Tom Hooper has one. So does Michel Hazanavicius. Ang Lee has two, while actors turned auteurs Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, and Robert Redford are all part of the AMPAS club. Yet there are at least two dozen amazing directors who have either never been nominated for an Academy Award, or have lost to seemingly “superior” competitors. Of course, this is nothing new for Hollywood. Alfred Hitchcock never won a directing Oscar. Neither did Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa, or Sidney Lumet, among many others. There are some — Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini among them — who saw their efforts eventually win Best Foreign Film, which is kind of like the consolation prize for not being nominated in the actual director’s category. Of course, most of the names listed above are no longer with us, meaning AMPAS is now reduced to either posthumous accolades, or as is their pattern, an Honorary Oscar just before the particular artist passes away.
Luckily, with the names listed below, the Academy can do the right thing (hint, hint) and acknowledge these amazing auteurs before the cosmos decides to have them shuffle off this mortal coil. Almost all have been nominated, with the exception of a few of the foreign filmmakers, and there always seems to be a reason why their status as an odds on favorite is flummoxed (this is especially true of at least one name listed below). While there are many others to consider, we believe these 25 names deserve the recognition their amazing movies demand. Of course, we may have to revisit this list in a few weeks if only to celebrate everyone we forgot, left off, or just didn’t get around to highlighting. And if they never win? If the Academy never wises up and awards them the way they should. Well, at least they are in very good company indeed.
So, in alphabetical order, we begin with:
Ben Affleck – Gone Baby Gone
A lot was made of the fact that Affleck didn’t earn a nomination for his work in the eventual Best Picture winner of last year, Argo. The bigger sin, however, was the failure to recognize his initial venture into feature filmmaking, this brilliant thriller with killer performances and strong Boston overtones.
Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood
With the exception perhaps of Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson hasn’t made a bad movie. In fact, the two films listed above are masterworks, mandating recognition for their scope and storytelling acumen while dealing with subjects (porn, and the turn of the century oil boom) that provide a depth and detail few filmmakers can match.
Wes Anderson – Rushmore or The Darjeeling Limited
Many are partial to Anderson’s twee novel-like efforts, especially when they eschew most of their whimsy to work outside his intended movie motives and simply soar. In the case of Rushmore, he’s reinventing the coming-of-age tale. With Darjeeling, he takes a road film and finds its true inner spirituality.
Darren Aronofsky – Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler or Black Swan
How do you pick between these four fantastic films? The answer is, you shouldn’t have to. Aronofsky is one of several on this list who should have more than one Oscar sitting on his shelf by now. The lack of recognition reveals Hollywood’s obvious aversion to vision and vitality in the artform.
Joon-Ho Bong – The Host or Mother
Non-US filmmakers rarely get the mainstream Oscar appreciation they deserve. Sure, back during the ’60s and ’70s names like Fellini and Bergman were constantly rewarded within their foreign film category niche, but not in the traditional categories. As the man behind two terrific revisionist ‘monster’ movies, Bong should be vying for such limited acknowledgement.
Tim Burton – Ed Wood
The whimsical Goth geek got a major push when Big Fish was released, some seeing it as his ticket to Academy gold. It wasn’t. Instead, this heartfelt homage to (not really) the worst director in the history of the medium should have garnered more than a trophy for Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi impersonation.
Jane Campion – Sweetie or An Angel at My Table
Everyone LOVES The Piano (except yours truly) and it stands to reason that, with said film, Campion could have finally broken through the Oscar’s glass ceiling. On the other hand, these two films, both representing far more harsh and harrowing woman’s stories, remind us that gender has little to do with taking intense material and molding it into something special.
Shane Caruth – Upstream Color
He’s only made two film — this, and his feature debut from nearly a decade ago, Primer — and already Caruth has a command of the artform’s language that few can fathom, let alone match. His movies are dense without feeling overfull, complicated while functioning under a logic all their own. And they’re amazing.
Alex Cox – Sid and Nancy
Sure, it doesn’t tell the “true” story of the Sex Pistols, but this was the early ’80s, before everyone wanted to talk openly about their time in punk’s pre-Green Day trenches. Instead, Cox took the story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, cast two astonishing actors in the roles, and made music movie biopic magic.
David Cronenberg – Videodrome, The Fly, Crash, or A History of Violence
The King of Body Horror has also had his fair share of mainstream movie hits, but for our money, his unusual style (combining genres and concepts within each) works best when built around a love story (The Fly) or a sly social commentary (Videodrome, Crash). He should have more than one Oscar, instead of one mere nomination.
Guillermo Del Toro – The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth
He gotten close, really close. The year everyone thought Pan’s Labyrinth was going to walk away with all the Academy Awards it could, it was upset by the German film The Lives of Others. Since then, Del Toro has become more famous for the films he hasn’t made (The Hobbit, In the Mountains of Madness) than his blockbuster output.
David Fincher – Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, or The Social Network
It seems surreal that someone whose made four movie masterpieces doesn’t own a single Oscar. Se7en is so perfectly crafted that it practically levitates off the screen, and his work on Fight Club and Zodiac suggest someone with a serious dark side. The Social Network was supposed to be a shoe-in. Then King George show up stuttering and Fincher lost another deserved accolade.
Terry Gilliam – Brazil, 12 Monkeys, or The Fisher King
Visionaries never do well with Academy voters. They just don’t get their oversized imagination and complex creativity. In this case, Gilliam’s confrontational F-you attitude toward the industry may suggest why he’s never been acknowledged. The work onscreen more than warrants his inclusion among the gold statue carrying greats.
Jean Pierre Jeanut – The City of Lost Children or Amelie
While his work with Marc Caro began the cult of personality that would culminate with the first film listed above, Jeanut proved he could stand on his own, offering up the amazing adventures of a young woman looking to return some precious items to the people who once owned them. His entire output argues for a stylist with substance and skill.
Yorgos Lanthimos – Dogtooth
Dogtooth stands as one of the most mesmerizing and original foreign films of the last decade and many of us in the critic biz where shocking (nay, STUNNED) when it was nominated for Best Foreign Film (naturally, it lost). No matter, since Lanthimos didn’t get the nod he most deservedly earned. His direction of this delicate, deranged material is equally amazing.
Spike Lee – Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, or Bamboozled
It remains a crime that so few directors of color have been nominated for their work by the Academy. Lee should have broken through this barrier at least three time already. His race allegory is a brilliant summer sizzler, his biopic of the famed civil rights leader is electrifying, and his modern twist on prejudice is beyond brilliant.
Richard Linklater – Dazed and Confused or Bernie
Since Sundance, many are suggesting that 2014 might just be Linklater’s year. His movie Boyhood, filmed over several years with the same cast, is catching fire. Here’s hoping that someone who long deserved Academy consideration can finally win it this time out. An overview of his output suggests this shouldn’t be the only one.
David Lynch – The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story, Lost Highway, or Mulholland Dr.
Lynch is the greatest living director (not) working today. His movies are monuments to the possibilities of the artform and its language. He defied expectation every time he sits behind the lens. That he’s yet to win makes a mockery of the entire process. He deserves better. Much better.
Steve McQueen – Hunger or 12 Years a Slave
While this could be the year it happens, there’s no denying that McQueen is a talent that requires paying attention to. His first film, centering on the IRA and Bobby Seal’s hunger strike, is a dazzling and brutal work. So is his interpretation of Solomon Northup’s sold into slavery memoir. Too bad the Academy isn’t more colorblind with its accolades.
Christopher Nolan – Memento, The Prestige, Inception, or The Dark Knight Trilogy
Take Batman out of the mix for a moment. How could you not recognize the invention inherent in the three other films listed above? Nolan appears to be the more humanized heir apparent to Stanley Kubrick and his carefully controlled efforts are just as rich as his. Hopefully he has more to look forward to than a random F/X award down the line.
Chan-wook Park – Oldboy or Stoker
For the Vengeance Trilogy alone, many would nominate Park. But with his English language debut, he proves that he can out Hitchcock the Master of Suspense if need be. Of course, the man behind Psycho and Vertigo never won an Oscar either. Luckily, Park still has time to earn his.
Lynne Ramsay – We Need to Talk About Kevin
The film listed above says it all. Star Tilda Swinton has never been better and by taking the story of a Columbine like killing spree and turning it into a serious psychological horror story, the fascinating filmmaker behind Ratcatcher reinvents the genre with visual panache and emotional splash.
Zack Snyder – 300 or Watchmen
If influence was an indicator of Academy acknowledgement, Snyder would already have a trophy for turning the zombie shuffle into a World War Z style sprint. But then there is his overly choreographed slo-mo action setpieces, moments which seemingly inspire others to raise the frame rate and dial up the detail. Besides, Watchmen is sensational.
Lina Wertmuller – Seven Beauties or Swept Away
Before Kathryn Bigelow finally broke through the gender barrier, this was the sole female filmmaker nominated by the Academy. Her collaborations with Giancarlo Giannini stand as some of the best filmmaking of the last century. As one of the few artists who doesn’t compromise, philosophically or professionally, Wertmuller remains a true pioneer.
John Woo – The Killer or Hard Boiled
Talk about influential. The action film was lagging behind other revamped genres when Woo stepped in and showed everyone what you could do with some under-cranking, a lot of slow motion, and unswerving devotion to loyalty, duty, and honor. While he couldn’t really translate his ideas into a Hollywood style film, he’s still an award-worthy artist.