Best Director – 1980

Official Nominations: Robert Redford. David Lynch. Martin Scorsese. Richard Rush. Roman Polanski.

If there’s one certainty about this year’s Academy Awards, it’s that Robert Redford should not have won Best Director. He’s a good Director, but he’s an Academy Director. Ordinary People is an Academy film. You get the sense that you could have handed the job to any Director for hire and the end result would have been fairly similar. This is a two horse race between Lynch and Scorsese. For me, Scorsese wins this because Raging Bull plays to his personal strengths more than Elephant Man does for Lynch. While Lynch doesn’t let the fact that this was a ‘big movie’ get in the way of his artistry, he’s not exactly going full Lynch. Polanski was going to get a nomination for anything at this point, so why not get one for Tess, and Rush is a bizarre nomination, there to make up the numbers. It’s Rush’s finest moment as a Writer and Director, but there are a number of other Directors who could have filled this spot.

My Winner: Martin Scorsese

This Is Overwhelming”: Why Martin Scorsese Almost Didn't Make Raging Bull | Vanity Fair

My Nominations: David Lynch. Martin Scorsese. Ken Russell. Samuel Fuller. John Landis. Federico Fellini. Irvin Kershner. Michael Cimino. Akira Kurosawa. Francois Truffaut. Stanley Kubrick.

Look at that list of names – every one of those guys either was an Oscar winner, or should have been. Outside of maybe Kirshner and Fuller, and possibly Landis, every one of these guys will appear on any Best Directors list. In reality you were never going to drop Redford from the official list, but Rush and Polanski could have been dropped. In reality, either one of Kurosawa and Truffaut should have made it on (both veteran nods, both Foreign Film nominees), and most likely Kirshner for The Empire Strikes Back. It was a sequel, so maybe not. Kubrick would have been nominated, except The Academy hates Horror. Altered States was too controversial and Heaven’s Gate was a flop. The Blues Brothers is too anarchic, they weren’t going to go for another War movie after Apocalypse Now so Fuller is out, and City Of Women was overlooked completely. Regardless, each of those movies and directors is more deserving, to me, of a nomination here than Redford, Rush, or Polanski.

My Winner: Martin Scorsese.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Director – 1979

Official Nominations: Robert Benton. Bob Fosse. Francis Ford Coppola. Peter Yates. Edouard Molinaro.

Kramer vs Kramer was the runaway success of 1979, not only picking up the Best Picture win but also the Best Director one, even though there are at least two better choices up front and with hindsight. Benton was always a better writer than he was director and with Kramer vs Kramer he played both hands. Striking gold with some heavy-hitting performances, it’s undoubtedly a good film but not one which lends itself to any particular flair from the director’s chair. Especially not when face with Apocalypse Now and All That Jazz – two grueling shoots by all accounts and which likely couldn’t have been pulled off by anyone else. As self-indulgent as All That Jazz is, Fosse commands every facet of what we see and hear, while Coppola somehow pulls together a manic shoot, huge cast, and film with a singularly impressive scope to reveal one of the finest, most iconic war movies ever.

The final two nominees don’t stand a chance – as good as Breaking Away is, you get the impression that any number of directors of the time could have made just as good as film as Yates does, while Molinaro’s farcical, fast-moving comedy doesn’t have the appeal for a Western audience.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

Apocalypse Now (1979)

My Nominations: Bob Fosse. Francis Ford Coppola. Ridley Scott. George Miller. Werner Herzog.

Aside from my two official nominees, we bring over the obvious snub of Ridley Scott whose Alien still ranks as one of the most influential science fiction and horror movies of all time. The unique thing about Alien is that it is still both timeless and terrifying today – age has not taken away any of its charm, and everything from the script to the performances to the effects still pack an authentic punch. Indeed, much of the effects and make-up work here look less dated than Prometheus and its sequel. It’s a character piece as much as it is a creature feature, a Lost World story as much as it is a straight horror and Scott packs the cast with skilled performers who have never been more authentic. George Miller’s Mad Max is difficult to categorize – it’s a road movie, a thriller, a violent action movie, an apocalyptic tale, a revenge tragedy, a story about one man and one world’s descent into madness. Perhaps the broad stroke description of a stylized depiction of the final days of humanity as a cop on the verge of insanity hunts down a roving biker gang is best. In any case, Miller imbues the film with a unique and dizzying atmosphere and offers an array of tricks to disorient and thrill the viewer. Finally, Herzog’s take on Nosferatu is as gripping as it is off-putting, as beautiful as it is ghastly, with the lead character’s violence shown through necessity while portraying it a lonely addict.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Director – 1978

Official Nominations: Michael Cimino. Hal Ashby. Warren Beatty/Buck Henry. Woody Allen. Alan Parker.

Michael Cimino had all the hallmarks and the origin story of becoming one of Hollywood’s great directors – his early scripts leading to films such as Silent Running and Magnum Force, gaining him enough recognition to make his first film Thunderbolt And Lightfoot to great success before making one of the great Vietnam films in The Deer Hunter. From there it all kind of fell apart, and stories about him were more about his cinematic and personal failures and shortcomings, and his part of bringing the age of the 70s auteur to an end. The fact remains that The Deer Hunter still exists and is a directorial triumph in every respect, commanding scope with depth, character with emotion, and plot with art.

Hal Ashby tackles America’s involvement in Vietnam with similar skill but lacks the scope and the mingling of beauty and horror of Cimino’s film. Buck Henry, an experienced performer and writer teamed with first time director Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait – a combination of their respective star power and writing credentials. It was a stepping stone for Beatty with regards to being a director and shows a natural talent for character and comedy. In Interiors, Woody Allen apes one of his heroes (Ingmar Bergman), not always successfully, getting the style and performances right, but not necessarily the subject matter and tone. Finally, Alan Parker moves briefly away from music-based movies to make the bleak and sometimes gut-wrenching Midnight Express. It’s difficult to leave your stamp on a film which is supposed to be devoid of colour and life, but Parker managers just that, allowing brief flickers of hope to be snatched away by nightmarish reality.

My Winner: Michael Cimino

My Nominations: Michael Cimino. Hal Ashby. Alan Parker. John Carpenter. George A Romero. Franklin J Schaffner. Terence Malick. Claudia Weill. Randal Kleiser. Philip Kaufman. Richard Donner.

I think Cimino is always going to be my winner here, even though I add a few directors who made films this year I love more than The Deer Hunter. The first of those is George A Romero, who makes his opus in Dawn Of The Dead, expanding upon the universe and lore he invented and popularized in Night Of The Living Dead. The obvious satire on consumerism and on American Gung Ho culture is at times on the nose, but it’s the more vicious undercurrent of hopelessness when trapped in paradise which is more subtle and effective. His use of colour and gore to make something hyper-real to the extent that it becomes like a comic book, the polarizing, multi-faceted arguments which punctuate the script from the first moment to the last, the dialogue, music, action, and perhaps most of all the sheer fun of it all rescued the horror genre from the hands of studio execs and gave it back to the people who actually cared about it.

Keeping within the horror genre, a new master was rising, name of Carpenter, and his seminal slasher Halloween forever changed the game. Not only did it create an endless supply of knock-offs but it reminded studios and young filmmakers that it was possible to make a hit, and a great film, with little money, some experience, and a lot of will. Halloween ranks among the most watchable and fun horror movies ever – Carpenter throws every trick in the book at the wall and most of them stick, but more than that he shows an assured skill and confidence behind the camera, ensuring the film is a truly cinematic, communal experience. It plays upon our inherent voyeurism yet forces us to become more than passive, and it retains that unspoken Carpenter quality which makes the film timeless and addictive.

Moving gradually away from horror, Franklin Schaffner crafted another ambiguous sci-fi thriller in The Boys From Brazil  – the story of escaped Nazis, their genetic experiments, and the people hunting them, a premise begging not to be taken seriously but made effective thanks to the casting and direction. Similarly, Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers is seen by most as the definitive version of the tale of terror, the growing paranoia less in your face than the original but more sinister, twisted, and twisting. Terence Malick returned after a five year break with Days Of Heaven, a typically beautiful yet detached film while Randal Kleiser makes what is arguably the atypical modern musical with Grease. Claudia Weill and her film Girlfriends exudes an indie cool and understanding of the subject matter often lacking from the bigger budget efforts. Finally, Richard Donner essentially creates the superhero movie genre with Superman – a film which still ranks near the top of that genre.

I’ve picked Cimino for the Official win, so lets give someone else a chance.

My Winner: John Carpenter

Let us know in the comments who you pick as Best Director of 1978!

Best Director – 1977

Official Nominations: Woody Allen. Steven Spielberg. Fred Zinnemann. Herbert Ross. George Lucas.

This is a bit of a no contest for me. Really it’s a three horse race, but as time goes on that Allen win looks more and more concerning. Annie Hall is likely his crowning achievement but when viewed alongside Close Encounters Of A Third Kind and Star Wars it pales by some distance. Allen very much has a style which doesn’t change from movie to movie and his films are more concerned with script than direction. The amount of effort which went into both of those sci-fi classics from all corners, the influence…. it all dwarfs the other nominees combined. This is the perfect example of the Turning Point (pun intended) in Hollywood, with the Academy as always lagging behind the populace. We have poor old Fred Zinnemann and Herbert Ross – both no strangers to Oscars – getting what amounts to little more than traditional votes. That’s not truly fair given that both their films notched up additional nominations this year and both aren’t 100% old fashioned Oscar bait, but when viewed against the modern stylings of the other three films and directors it’s clear there is a generational gap. Generational gaps are one thing, but when making my choices here it’s all about quality. The Turning Point and Julia are no doubt well directed, but they are hardly innovative, both directors have made superior movies, and there are some other notable films from the year which probably should have made the cut over those two.

We know Woody Allen is out, and that leaves Spielberg and Lucas. Spielberg already had Jaws in his pocket by this point while Lucas had American Graffiti. Any other year Spielberg would be the choice here, but Lucas unleashed a little something called Star Wars upon the world With each new year a whole slew of blockbusters and special effects bonanzas swarm through the cinema but they are so lacking in energy and originality and are so cookie cutter that it’s difficult to differentiate between one and the other. With each viewing of those, it becomes increasingly clear just what an achievement A New Hope was – from the impossible odds of getting it done on time, the often horrid conditions making it, a cast of mostly unknowns with a couple of old-school leading actors, from creating visual and sound effects and techniques never seen before, right down to the handling of story, characters, and universe – it has to be Lucas for the win.

My Winner: George Lucas

star-wars-40th-anniversary

My Nominations: George Lucas. Steven Spielberg. Robert Altman. Sam Peckinpah. Ridley Scott. David Lynch. William Freidkin. Dario Argento. Luis Bunuel.

There was a number of war epics this year and depending on your preference for scale or action or story or character, you could name any of the directors here. My vote goes for Peckinpah and his violent anti-glory Cross Of Iron which acts as a precursor to many of the more downbeat and political war films of the subsequent ten years. Regardless of which area you decide to focus on, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is probably the most consistent war film of the year and hits all of the aforementioned boxes, showing that Scott had a handle on each and could combine them within a historical setting and a large scope. Say what you will about Lynch or Eraserhead but you won’t see a more unique and nightmarish vision in 1977 than his tale of isolation, fear, and weirdness. In a time when everyone was pre-occupied with grand battles and huge budgets, Lynch goes grainy black and white to show an industrial wasteland, a bewildered man, and a screeching mutant. William Friedkin updates The Grapes Of Wrath with his toe-curling exercise in tension Sorceror while Dario Argento perfects his colourful giallo vision and penchant for stylish violence and madness with Suspiria. Luis Bunuel’s films are more often than not experimental, and while less overt in its art That Obscure Object Of Desire pushes traditional storytelling to certain limits and beyond. Finally, Robert Altman treads more fully into experimental territory with 3 Women – a film based on a dream and given a dreamlike quality in its depiction of relationships in a town on the edge of nowhere.

I know I’m not impartial, but I think time has proven that any one of my additional nominees are more worthy than the three official ones I left off. As much as I’d be happy with any of my other picks getting the win, I think we have to still go with Beardy Magee.

My Winner: George Lucas.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Director – 1975

Official Nominations: Milos Forman. Federico Fellini. Stanley Kubrick. Sydney Lumet. Robert Altman.

If you needed any further proof that 1975 was one of the greatest years of Cinema, look at those five directors and their nominated films. Add to that the fact that a number of equal or even more significant films/directors weren’t nominated. We can drop Fellini immediately given that Amarcord was made 2 years earlier and had already won the Best Foreign Picture award. That leaves four nominees each deserving of the win and I’d be happy with any of them picking up the win. Altman picked up his second nomination for the hugely successful Nashville, while Lumet and his films had been getting nods since the late 50s – for me Dog Day Afternoon is his best film,  but not necessarily his best work as a director. Kubrick of course never picked up an official Directing win, but his work on Barry Lyndon is as worthy of an award as any other film here, while Forman attained mainstream acclaim with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, bringing Kesey’s novel to the screen with heart, style, sadness, and joy. Take your pick.

My Winner: Milos Forman

My Nominations: Milos Forman. Stanley Kubrick. Sydney Lumet. Robert Altman. Steven Spielberg. Ken Russell. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

The main four nominees make my list, joining the central omission of the year – Senor Spielbergo and his painstaking work on Jaws. Russell gets a nomination for having the balls to work on and release two films as madcap as Tommy and Lisztomania in the same year while Gilliam and Jones get a nod for having the balls to create The Holy Grain. 

My Winner: Steven Spielberg

Let us know your pick in the comments!

Best Director – 1974

Official Nominations: Francis Ford Coppola. John Cassavetes. Bob Fosse. Roman Polanski. Francois Truffaut.

It’s always unfortunate for the other nominees when they come up against such a sure-fire clear winner. No-one stood a chance against Coppola here, and rightly so, but each of the other directors and their films are notable. Not only did Coppola unleash The Godfather Part II, but he also gave us The Conversation – either film would be strong enough to win in this category, but when he directed both in one year – fuggetaboutit. John Cassavetes directs possibly his most straightforward film, and yet it’s probably his most dense featuring an, at times, incredible lead performance from Gina Rowlands. It’s a character study at heart, yet takes shots at wider society and its expectations, and Cassavetes directs it at his least experimental, most personal.

Bob Fosse’s Lenny likewise feels like the least Fosse film from a directorial standpoint, yet all his usual interests are present an accounted for, and it’s bolstered by another wonderful lead performance. Truffaut’s Day For Night is as experimental as you would assume, yet not so much that it is a detriment to the story or alienating to the viewer. It’s not quite a love letter to cinema, as much as it is a pervert’s eye view of the unseen parts of film-making. Finally, Roman Polanski loses out in Chinatown – a clear winner any other year such is its majesty.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

My Nominations: Francis Ford Coppola. John Cassavetes. Roman Polanski. Francois Truffaut. Tobe Hopper. Mel Brooks. John Guillerman.

If you’ve read my previous posts for this year, then you’ll be expecting my additional nominees – Tobe Hopper for his horrific The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in which every trick in the book is used to get under the skin, and every aspect of film-making is twisted so that the viewer is repulsed. Mel Brooks on the other hand balances script and performance manically in both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein to elicit wild giggles from anyone fortunate enough to stumble upon either film – another fine example of a double effort by one director. Finally, John Guillerman ensures that the disaster movie reaches its peak, making The Towering Inferno more than mere spectacle but filling it with tense drama, action, and even laughs.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

Let us know in the comments who your pick is for the Best Director of 1974!

Best Director – 1973

Official Nominations: George Roy Hill. George Lucas. Ingmar Bergman. William Friedkin. Bernardo Bertolucci.

This is a weird catagory – Bergman and Bertolucci are immediately out for their films having been made the year before. I always felt the Lucas nomination was a weird one – the USA loves their flag-waving of course, but still I didn’t feel the film was the sort they would tend to nominate. Lucas is assured and the film is a labour of love – it ain’t no Star Wars though. That leaves Friedkin and Hill – Hill, with The Sting, was always going to be the winner here. There isn’t much to choose between the pair, both iconic films, both directed with style and confidence. In that case if comes down to personal preference – for me The Exorcist wins every time.

My Winner: William Friedkin

My Nominations: William Friedkin. George Roy Hill. Terence Malick. Nicolas Roeg. Robert Clouse. Guy Hamilton. Martin Scorsese. Peter Bogdanovich. Franklin J Schaffner. Sidney Lumet. Robin Hardy.

A bunch of additional entries for me, starting with the most likely to have happened in reality. Badlands – Malick’s first movie was acclaimed but didn’t get a lot of recognition until much later while Roeg’s visionary work on Don’t Look  Now was praised even if the final product was not deemed as successful. I’m surprised Bogdaovich didn’t get nominated for Paper Moon – it’s not all about the O’Neals after all, and Lumet could feel a little miffed at Serpico being largely passed over. The less likely nominations include Schaffner for the spirited Papillon and Scorsese for Mean Streets – the near documentary realism perhaps too close in style to the actual documentaries he had been releasing to this point. Completely out of left field are my final picks – Guy Hamilton for Live And Let Die – one of my favourite outings for 007 and to my mind one of the most shamelessly entertaining, and Robin Hardy for The Wicker Man as chilling and authentic a horror film as you’re ever likely to see. Finally, Robert Clouse deserves a nomination simply for helming the single most famous martial arts movie ever – it’s stylish, it’s fast, it’s violent, and it’s the first film most people will think of when asked to name a kung fu movie.

My Winner: William Friedkin

Best Director – 1972

Official Nominations: Bob Fosse. John Boorman. Francis Ford Coppola. Joseph L Mankiewicz. Jan Troell.

Bob Fosse picked up his win here. Seriously. As much as you may love Cabaret, and as much as Fosse does a great job, there is only one winner here. Indeed, I’d probably put Boorman and Mankiewicz higher than Fosse for two very different types of taut thriller in Sleuth and Deliverance respectively. Jan Troell shouldn’t be here at all given that The Emigrants movie came out in 1971 – remembering I don’t care for what and when a film finally showed in LA or USA. My winner is Coppola – isn’t everyone’s? The Godfather is a masterclass from A-Z in the art of Cinema.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

My Nominations: Francis Ford Coppola. Bob Fosse. John Boorman. Joseph L Mankiewicz. Werner Herzog. Bruce Lee. Bernardo Bertolucci. Ronald Neame. Andrei Tarkovsky.

The four big shots all make it over to my list – you can’t really argue against any of them being nominated. I don’t think you can argue against Coppola still winning here – most of my additions would never stand a chance of getting nominated in reality, but each is strong in their own right. I didn’t go so far as giving John Waters one (matron). Herzog’s Aguerre was famous just as much for trouble on set so the fact that such a great movie emerged from the other side speaks volumes, while Bruce Lee made his only complete movie (Way Of The Dragon) as director, one which remains at the top of the martial arts genre. One of the great shames of his early death was not only that he didn’t appear in any more films, but that he didn’t direct any more. Bertolucci gets an obvious nomination for Last Tango In Paris, beauty and disgust colliding, while Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is incredibly influential in many departments. My final nomination is for Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure – arguably the most thrilling of all the disaster movies although I admit the nomination is more to do with scope than overall quality.

My Winner: Francis Ford Coppola

Let us know in the comments who you choose as the Best Director of 1972!

Best Director – 1971

Official Nominations: William Freidkin. Peter Bogdanovich. Norman Jewison. Stanley Kubrick. John Schlesinger.

One of the finest and most difficult list of nominees to choose from this year. We have four classics and one good film which is not remembered like the others – five great directors. Freidkin got the official win and it’s difficult to argue against that – his decision to shoot in a gritty, realistic style would influence countless films and in many ways symbolizes the decade. Peter Bogdanovich shoots his coming of age drama in black and white somehow accentuating nostalgia, fearlessness of youth, and desolation. Jewison had already won Best Picture and been nominated for Best Director but Fiddler In The Roof is a standard stage to screen adaptation. Kubrick shows how to adapt a story for the big screen with character – making the end product unquestionably his own while retaining the plot and themes. Finally, Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday isn’t as bleak as some of his previous and later work, a progressive film which never fails to remind the viewer that most of us are broken. For me there are three directors on near enough even footing here, but Kubrick’s goes that bit further in crafting something which remains unique.

My Winner: Stanley Kubrick.

nih.jpg

My Nominations: William Freidkin. Peter Bogdanovich. Stanley Kubrick. Ken Russell. Don Siegel. Mike Hodges. Dalton Trumbo. Alan J Pakula. Robert Altman. Sam Peckinpah. George Lucas. Nicholas Roeg. Mel Stuart.

Ahem. Yes, I did go a little overboard with my choices, but it’s my blog so take your tears elsewhere. There are plenty of other directors deserving of a nomination this year who didn’t get an official one or from me. Ken Russell’s work on The Devils speaks for itself while Don Siegel’s pulling together of script, music, performance, and politics ensured Dirty Harry became one of the most famous films of the decade. Mike Hodges crafts a similar film with Get Carter, but one with a British grit and stark feeling throughout which Hollywood could not emulate in crime fiction – Bleak war movies were more in vogue in the US and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun is as bleak as they come, with Trumbo adapting his own novel over thirty years after its release as the US found itself fighting another war.

Alan J Pakula gets a deserved nomination for the swerving Klute, Robert Altman racks up another nomination for his inside-out Western McCabe And Mrs Miller, and Sam Peckinpah is a must-nominate for the ever-violent, ever-popular Straw Dogs. George Lucas gives one of the most unique visions of the year with his rarely seen debut THX 1138, Nicholas Roeg makes his first mesmeric and unsettling film with Walkabout, while Mel Stuart creates a bright, youthful, and eternally charming entertainer with Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. 

My Winner: Stanley Kubrick.

Let us know in the comments who you would pick as the Best Director of 1971!

Best Director – 1970

Official Nominations: Franklin J Schaffner. Robert Altman. Federico Fellini. Arthur Hiller. Ken Russell.

Schaffner picked up the win for Patton this year – one of the most legendary biopics of all time. We all know The Academy loves biopics, good or bad, but this at least is one of the best. While Scott gets the plaudits nowadays, Schaffner keeps in control of the epic scope and of course it was his decision to memorably open with Patton’s speech. Robert Altman made Brewster McCloud this year, but when you also make MASH in the same year, only one of those is going to be remembered. Another war film with a large scope and cast, it is different from Patton in many ways, but Altman is able to leave his stamp on the film. Fellini gets a nomination for Satyricon a year after it was release in Europe, Ken Russell gets the same for Women In Love, while Arthur Hiller has a nomination handed to him by virtue of how successful Love Story was. If we drop Hiller from the list, it’s a tough toss-up between the remaining directors. We can drop Fellini and Russell simply because their movies came out the previous year – Women In Love also receives further official nominations this year. That leaves our two war films.

My Winner: Robert Altman.

image

My Nominations: Franklin J Schaffner. Robert Altman. George Seaton. William Freidkin. Mike Nichols. Jean Pierre Melville. Bernardo Bertolucci. Bob Rafelson. John Huston.

I’m removing Ken Russell and Fellini from my list, partly because their movies were released in previous years and so that I can free up some more space. Seaton and Rafelson get nominations for two movies which were heavily nominated elsewhere but missed out here – Airport and Five Easy Pieces respectively. Freidkin takes controversial subject matter off the stage and onto film, again proving how adept he was at adapting theatrical work, getting the maximum power from scenes filmed in essentially small spaces. Mike Nichols took his first hit with Catch-22 – a film released at the wrong time when Patton and MASH grabbed the limelight, but it’s an adaptation worth re-visiting. John Huston returned to the world of spies with the altogether more serious film The Kremlin Letter, a stark and dense vision of a twisting world. We continue to move away from the US for my final nominations – to France for Melville’s La Cercle Rouge, another heavily stylized thriller, probably overlong, but which build’s to one of cinema’s finest heist scenes. To Italy finally for The Conformist as Bertolucci extravagantly shows us one man’s journey through life in a turbulent time, crafting a visual treat unlike anything else released in 1970.

My Winner: Bernardo Bertolucci.

the-conformist-3.png

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Director of 1970!