The Oscar Quest Reconsidered: Ranking the Best Directors

I originally posted a version of this list in early 2012. Mostly because I like making lists. There was no real methodology to it. I looked back at it at some point in the past four months and saw it skewed heavily toward personal preference. The performances I liked the best went to the top, and the performances I thought were terrible winners went straight to the bottom.

Since the Oscar Quest, Version 2 that I’ve been doing, I noticed the point of it was more to reflect what my thoughts were now five years later from the completion/posting of all the original articles. I tried to stay away from redoing everything I did the first time, because a lot of it felt like it begat negativity on my part. I really don’t want to shit on things now so much as I’d want to openly discuss what is or isn’t a good choice historically.

Because that’s now where I’m at, I think redoing these lists is something I can get away with. If only to give myself a marker for where my head is at now.

I’m not putting any stock into these whatsoever. I don’t even really want to make these easily findable for people, though I guess I should, if only to track changes over the years. I was going to write up actual opinions for each one, justifying its position, but that’s a fool’s errand. That’s for people looking for extra clicks and people writing in the comments. I don’t want that. This is purely for me.

The first time I wrote this up, I specified that the rankings were not me attempting to make a list for everyone to follow. It was just my favorites. This time, I think what I ended up doing was trying to factor in everything into the decision. How iconic the performance/film is, how good of a choice it was in its year (extremely strong choices get slight bumps, and extremely weak choices get slight deductions), and also how I feel about them.

So here’s where my head is at now on all the Best Director winners:

1. David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia

2. Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front

3. Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List

4. John Ford, The Grapes of Wrath

5. Victor Fleming, Gone With the Wind

6. John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

7. William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives

8. Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan

9. James Cameron, Titanic

10. Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

11. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II

12. Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront

13. Michael Curtiz, Casablanca

14. Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, West Side Story

15. Bob Fosse, Cabaret

16. William Friedkin, The French Connection

17. Mike Nichols, The Graduate

18. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

19. Roman Polanski, The Pianist

20. William Wyler, Ben-Hur

21. Frank Capra, It Happened One Night

22. George Stevens, A Place in the Sun

23. Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

24. Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs

25. John Ford, How Green Was My Valley

26. David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai

27. George Stevens, Giant

28. John Ford, The Quiet Man

29. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

30. Oliver Stone, Platoon

31. Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump

32. Robert Wise, The Sound of Music

33. Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

34. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

35. Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men

36. Billy Wilder, The Apartment

37. Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity

38. Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

39. Steven Soderbergh, Traffic

40. Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter

41. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

42. Milos Forman, Amadeus

43. Franklin Schaffner, Patton

44. Warren Beatty, Reds

45. John G. Avildsen, Rocky

46. George Roy Hill, The Sting

47. John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy

48. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve

49. William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver

50. Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven

51. Martin Scorsese, The Departed

52. Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend

53. Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July

54. Mel Gibson, Braveheart

55. Damien Chazelle, La La Land

56. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

57. John Ford, The Informer

58. Woody Allen, Annie Hall

59. Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor

60. Vincente Minnelli, Gigi

61. Norman Taurog, Skippy

62. Richard Attenborough, Gandhi

63. George Cukor, My Fair Lady

64. Anthony Minghella, The English Patient

65. Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

66. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

67. Ang Lee, Life of Pi

68. Delbert Mann, Marty

69. Leo McCarey, Going My Way

70. Tony Richardson, Tom Jones

71. Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa

72. Sam Mendes, American Beauty

73. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

74. Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer

75. Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons

76. James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment

77. Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement

78. Frank Capra, You Can’t Take It With You

79. Frank Borzage, Bad Girl

80. Robert Redford, Ordinary People

81. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives

82. Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth

83. Carol Reed, Oliver!

84. Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

85. Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

86. Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights

87. Frank Lloyd, The Divine Lady

88. Barry Levinson, Rain Man

89. Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind

90. Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade

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