This past Sunday the Academy Award for Best Director went to a man who did not direct the Best Picture – a scenario I find difficult to reconcile. It’s like giving the MVP award to a member of the losing team. Does it really make sense, given that a film director is responsible for the final product, that the best director could be someone other than the person who turned out the best picture? What is a Best Director being recognized for if not directing the Best Movie?
Nevertheless, this scenario happens on occasion, although less so in the recent past. Ten times in the first two decades of the Academy Awards the Best Director Oscar was bestowed upon a man who did not direct the winner of the Best Picture. It happened another twelve times in the next five-plus decades. People who don’t slavishly follow Oscar history might be surprised to know that:
– “The Godfather” won Best Picture of 1972, but Francis Ford Coppola lost out to Bob Fosse who directed Liza Minneli in “Cabaret.”
– Warren Beatty captured Best Director laurels for his epic “Reds,” but it was “Chariots of Fire” that took Best Picture accolades in 1981.
– The master Alfred Hitchcock never took home a Best Director Oscar even though his film “Rebecca” won Best Picture in 1940. Hitch lost out that year to John Ford whose dusty-bowl adaptation of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” took the statue.
– And the seminal “The Graduate” did quite well in 1967, especially for Director Mike Nichols who beat out Norman Jewison, director of the explosive “In the Heat of the Night.”
Still, last Sunday was especially historical (and bizarre, really) in that the winner of Best Picture, “Argo” was directed by a guy (Ben Affleck) who wasn’t even nominated for Best Director. Not even nominated. That’s happened only twice in Academy Awards history: in 1989 when “Driving Miss Daisy” took the Best Picture honors after director Bruce Beresford was snubbed altogether, and all the way back in 1931 when Edmund Goulding’s classic “Grand Hotel” took Best Picture accolades, yet poor Ed received no love. In that year Frank Borzage took the Best Director Oscar (although that nickname wasn’t officially adopted until 1939) for “Bad Girl,” an obscure, dated and never-watched melodrama.
I suspect the disconnect is an artifact of Academy Award voting rules – only members of the Director’s Guild vote for Best Director (with some exceptions), while all members of the Academy get to vote for Best Picture. Still, it seems irrational. Perhaps one day should the #1 ranked golfer on the PGA Tour be a man who has never won a tournament, I’ll change my mind.