It seems like an intrinsic part of the Academy Awards ceremony is that some of the best talents in the industry get snubbed in favor of what the Academy deems as more worthy of recognition.
While this might make the competition somewhat more fair for new filmmakers, it also means that some of the most legendary names in the entertainment business have never been granted their time under the golden spotlight of the Oscars.
Any director worth their salt would tell you that winning an Academy Award isn’t the only thing to strive for in their jobs. However, some recognition never hurt anybody, much less when said acknowledgment comes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In this list, we’ll take a look at ten of the most prominent filmmakers that have never won an Academy Award for Best Director.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Some critics consider Paul Thomas Anderson as one of the best filmmakers of modern film history. Some of his most celebrated films, like “There Will Be Blood” and “Punch Drunk Love”, have been widely acclaimed by both critics and general audiences alike. The amount of Oscar-worthy movies Anderson has released in the course of his career is astounding, making it all the more baffling as to why he hasn’t won the Best Director statuette yet.
Anderson has been nominated four times for his job as director, the latest of which happened this year. His most recent film, “Licorice Pizza”, earned him yet another nomination for Best Director, along with a Best Picture nod for the movie itself.
Taking into consideration Spike Lee’s long and prolific career, it’s almost impressive to see that he has only received a single nomination for Best Director so far. The recognition came in 2019 for the movie “BlacKkKlansman” — a movie that still managed to get the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
With over 20 director credits to his name, and showing no signs of stopping any time soon, it seems like it’s just a matter of time until Lee finally gets the coveted award.
Born in Spain and loved the world over, filmmaker Pedro Almodovar has enjoyed as much recognition in America as he’s ever had in his motherland. In 2002, Almodovar directed “Talk To Her”, which garnered him critical acclaim and the recognition of the Academy, which earned him his first — and so far only — nomination for Best Director.
His most recent film, “Parallel Mothers”, was nominated for two Oscars in 2022: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Original Score. Although the award for Best Director is typically reserved for American filmmakers, Korean director Bong Joon-ho proved that the Academy is more than willing to recognize foreign directors in this category.
Wes Anderson’s unmistakable style has become a landmark of modern cinema, and most of his more recent films seem to always be present during the Academy Awards ceremony. Despite his popularity and undeniable talent, the filmmaker still hasn’t managed to get the Oscar for Best Director. The closest he’s ever been was in 2014 when he was nominated for the award due to his work in the nostalgically charming, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Recently, Anderson released “The French Dispatch”. The movie was conspicuously absent from this year’s Academy Awards. Anderson fans took this as further confirmation that the Academy might not actually love Anderson’s signature filmmaking style as much as it seemed.
Yet another iconic director with an immediately recognizable filmmaking style, the brilliant and twisted mind of David Lynch has yet to be recognized by the Academy. With movies like “Eraserhead” and the failed 1984 version of “Dune”, it’s safe to say that some of Lynch’s ideas might have been a bit too wild for the Academy’s tastes.
That said, some of Lynch’s more mainstream projects, like “The Elephant Man”, should have earned the director the recognition of the Academy. Now 74, and with little in the way of new projects to speak of, it might be a bit late for Lynch to win the Academy Award for Best Director after all. Stranger things have happened, though — and Lynch is, after all, the master of all things strange.
It’s been just a scant few years since Denis Villeneuve entered the mainstream cultural zeitgeist with movies like “Sicario” and “Arrival”. His rich visual presentation and gripping storytelling technique have turned him into one of the most coveted directors in the business, earning him the recognition of many of his peers.
Most recently, Villeneuve worked on the amazing epic, “Dune”, breathing new life into a project that was, for the longest time, believed to be unfilmable. Despite Dune being widely applauded in the most recent Academy Awards ceremony, Villeneuve hasn’t been nominated for the award as Best Director since 2017’s “Arrival”.
With a portfolio that includes such classics as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “The Social Network”, and “Gone Girl”, why David Fincher still hasn’t won an Oscar for his work as a director is beyond anyone’s guess. Praised for his nuanced characters and complex psychological thrillers, it almost seems like the Academy has a vendetta against Fincher’s work.
Fincher’s next project will be an adaptation of a French graphic novel, starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton. Titled “The Killer”, the film has just entered post-production and is set to be released by Netflix. Perhaps “The Killer” will finally allow Fincher the chance to win the Best Director statuette?
Better known for his work on “Alien” and “Gladiator”, Ridley Scott is one of the most influential directors that’s still actively working in the movie business to this day. His most recent films — even those in the horror-themed Alien franchise — have been more insightful than his earlier works, often relying more on character drama and philosophical observations.
Over his many years in the industry, Sir Ridley Scott has only been nominated three times for Best Director. The last time he was considered for the award was in 2001, for his work on “Black Hawk Down”. The 84-years-old director is currently working on a historical epic based on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte — a movie that could very well earn him his first Oscar for Best Director.
As much as the Academy loves the work of Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker still hasn’t managed to get the title of Best Director for any of his legendary films. Even though most of his films could be considered “Oscar-worthy,” he has only been nominated for Best Director three times so far: one for “Pulp Fiction”, another for “Inglorious Basterds”, and the most recent one for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.
Tarantino has imposed on himself a ten-film limit that he intends to make before he retires. Considering Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as a single movie split in two, that means the filmmaker is willing to do just one more film before he calls it quits. That means that Tarantino’s next project could also be his last shot at getting the statuette.
Christopher Nolan doesn’t just make movies: he produces existential experiences. The complex themes he explores in each of his films, and his fascination with the concept of time and how humans perceive it, are the centerpiece of every single one of his movies, including the ones that seem to be more grounded in everyday reality.
For how well-received by the critics his movies are, they have had an incredibly scarce presence at the Oscars. In fact, Nolan himself has only been nominated for Best Director once, thanks to the 2017 war drama, “Dunkirk”. His next movie, “Oppenheimer”, already looks like a massive success, thanks to its impressive ensemble cast. This one might be the one for Nolan, as such a star-studded cast would offer him the perfect chance to show off his directorial skills.