The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1946
No sense in wasting time for 1946. The Best Years of Our Lives, a film about the aftereffects of war on the average American soldier and his family, was going to win Best Picture no matter what. No matter how much we all love It’s a Wonderful Life, it wasn’t going to win. Not in 1946, right after the war. Not gonna happen.
The Best Years of Our Lives wins Best Picture, Best Actor for Frederic March (talked about here), Best Supporting Actor for Harold Russell (talked about here), and this category. And no matter how much we may not like any of those decisions, they were gonna happen anyway. Best Actress was Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own (talked about here), which was a fantastic decision, and she was about seven years overdue for one of these. And Best Supporting Actress was Anne Baxter for The Razor’s Edge, which was another terrific decision.
Then there was this category. Wyler’s second of three. (All for Best Picture winners, too. When this man wins, he really wins. Kind of like Clint Eastwood.) I feel less bad about this one because Capra already had three. (And Lean would win two.) It makes perfect sense. The only thing complicated about this is who the hell I’m gonna vote for.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1946
And the nominees were…
Clarence Brown, The Yearling
Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life
David Lean, Brief Encounter
Robert Siodmak, The Killers
William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives
Brown — The Yearling is a wonderful film. One of those films that’s great for everyone, even though it’s based on a young adult type novel. It’s about a young boy who finds an orphaned deer in the woods after its mother has been killed. He takes the deer in and befriends it. And then the deer grows up and eventually becomes too big and starts eating all the crops, so they have to shoot it. And there’s also a great story about how his mother is cold toward him and strict with him because her other child died, and she’s worried that if she shows him affection he’ll die too. And there’s this great happy ending — it’s a wonderful film. Gorgeous, too. Really gorgeous. Glorious Technicolor, here.
The film is great, and Brown directs it really well. Though, to me, he did a better job with National Velvet the year before this. And also, in a category with Lean, Capra and Wilder — he had no chance. Great effort, really strong category, but no chance at a vote or a win.
Capra — It’s It’s a Wonderful Life. You better have seen it.
Of course it’s a perfect film and Capra’s direction is sublime. But he won 3 times. He didn’t need it.
Lean — Brief Encounter. You probably should have seen it if you even remotely care about seeing good films. It’s about a man and a woman who make a connection through coincidence. Both are married, but they fall in love. And — honestly, you need to have seen this. It’s a perfect film. This is what cinema is about.
Lean directs the absolute hell out of this one. It’s one of the best directed films of all time. Of couse he’s a finalist for a vote.
Siodmak — The Killers is a great noir. A really great noir.
Burt Lancaster plays a man working at a gas station. One day, two hit men show up looking for him. He is warned that they’re coming, but he makes no attempt to run or hide and is killed. And the rest of the movie is about Edmond O’Brien, an insurance investigator, sent to pay the beneficiary of his policy. And the rest of the film is split between O’Brien conducting his investigation, finding out more and more, and flashbacks of what led to Lancaster’s death. And eventually there’s a big noir showdown, and — it’s a really great film. One of the best noirs ever made.
Siodmak does a really great job directing this, and definitely deserved to be on this list. Unfortunately, he just got outclassed by the other directors and their films. A shame, but at least he got nominated.
Wyler — The Best Years of Our Lives is considered one of the greatest American films ever made. You should probably have seen it. It’s about the effect of the war on the average man. Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright — the entire cast is terrific, and it’s a perfect film.
The only question really is if Wyler’s direction was really that exemplary as compared to the other nominees, or if he won because that’s what you do — vote for a film for Best Picture and Best Director. Of course it makes sense that he won, but in terms of who I’m voting for, with these nominees the way they are, I can conceivably vote for four different people here. Which makes it really tough. Either way — Wyler did a great job and the film is perfect.
My Thoughts: What a stacked category this is. It’s pretty easy to figure out in terms of a vote, though. Capra had won three times by now, so no matter how great his effort is here and regardless of the fact that it’s probably his most iconic film (even more so than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which he also didn’t win for), he shouldn’t have won for it. He won three times, and he’s no John Ford. Thems the breaks. So he’s off.
Then — in such a tough category, you really need to make tough decisions. So as much as I love all the rest of the films — Clarence Brown is off. It’s the weakest of the remaining efforts. Then I’d take off Siodmak, just because, I like the two remaining efforts more and I think they were better efforts/more likely to win.
For me, this comes down between Lean and Wyler. And, honestly, I vote David Lean. Which — David Lean was nominated for Best Director seven times. And, of those seven times, I’d have voted for him four times (or rather, he was my favorite effort four times). I’m sure he won for the two right films, but, here, and the year after this, I thought he was also far and away better than the competition (based on the effort alone). And, despite the two wins, this, Doctor Zhivago and Great Expectations, honestly, to me, add up to a third win. Because Wyler, while I love his films and all, if I had to pick based solely on effort — Lean’s direction was more interesting than Wyler’s. And in a category where the three major choices in all won 8 Best Director Oscars, I think it’s safe to pick based on effort. (Not film, effort.) And Lean was my favorite effort, so he’s my vote. Totally cool with Wyler winning (and he should have, all things considered), but I’m still taking Lean.
My Vote: Lean
Should Have Won: Lean
Is the result acceptable?: Sure. It’s a Best Picture winner and one of the most well-respected, well-made films of all time. It’s definitely acceptable. Even though two of the films that didn’t win are just as well-respected and beloved, it’s still an acceptable decision.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life, Brief Encounter and The Best Years of Our Lives (in that order, decreasing from threat level super-red to threat level red-orange to threat level orange), you’re dead to me, and you don’t really like movies.
You should really, really see The Yearling. It’s such a delightful, delightful film. So great. This is one of those films you would have loved as a child if you saw it. And if you’re still in tune with your inner child, you’ll still love it. Put it this way — do you love Disney films? Then you’ll love this. If not, you have no soul. See this movie.
The Killers is a great film and a well-made, well-acted and well-directed film. A classic noir. Really great. Highly recommended.