire

Henry Koster, The Bishop’s Wife

David Lean, Great Expectations

1946William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives

Clarence Brown, The Yearling

Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life

David Lean, Brief Encounter

Robert Siodmak, The Killers *

1945 Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend

Clarence Brown, National Velvet

Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound

Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Jean Renoir, The Southerner *

1944Leo McCarey, Going My Way

Alfred Hitchcock, Lifeboat

Henry King, Wilson

Otto Preminger, Laura

Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity

1943Michael Curtiz, Casablanca

Clarence Brown, The Human Comedy

Henry King, The Song of Bernadette

Ernst Lubitsch, Heaven Can Wait

George Stevens, The More the Merrier

1942William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver

Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy

John Farrow, Wake Island

Mervyn LeRoy, Random Harvest

Sam Wood, Kings Row

1941John Ford, How Green Was My Valley

Alexander Hall, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Howard Hawks, Sergeant York

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane

William Wyler, The Little Foxes

1940John Ford, The Grapes of Wrath

George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story

Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca

Sam Wood, Kitty Foyle

William Wyler, The Letter

1939Victor Fleming, Gone with the Wind

Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

John Ford, Stagecoach

Sam Wood, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

William Wyler, Wuthering Heights

1938 Frank Capra, You Can’t Take it With You

Michael Curtiz, Angels with Dirty Faces

Michael Curtiz, Four Daughters

Norman Taurog, Boys Town

King Vidor, The Citadel

1937 Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth

William Dieterle, The Life of Emile Zola

Sidney Franklin, The Good Earth

Gregory La Cava, Stage Door

William A. Wellman, A Star is Born

1936Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Gregory La Cava, My Man Godfrey

Robert Z. Leonard, The Great Ziegfeld

W. S. Van Dyke, San Francisco

William Wyler, Dodsworth

1935John Ford, The Informer

Michael Curtiz, Captain Blood (write-in)

Henry Hathaway, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Frank Lloyd, Mutiny on the Bounty

1934Frank Capra, It Happened One Night

Victor Schertzinger, One Night of Love

W. S. Van Dyke, The Thin Man

1932- 1933 Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade

Frank Capra, Lady for a Day

George Cukor, Little Women

1931-1932Frank Borzage, Bad Girl

King Vidor, The Champ

Josef von Sternberg, Shanghai Express

1930-1931Norman Taurog, Skippy

Clarence Brown, A Free Soul

Lewis Milestone, The Front Page

Wesley Ruggles Cimarron

Josef von Sternberg, Morocco

1929-1930Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front

Clarence Brown, Anna Christie & Romance

Robert Z. Leonard, The Divorcée

Ernst Lubitsch, The Love Parade

King Vidor, Hallelujah *

1928-1929 – Frank Lloyd, The Divine Lady

Lionel Barrymore, Madame X

Harry Beaumont, The Broadway Melody

Irving Cummings, In Old Arizona

Frank Lloyd, Drag & Weary River *

Ernst Lubitsch, The Patriot (LOST)

1927-1928, Comedy Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Nights *

Ted Wilde, Speedy *

1927-1928, Dramatic Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven

Herbert Brenon, Sorrell and Son *

King Vidor, The Crowd

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