Among true cinephiles, few elements of the film industry are as polarizing as awards season. Truly, the Academy Awards and other ceremonies are designed to reward the best works to hit the big screen each year, but so often the politics behind what actually wins become a bone of contention for many who deem bodies like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences too out of touch with the creative leaders of the day. Case in point, a number of accomplished filmmakers who have since passed away never received an Oscar statuette for their influential work.
So while it’s too late for the Academy to honor legends like Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles, here are a few directors still working that deserve to make their way to the podium. For the record, we’re focusing on filmmakers who have a number of universally beloved films to their name and not including newer directors who exhibit great promise or who deserve recognition mostly for a single film (e.g. George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road).
1. Ridley Scott
The fact that Ridley Scott doesn’t have “Academy Award winner” in front of his name is beyond ludicrous. Since the 1970s, Scott has delivered countless landmark films, including Alien and Blade Runner. While Oscar’s relationship with science fiction is contentious at best, he’s also brought several war movies and historical epics — namely, Best Picture winner Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven — to the big screen. And while this year’s The Martian received 7 Oscar nominations, none of them were in the Best Director category. According to Variety, Twentieth Century Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos was “crushed” that Scott didn’t get a directing nomination for The Martian. “These movies don’t direct themselves,” said Gianopulos. “It takes someone with his vision and the quality of his team and the quality of the cast he assembled. None of that happens by accident. He is a brilliant filmmaker with great vision and it’s difficult to see him overlooked.” [Update, 1/15/16: 2016 Oscar nomination results added.]
2. David Fincher
In the last 20 years, David Fincher has turned in some of the most iconic thrillers in cinema history. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network may have officially put him on the Academy’s radar, but Seven and Fight Club are perhaps his most famous works, as each film presents a startling tale that has only grown in popularity and artistic appreciation since their respective releases in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Underrated critical favorites like Zodiac only further demonstrate that Fincher has become one of the most admired filmmakers of his generation and one worthy of recognition.
3. Quentin Tarantino
Of all the directors on this list, Quentin Tarantino is perhaps the one who has gotten closest to winning a Best Director statuette. After all, he already has two Oscars to his name, thanks to his screenplays for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. Still, the Academy has yet to acknowledge his directing skills, and considering how each and every Tarantino film features his signature style and cinematic sensibility, the man has a knack for translating his vision from the page to the screen. Inglourious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs, and Kill Bill are all based on his own scripts, and they all prove just how gifted he is in creating original tales of murder and mayhem that retain his macabre sense of humor and delighting audiences along the way.
4. Wes Anderson
Since bursting onto the scene with Bottle Rocket in 1996, Wes Anderson has seen a slow and steady rise to the Oscar stage. Until The Grand Budapest Hotel, the writer/director had only received screenplay nominations for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom as well as a Best Animated Feature nod for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now that his quirky, off-kilter sense of humor and distinct tonal approach to storytelling have captured the Academy’s attention in the biggest way yet, perhaps there’s a chance that his ascent from indie darling to major Hollywood player will finally culminate in a much-deserved Oscar win.
5. Christopher Nolan
Many directors go their whole careers without creating anything that can be considered a masterpiece. However, in the span of a decade, Christopher Nolan gave the world Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception, three films that have challenged moviegoers and earned their reputations as modern classics. While Interstellar may not have won over as many audiences or critics as Nolan’s biggest hits (or even an underrated film like The Prestige), the director sets his ambitions high with every project he tackles and has a sharp vision for how to execute character-driven drama. At this point, Nolan has yet to receive a Best Director nomination, but it might be just a matter of time until the Academy takes notice.
- Brian De Palma (Carrie, Scarface)
- John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing)
- Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Boyhood)
- Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood)
- Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan)
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