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11 Excellent Directors Who Have Never Won the Oscar

11 Excellent Directors Who Have Never Won the Oscar


READ MORE: 11 Outstanding Cinematographers Who Have Never Won An Oscar

It’s the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony. The winner for best director is announced, and Ron Howard gets out of his seat and makes his way to the stage to accept the award for his work on "A Beautiful Mind." For a few seconds, as Howard makes his way up to the stage, the camera pans to fellow nominee David Lynch going up to other nominee, the late great Robert Altman, and consoling him about the defeat.

With one arm around Altman, we can’t quite make out what Lynch is telling him, but rest assured it wasn’t "the best man won." 

The sad tradition of not honoring the right filmmakers will likely continue for the Academy. Further proof can be found with these 11 greats who haven’t won for their directing yet, with some not even having a single nomination to their name. Here’s hoping that a few of the following directors will make it up to the stage in the near future.

Ridley Scott

Although "The Martian" is not the greatest work he’s ever done, most people were not only predicting a Ridley Scott nomination this year, but even an actual win (the film is, thankfully, still nominated for best picture). The master might still have quite a few more gems left in him, but "The Martian" was his best shot – a crowd-pleaser that made a ton of money and solidified his stamp as a great visionary of sci-fi. Up next for him is "Alien: Covenant," a prequel to the famous series and a follow-up to his much debated 2012 film, "Prometheus."

Trademark Films: "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "American Gangster," "Black Hawk Down."

Oscar Nominations for Directing:
3

Jean-Luc Godard

Although the Academy has never awarded a foreign film the best director award, exceptions could have been made in the 1960s for Jean-Luc Godard’s tremendous streak of films. The films Godard churned out on a yearly basis were astounding, starting with 1960’s "Breathless." His role in France’s Nouvelle Vague movement helped shape not only his country’s cultural movement, but also influenced the way films would be shot and told in the American studio system. Now 85 years old, he strays far away from conventional cinema and instead opts for a requiem-sensed way of telling a story: It’s bold, original, vital filmmaking that still allows him to win awards at Cannes. Just don’t expect him to win any Oscars for these films. Perhaps that’s why a couple of years ago he was awarded an Honorary Oscar: They know.

Trademark Films: "Breathless," "Contempt," "Alphaville," "Pierrot Le Fou," "Band of Outsiders."

Oscar Nominations For Directing: 0

David Fincher

If a case could ever be made about how awards-worthy David Fincher is, he probably wouldn’t want to hear about it anyway. Fischer, instead, is more interested in making vital art. If his films are at first met with polite approval (check out release date reviews of "Se7en," "Fight Club" and "Zodiac") they still end up lingering in our heads, aging like fine wine and becoming stone-cold classics. His static, highly controlled camera compositions enhance feelings of dread and coldness in the characters and situations he portrays, and he is a modern master at crafting tension and well-founded fear.

Trademark Films: "The Social Network," "Zodiac," "Fight Club," "Se7en," "Gone Girl."

Oscar Nominations For Directing: 2

David Lynch

The day David Lynch wins an Oscar will probably be the day our society has a significant cultural shift and abstract surrealist cinema is actually making millions at the American box-office. Imagine a society where a David Lynch could potentially become mainstream; it briefly happened in the early ‘90s when, for one season, ABC’S "Twin Peaks" was the toast of the town. Of course, Lynch couldn’t help it and slowly veered the series’ tone into, well, a David Lynch kind of world, filled with abstract ideas, unresolved mysteries and the strangest of characters. 

Trademark Films: "Mulholland Drive," "Blue Velvet," "The Elephant Man," "Wild At Heart," "The Straight Story."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 3

Pedro Almodóvar

Although he hails from Spain, Pedro Almodóvar has gained a solid following in the United States and he even got a best director nod in 2002 for his masterwork, "Talk to Her." His films are filled with acerbically comic wit that we’ve audiences have grown to love since his 1987 breakout hit, "Law of Desire." His aesthetic brilliance goes far beyond surface beauty, and he has written some of the strongest, most eloquent roles for female actresses in the history of the art form (and he basically kick-started Penelope Cruz’s career). If there ever was a foreign filmmaker who could defy the odds and become the first one to ever win a best director Oscar for a foreign film, it’s Almodóvar. 

Trademark Films: "Talk To Her," "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown," "Broken Embraces," "The Skin I Live In," "All About My Mother."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 1

Paul Thomas Anderson

Starting off his career with the Altman/Scorsese-inspired "Hard Eight," "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," there seemed to have been a shift in Anderson’s style post-"Punch Drunk Love" in 2002. The best living filmmaker working today, P.T. Anderson has quintessentially reinvented cinema with his twin peaks "There Will Be Blood" and "The Master" – two bold, unique, ambitious films that signified a forward step in American filmmaking. These were such exceptional works, from a director boldly going into new places, that comparisons to Kubrick were inevitable. In fact, if there is any director today who could be compared to Kubrick, it would be P.T. Anderson. Kubrick never got his due, winning an Oscar only for best special effects, and one can only hope that Anderson won’t be given the same fate.

Trademark Films: "There Will Be Blood," "The Master," "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "Punch Drunk Love."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 1

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam is a visionary. In 1985, he made "Brazil," an important cinematic milestone that wasn’t even going to get released until the L.A. Film Critics Association managed to screen it for its members and consequentially named it their best picture of 1985. His heavy use of wide angle lenses might take you aback at first – actually every single unusual camera angle he concocts would – but his style is unmistakably Gilliam, and the wonder of the worlds he creates are claustrophobic, dreamy and richly detailed. He’s never been nominated for best director, but if one looks at his filmography, they’ll find something better: Lasting works of art.

Trademark Films: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Brazil," "The Fisher King," "12 Monkeys," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 0

David Cronenberg

If one theme keeps resonating among the directors of this list, it’s that they never seem to play it safe; these are directors who don’t make movies that are meant for awards consideration. Oscar bait they are not, which perfectly describes the films of Canadian master David Cronenberg. He’s never gotten a single writing, directing or producing nomination from the Academy in his 40+ year career. That means classics such as "Videodrome," "The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises" were not even mentioned in their respective years – as if they never existed. Time always has a way of making things better and that’s what’s happened to these films: They’ve lasted. Cronenberg will turn 73 in March, and he still makes smart, urgent films about his deepest obsessions, and never strives for the conventionality that wins awards. His parasite-filled, sexually taboo-heavy and ultra-violent films are what dreams are made of. Or is that nightmares?

Trademark Films: "Videodrome," "The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 0

Brian De Palma

If David Fincher has been channeling Hitchcock for the last two decades, Brian De Palma has been doing it for the last five decades. De Palma has referenced Hitch by constantly casting blondes as leading ladies, using Hitchcock regular Bernard Hermann’s scores and – more importantly – copying camera techniques of such films as "Vertigo," "Rear Window" and "Psycho." Of course De Palma has still managed to infuse his own auteur voice into his films; he’s one of the very best filmmakers for the long take/tracking shot and his constant use of the split screen has been nothing short of revolutionary. His familiar obsessions still linger inside him as he continues making movies decade after decade, but an Oscar nomination, in any category, still hasn’t happened.

Trademark Films: "Blow Out," "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "Carlito’s Way," "Scarface," "Body Double."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 0

Spike Lee

If any director can attest to getting the shaft from the academy, it’s Spike Lee. His greatest movie, "Do the Right Thing," didn’t even get a best picture nomination in 1989, with the Academy instead opting for the safer, gentler, but nevertheless forgettable, whimsical depiction of racism in "Driving Miss Daisy." We all know which film stood the test of time and which film, as Lee pointed out recently, is taught in film schools all across the U.S. It wasn’t just that movie, either: His incendiary film about Malcom X couldn’t muster anything, except a best actor nomination for Denzel Washington. Just like some of the great directors of his time, Lee’s films have aged very well and he keeps pushing the envelope, most recently in last year’s undervalued "Chi-raq."

Trademark Films: "Do the Right Thing," "Malcom X," "The 25th Hour," "Summer of Sam," "Inside Man."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 0

Quentin Tarantino

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the impact Quentin Tarantino has had on film culture over the last 25 years. Contrary to the other filmmakers on this list, he has actually won an Oscar before, actually two, both for best original screenplay. No best director Oscar, though. It is, however, quite impressive how his brand of filmmaking has transferred to the mainstream and actually makes money. Even when "Pulp Fiction" came out in 1994, nobody would have thought Tarantino would release a film 15 years later that would amass $320 million in worldwide box office receipts (that would be "Inglourious Basterds").

Trademark Films: "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs," "Jackie Brown," "Kill Bill," "Inglourious Basterds."

Oscar Nominations for Directing: 2

READ MORE: 2016 Oscar Predictions

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Comments

Kate H

Or how about Samira Makhmalbaf, if we’re allowed to choose a non-American/European name (from a nation which has both a thriving film culture and a far higher proportion of female to male directors than the US)? But the thing about all the directors in the article is that, despite the unfortunate gender-blindness of the article, they are all great directors who haven’t won an Oscar, but we know they’re great anyway.

Jade

Hey C.C I can name more than 5: Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, Amma Asante, Lisa Cholodenko, Lynne Ramsay, Gillian Armstrong, Kelly Reichardt, Susanne Bier, Julie Taymor, Sarah Polley, Sarah Gavron, Sally Potter, Agnès Varda, Céline Sciama, etc…

T

Todd Haynes hasn’t even been nominated, which this year in particular is absurd.

C.C.

I noticed that Jan &Ciara failed to mention any worthy female directors for the list. Oops. That is because there are maybe 5.

Jan Lisa Huttner

Thank You, Ciara! Unbelievable! THIS year of all years, IndieWIRE thinks we need to be reminded of more guys who "deserve" Oscars on a list of all-male excellence?!? IndieWIRE can’t think of a single female director who has been "snubbed." Blue Oscars & White Oscars have no credibility anymore. If AMPAS wants to reward excellence, then it must Make Oscar Gold! #MakeOscarGold

Ciara

What are you not getting about the need to recognize other directors than white men. Just amazing. I look forward to having women in particular given the credit they deserve and room to move into this field that has been so oppressively closed!

Josh

And Richard Linklater and Terrence Malick and… Hopefully, George Miller will take it rather than the overrated Inarritu so I can then cross him off my list and overlooked directors.

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