The Oscar Quest: Worst Best Director Choices
Today begins the other half of the “Best & Worst” articles — the best choices. It’s one thing to say, “This set of nominees is really weak” — now, we’re talking, “This winner is really weak.” This is where the most people have opinions. (And just to nip this in the bud, I don’t care about yours. This is my list. Want to voice your opinion? Make your own list.)
We’re gonna start here with the Worst Best Director choies. I’ll list who it was that won, who they beat, and explain why I think it’s one of the worst choies of all time in this category. Pretty simple.
And later, I’ll list the Strongest Best Director choices. I did it this way because — the worst choices list is much more interesting and contested than the best choices list. That one’s just — obvious.
Anyway, let’s take a look at all those bad decisions the Academy’s made (kind of like when you remember all those people you picked up in those bars):
10. 1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives
— Beat: Robert Rossen, All the King’s Men, William A. Wellman, Battleground, Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol, William Wyler, The Heiress.
- What separates this from #11 (it’s down there. Don’t worry) is the fact that this film didn’t win Best Picture. So it makes absolutely no sense why he would win Best Director for it. At least, if it wins Best Picture, then it’s a shitty choice. This is a shitty choice that makes no sense at all. That’s why it’s here. (The win the year after this only compounds it.)
9. 1951, George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
— Beat: Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris, Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire, John Huston, The African Queen, William Wyler, Detective Story.
- It was the weakest effort in the category (I felt), and was probably the fourth (third, if we’re stretching it) best choice in the category. Either way, why not go with Minnelli, director of the Best Picture winner and man who earned one of those twice over by this point? Add to that two classic films like African Queen and Streetcar that it beat — it deserves to be here.
8. 2010, Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
— Beat: David Fincher, The Social Network, Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit, Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan, David O. Russell, The Fighter.
- It’s a matter of individual effort. The film didn’t need this win. When you watch all of the efforts, this was clearly the fifth best. All things considered, I’ll give you third, at best (only if you want to use the Coens winning already against them. I say they’ve earned two with their resumes, plus the effort was so clearly better). More like fourth. Still, no Fincher, no Aronofsky — terrible decision no matter how you cut it. History will look very poorly on this one, I guarantee it.
7. 1979, Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer
— Beat: Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now, Bob Fosse, All That Jazz, Peter Yates, Breaking Away, Edouard Molinaro, La Cage Aux Folles.
- It beat to clear better efforts and two efforts that have stood up as some of the best of all time. Another case of, “It won Best Picture but didn’t need to win Best Director.” No one would have batted an eye if it won one and not the other. Coppola and Fosse were so much better, and were directors who earned two Best Director statues (more so Coppola), so this is just terrible.
6. 1990, Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves
— Beat: Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas, Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II, Stephen Frears, The Grifters, Barbet Schroeder, Reversal of Fortune.
- Goodfellas. Come on.
5. 1963, Tony Richardson, Tom Jones
— Beat: Federico Fellini, 8 1/2, Elia Kazan, America, America, Otto Preminger, The Cardinal, Martin Ritt, Hud.
- 8 1/2. In a category like this where it clearly should have won. Just terrible.
4. 1980, Robert Redford, Ordinary People
— Beat: Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull, David Lynch, The Elephant Man, Richard Rush, The Stunt Man, Roman Polanski, Tess.
- Raging Bull. ‘Nuff said. (Not to mention the next two on the list. For shame, Academy.)
3. 1941, John Ford, How Green Was My Valley
— Beat: Orson Welles, Citizen Kane, Howard Hawks, Sergeant York, Alexander Hall, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, William Wyler, The Little Foxes.
- Citizen Kane.
2. 1968, Carol Reed, Oliver!
— Beat: Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers, Franco Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet, Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter.
- Second worst, just because the direction of 2001 is so much more superior than that of Oliver!. Thing is, though, Reed needed to win to make up for the next entry on this list. So it’s kind of a catch-22. Either way, still terrible.
1. 1950, Joseph. L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve
— Beat: Carol Reed, The Third Man, Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard, John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle, George Cukor, Born Yesterday.
- This, to me, will always be the worst Best Director decision of all time because you cannot deny the power of The Third Man‘s direction. That, and, look at Sunset Boulevard. You’re gonna tell me the direction on All About Eve is that good? Nuh uh. I don’t care about the Best Picture win, but this is fucking insane.
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11. 2001, Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
— Beat: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down, David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, Robert Altman, Gosford Park.
12. 1944, Leo McCarey, Going My Way
— Beat: Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity, Alfred Hitchcock, Lifeboat, Otto Preminger, Laura, Henry King, Wilson.
13. 1977, Woody Allen, Annie Hall
— Beat: George Lucas, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Herbert Ross, The Turning Point, Fred Zinnemann, Julia.
14. 1936, Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
— Beat: W.S. Van Dyke, San Francisco, Robert Z. Leonard, The Great Ziegfeld, Gregory La Cava, My Man Godfrey, William Wyler, Dodsworth.
15. 2004, Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
— Beat: Martin Scorsese, The Aviator, Taylor Hackford, Ray, Marc Forster, Finding Neverland, Alexander Payne, Sideways.
(And an unofficial #16, because I can’t bring myself to put one of my top five favorite films of all time on this list: 1960, Billy Wilder, The Apartment. Only because he beat Hitchcock for Psycho. That part’s bad. The rest is amazing.)
Notes on 11-15: #11, shitty choice, plus all the other choices were either better efforts or more deserving directors. Scott, Jackson or Lynch really should have won there. #12, Wilder and Hitchcock were much, much better choices there, and he had one already. #13, Star Wars, ’nuff said. #14, he won three times, and beat four superior efforts and three of them were from directors who never got any love from the Academy. #15, just how overdue Scorsese was, and how generic Eastwood’s effort was — bad call.