Two months later than usual, but as the Academy Awards were on Sunday I got to thinking about famous directors that still don’t have the coveted Best Director Oscar. It turns out that there are a startling number of folks that you would expect to have one, yet don’t. (I stopped my list after about 34!) Sergio Leone, for example, the Father of Spaghetti Westerns, was never even nominated. Federico Fellini was nominated 5 times for Best Director, among other things, and only ever received an Honorary Oscar (1993) for his “cinematic accomplishments.” Ridley Scott, who has so far brought us everything from Blade Runner to Thelma & Louise and Alien to The Martian, has 3 nominations and no wins of any sort, as yet.
You get the idea.
So, who is out there that you won’t find just by browsing the Best Director list? Here’s a selection of five heavy hitters that have yet to receive that coveted trophy.
Spike Lee has four films on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, yet he has not won an Oscar for Best Director. Just let that sink in for a moment. He’s only been nominated once, for BlacKkKlansman in 2019. He did get the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay on that one, but so far that’s his only Academy Award. Spike Lee is an icon, telling realistic stories of black lives from She’s Gotta Have It to Da 5 Bloods. Give the man his Oscar already!
Yes. You read that right. Five nominations and no wins. He did get the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his body of work in 1968, but still. This is the guy who brought the world a genre of suspense thrillers that we now refer to as "Hitchcockian." His film devices, such as the “MacGuffin,” have been widely adopted and referenced. Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, The Birds, and more. And yet, no statuette.
In 2003, Sofia Coppola became the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for writing, directing, and producing in the same year. That was for Lost in Translation. She won the Best Writing, Original Screenplay Oscar that year. So far, that is her only Oscar. To date, she has brought us The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and The Beguiled among others. I look forward to whatever she offers us next. The Academy had better keep their eyes peeled.
Kurosawa received one honorary Academy Award for “cinematic accomplishments” in his long career. He also had one Best Director Oscar nomination, for Ran, his version of King Lear. That was it for the director of Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Sanjuro. That’s not much for someone who has been called “one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema.”
Kubrick only ever won one Academy Award: Best Effects, Special Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1969. No Best Picture, nothing writing-related, and obviously no Best Director. This is the guy who brought us Spartacus (not even nominated for Best Picture), Dr. Strangelove (which won zero Oscars), and The Shining (nominated for zero Academy Awards). He had a great deal of critical and box office success. And yet, no statuette.
If it could happen to these directors, it could happen to any of them. So, get out there and appreciate film widely. Make your own lists of the underappreciated (see all movies in our collection or view our Staff Picks lists). Value all of the genres. Debate favorites with friends. And above all, enjoy the art brought to us by the Ingmar Bergmans, Jane Campions, and Cecil B. DeMilles of the world.