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The Oscar Quest: Rankings (Best Director)

Each time I write up Oscar categories for the Quest, I put rankings at the bottom. I can say what I want, but it really only gains perspective when I show you how I feel about each of the films or performances in relation to the others in the category. Plus, lists are easy to read.

They tend to be slightly different each time. The actual rankings are of course different, but also my methodology behind how I ranked them is different. Each time I do it, I seem to be getting closer to a consensus, so hopefully this one sticks.

The way I’m ranking this category, as least in this current iteration: the rankings are about quality of the effort. I’ll vote for what I vote for, but the rankings are meant to reflect what I believe to be the best directorial efforts of the category, in order. Now, there may be some slight skewing on a few categories where my personal preference outweighs what may be objective criticism, but I promise those are limited.

Hopefully I can continue updating this as we go, and whenever I watch another movie again and shift my opinion, I’ll go back and reorganize these lists as I see fit. So that means, if this page is different than the actual category I wrote up, that’s the reason. Ideally one day I’ll have set pages for each of the categories and can just have one master location. I think we’re moving closer to that. I just need to get to a place where I feel my opinions have leveled out. We’re not there yet, but I’m working on it.

Anyway, this is a compilation of my rankings for the Best Director categories:

(NOTE: A * means that’s what I voted for. A nominee that is underlined means that was the winner. Anything in RED is a film I haven’t seen.)

2016

  1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land *
  2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  3. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
  4. Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  5. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

2015

  1. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant *
  2. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Lenny Abrahamson, Room
  4. Adam McKay, The Big Short
  5. Todd McCarthy, Spotlight

2014

  1. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) *
  2. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  4. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  5. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

2013

  1. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity *
  2. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
  3. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. David O. Russell, American Hustle
  5. Alexander Payne, Nebraska

2012

  1. Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild *
  2. Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  3. Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  4. Michael Haneke, Amour
  5. David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

2011

  1. Martin Scorsese, Hugo *
  2. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
  3. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
  4. Alexander Payne, The Descendants
  5. Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

2010

  1. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit *
  2. David Fincher, The Social Network
  3. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  4. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  5. David O. Russell, The Fighter

2009

  1. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker *
  2. Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
  3. James Cameron, Avatar
  4. Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
  5. Lee Daniels, Precious

2008

  1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire *
  2. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  3. Gus Van Sant, Milk
  4. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
  5. Stephen Daldry, The Reader

2007

  1. Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood *
  2. Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
  3. Julien Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  4. Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
  5. Jason Reitman, Juno

2006

  1. Martin Scorsese, The Departed *
  2. Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
  3. Paul Greengrass, United 93
  4. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Babel
  5. Stephen Frears, The Queen

2005

  1. George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck. *
  2. Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
  3. Bennett Miller, Capote
  4. Steven Spielberg, Munich
  5. Paul Haggis, Crash

2004

  1. Martin Scorsese, The Aviator *
  2. Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
  3. Taylor Hackford, Ray
  4. Mike Leigh, Vera Drake
  5. Alexander Payne, Sideways

2003

  1. Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King *
  2. Peter Weir, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  3. Fernando Meirelles, City of God
  4. Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
  5. Clint Eastwood, Mystic River

2002

  1. Roman Polanski, The Pianist *
  2. Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York
  3. Rob Marshall, Chicago
  4. Stephen Daldry, The Hours
  5. Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her

2001

  1. Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring *
  2. David Lynch, Mulholland Drive
  3. Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down
  4. Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
  5. Robert Altman, Gosford Park

2000

  1. Ridley Scott, Gladiator *
  2. Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
  3. Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  4. Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich
  5. Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot

1999

  1. Sam Mendes, American Beauty *
  2. Michael Mann, The Insider
  3. Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
  4. M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
  5. Lasse Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules

1998

  1. Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan *
  2. Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line
  3. Peter Weir, The Truman Show
  4. John Madden, Shakespeare in Love
  5. Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful

1997

  1. James Cameron, Titanic *
  2. Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential
  3. Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter
  4. Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting
  5. Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty

1996

  1. Joel and Ethan Coen, Fargo *
  2. Anthony Minghella, The English Patient
  3. Milos Forman, The People vs. Larry Flynt
  4. Scott Hicks, Shine
  5. Mike Leigh, Secrets and Lies

1995

  1. Mel Gibson, Braveheart *
  2. Chris Noonan, Babe
  3. Mike Figgis, Leaving Las Vegas
  4. Tim Robbins, Dead Man Walking
  5. Michael Radford, Il Postino

1994

  1. Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump *
  2. Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction
  3. Robert Redford, Quiz Show
  4. Krzysztof Kieslowski, Three Colors: Red
  5. Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway

1993

  1. Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List *
  2. Robert Altman, Short Cuts
  3. Jane Campion, The Piano
  4. Jim Sheridan, In the Name of the Father
  5. James Ivory, The Remains of the Day

1992

  1. Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven *
  2. Robert Altman, The Player
  3. Neil Jordan, The Crying Game
  4. Martin Brest, Scent of a Woman
  5. James Ivory, Howards End

1991

  1. Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs *
  2. Oliver Stone, JFK
  3. John Singleton, Boyz N the Hood
  4. Barry Levinson, Bugsy
  5. Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise

1990

  1. Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas *
  2. Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves
  3. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part III
  4. Stephen Frears, The Grifters
  5. Barbet Schroeder, Reversal of Fortune

1989

  1. Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July *
  2. Kenneth Branagh, Henry V
  3. Jim Sheridan, My Left Foot
  4. Peter Weir, Dead Poet’s Society
  5. Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors

1988

  1. Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ
  2. Barry Levinson, Rain Man *
  3. Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning
  4. Charles Crichton, A Fish Called Wanda
  5. Mike Nichols, Working Girl

1987

  1. Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor *
  2. John Boorman, Hope and Glory
  3. Adrian Lyne, Fatal Attraction
  4. Lasse Hallstrom, My Life as a Dog
  5. Norman Jewison, Moonstruck

1986

  1. Oliver Stone, Platoon *
  2. David Lynch, Blue Velvet
  3. Roland Joffe, The Mission
  4. James Ivory, A Room with a View
  5. Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters

1985

  1. Akira Kurosawa, Ran
  2. Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa *
  3. Peter Weir, Witness
  4. John Huston, Prizzi’s Honor
  5. Hector Babenco, Kiss of the Spider Woman

1984

  1. Milos Forman, Amadeus *
  2. Roland Joffe, The Killing Fields
  3. David Lean, A Passage to India
  4. Robert Benton, Places in the Heart
  5. Woody Allen, Broadway Danny Rose

1983

  1. Ingmar Bergman, Fanny and Alexander
  2. James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment *
  3. Mike Nichols, Silkwood
  4. Bruce Beresford, Tender Mercies
  5. Peter Yates, The Dresser

1982

  1. Wolfgang Petersen, Das Boot *
  2. Steven Spielberg, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial
  3. Richard Attenborough, Gandhi
  4. Sidney Lumet, The Verdict
  5. Sydney Pollack, Tootsie

1981

  1. Steven Spielberg, Raiders of the Lost Ark *
  2. Warren Beatty, Reds
  3. Hugh Hudson, Chariots of Fire
  4. Louis Malle, Atlantic City
  5. Mark Rydell, On Golden Pond

1980

  1. Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull *
  2. Richard Rush, The Stunt Man
  3. David Lynch, The Elephant Man
  4. Robert Redford, Ordinary People
  5. Roman Polanski, Tess

1979

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now *
  2. Bob Fosse, All That Jazz
  3. Peter Yates, Breaking Away
  4. Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer
  5. Edouard Molinaro, La Cage aux Folles

1978

  1. Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter *
  2. Alan Parker, Midnight Express
  3. Hal Ashby, Coming Home
  4. Warren Beatty & Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait
  5. Woody Allen, Interiors

1977

  1. George Lucas, Star Wars
  2. Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  3. Woody Allen, Annie Hall *
  4. Fred Zinnemann, Julia
  5. Herbert Ross, The Turning Point

1976

  1. John G. Avildsen, Rocky *
  2. Alan Pakula, All the President’s Men
  3. Sidney Lumet, Network
  4. Lina Wertmuller, Seven Beauties
  5. Ingmar Bergman, Face to Face

1975

  1. Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon *
  2. Robert Atlman, Nashville
  3. Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon
  4. Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  5. Federico Fellini, Amarcord

1974

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II *
  2. Roman Polanski, Chinatown
  3. Bob Fosse, Lenny
  4. John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence
  5. François Truffaut, Day for Night

1973

  1. William Friedkin, The Exorcist
  2. George Roy Hill, The Sting *
  3. George Lucas, American Graffiti
  4. Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris
  5. Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers

1972

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather *
  2. Bob Fosse, Cabaret
  3. John Boorman, Deliverance
  4. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sleuth
  5. Jan Troell, The Emigrants

1971

  1. William Friedkin, The French Connection *
  2. Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange
  3. Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show
  4. Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof
  5. John Schlesinger, Sunday Bloody Sunday

1970

  1. Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton *
  2. Robert Altman, MASH
  3. Arthur Hiller, Love Story
  4. Ken Russell, Women in Love
  5. Federico Fellini, Satyricon

1969

  1. George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid *
  2. John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy
  3. Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  4. Costa-Gavras, Z
  5. Arthur Penn, Alice’s Restaurant

1968

  1. Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey *
  2. Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers
  3. Carol Reed, Oliver!
  4. Anthony Harvey, The Lion in Winter
  5. Franco Zeffirrelli, Romeo and Juliet

1967

  1. Mike Nichols, The Graduate *
  2. Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood
  4. Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night
  5. Stanley Kramer, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1966

  1. Mike Nichols, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? *
  2. Michelangelo Antonioni, Blowup
  3. Claude Lelouch, A Man and a Woman
  4. Richard Brooks, The Professionals
  5. Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons

1965

  1. Hiroshi Teshigahara, Woman in the Dunes *
  2. Robert Wise, The Sound of Music
  3. David Lean, Doctor Zhivago
  4. John Schlesinger, Darling
  5. William Wyler, The Collector

1964

  1. Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb *
  2. Michael Cacoyannis, Zorba the Greek
  3. Robert Stevenson, Mary Poppins
  4. George Cukor, My Fair Lady
  5. Peter Glenville, Becket

1963

  1. Federico Fellini, 8½ *
  2. Elia Kazan, America, America
  3. Martin Ritt, Hud
  4. Tony Richardson, Tom Jones
  5. Otto Preminger, The Cardinal

1962

  1. David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia *
  2. Robert Mulligan, To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. Arthur Penn, The Miracle Worker
  4. Frank Perry, David and Lisa
  5. Pietro Germi, Divorce, Italian Style

1961

  1. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, West Side Story *
  2. Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita
  3. Stanley Kramer, Judgment at Nuremberg
  4. Robert Rossen, The Hustler
  5. J. Lee Thompson, The Guns of Navarone

1960

  1. Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho
  2. Billy Wilder, The Apartment *
  3. Fred Zinnemann, The Sundowners
  4. Jack Cardiff, Sons and Lovers
  5. Jules Dassin, Never on Sunday

1959

  1. William Wyler, Ben-Hur *
  2. George Stevens, The Diary of Anne Frank
  3. Jack Clayton, Room at the Top
  4. Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot
  5. Fred Zinnemann, The Nun’s Story

1958

  1. Stanley Kramer, The Defiant Ones *
  2. Vincente Minnelli, Gigi
  3. Robert Wise, I Want to Live!
  4. Richard Brooks, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  5. Mark Robson, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

1957

  1. David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai *
  2. Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men
  3. Joshua Logan, Sayonara
  4. Billy Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution
  5. Mark Robson, Peyton Place

1956

  1. George Stevens, Giant *
  2. Michael Anderson, Around the World in 80 Days
  3. Walter Lang, The King and I
  4. King Vidor, War and Peace
  5. William Wyler, Friendly Persuasion

1955

  1. John Sturges, Bad Day at Black Rock *
  2. Elia Kazan, East of Eden
  3. David Lean, Summertime
  4. Delbert Mann, Marty
  5. Joshua Logan, Picnic

1954

  1. Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window
  2. Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront *
  3. Billy Wilder, Sabrina
  4. William Wellman, The High and the Mighty
  5. George Seaton, The Country Girl

1953

  1. Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity
  2. William Wyler, Roman Holiday *
  3. Billy Wilder, Stalag 17
  4. George Stevens, Shane
  5. Charles Walters, Lili

1952

  1. John Ford, The Quiet Man *
  2. Fred Zinnemann, High Noon
  3. John Huston, Moulin Rouge
  4. Cecil B. DeMille, The Greatest Show on Earth
  5. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 5 Fingers

1951

  1. George Stevens, A Place in the Sun *
  2. Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire
  3. John Huston, The African Queen
  4. Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris
  5. William Wyler, Detective Story

1950

  1. Carol Reed, The Third Man *
  2. Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard
  3. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve
  4. John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle
  5. George Cukor, Born Yesterday

1949

  1. Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol *
  2. William Wellman, Battleground
  3. Robert Rossen, All the King’s Men
  4. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives
  5. William Wyler, The Heiress

1948

  1. John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre *
  2. Laurence Olivier, Hamlet
  3. Jean Negulesco, Johnny Belinda
  4. Fred Zinnemann, The Search
  5. Anatole Litvak, The Snake Pit

1947

  1. Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement *
  2. David Lean, Great Expectations
  3. George Cukor, A Double Life
  4. Edward Dmytryk, Crossfire
  5. Henry Koster, The Bishop’s Wife

1946

  1. William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives
  2. Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life *
  3. David Lean, Brief Encounter
  4. Clarence Brown, The Yearling
  5. Robert Siodmak, The Killers

1945

  1. Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend *
  2. Clarence Brown, National Velvet
  3. Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound
  4. Jean Renoir, The Southerner
  5. Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary’s

1944

  1. Alfred Hitchcock, Lifeboat *
  2. Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity
  3. Leo McCarey, Going My Way
  4. Otto Preminger, Laura
  5. Henry King, Wilson

1943

  1. Michael Curtiz, Casablanca *
  2. Ernst Lubitsch, Heaven Can Wait
  3. Clarence Brown, The Human Comedy
  4. George Stevens, The More the Merrier
  5. Henry King, The Song of Bernadette

1942

  1. William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver
  2. Mervyn LeRoy, Random Harvest *
  3. John Farrow, Wake Island
  4. Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy
  5. Sam Wood, Kings Row

1941

  1. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane *
  2. John Ford, How Green Was My Valley
  3. Howard Hawks, Sergeant York
  4. Alexander Hall, Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  5. William Wyler, The Little Foxes

1940

  1. John Ford, The Grapes of Wrath *
  2. Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca
  3. George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story
  4. William Wyler, The Letter
  5. Sam Wood, Kitty Foyle

1939

  1. Victor Fleming, Gone With the Wind *
  2. John Ford, Stagecoach
  3. Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  4. William Wyler, Wuthering Heights
  5. Sam Wood, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

1938

  1. Frank Capra, You Can’t Take It With You *
  2. Michael Curtiz, Angels with Dirty Faces
  3. Norman Taurog, Boys Town
  4. King Vidor, The Citadel
  5. Michael Curtiz, Four Daughters

1937

  1. Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth *
  2. William Wellman, A Star Is Born
  3. Sidney Franklin, The Good Earth
  4. William Dieterle, The Life of Emile Zola
  5. Gregory La Cava, Stage Door

1936

  1. Robert Z. Leonard, The Great Ziegfeld *
  2. W.S. Van Dyke, San Francisco
  3. William Wyler, Dodsworth
  4. Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  5. Gregory La Cava, My Man Godfrey

1935

  1. John Ford, The Informer *
  2. Frank Lloyd, Mutiny on the Bounty
  3. Henry Hathaway, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

1934

  1. Frank Capra, It Happened One Night *
  2. W.S. Van Dyke, The Thin Man
  3. Victor Schertzinger, One Night of Love

1932-1933

  1. Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade *
  2. George Cukor, Little Women
  3. Frank Capra, Lady for a Day

1931-1932

  1. Frank Borzage, Bad Girl *
  2. King Vidor, The Champ
  3. Josef von Sternberg, Shanghai Express

1930-1931

  1. Norman Taurog, Skippy *
  2. Wesley Ruggles, Cimarron
  3. Lewis Milestone, The Front Page
  4. Josef von Sternberg, Morocco
  5. Clarence Brown, A Free Soul

1929-1930

  1. Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front *
  2. King Vidor, Hallelujah
  3. Ernst Lubitsch, The Love Parade
  4. Robert Z. Leonard, The Divorcée
  5. Clarence Brown, Anna Christie
  6. Clarence Brown, Romance

1928-1929

  1. Frank Lloyd, Weary River *
  2. Irving Cummings, In Old Arizona
  3. Harry Beaumont, The Broadway Melody
  4. Frank Lloyd, The Divine Lady
  5. Lionel Barrymore, Madame X
  6. Frank Lloyd, Drag
  7. Ernst Lubitsch, The Patriot (LOST)

1927-1928

Dramatic:

  1. King Vidor, The Crowd
  2. Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven *
  3. Herbert Brenon, Sorrell and Son

Comedy:

  1. Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights *
  2. Ted Wilde, Speedy

– – – – – – – – – –

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