Oscar History

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Jul 06 2016

Michael Cimino & the Best Director Oscar Since

Erichere with thinking about the past 40 years of Oscars Best Director category.亚博主页

This past Saturday,director Michael Cimino passed away at age 77.  Cimino won the Best Director Oscar for 1978'sThe Deer Hunter,beating Woody Allen (Interiors),Hal Ashby (Coming Home),Warren Beatty and Buck Henry (Heaven Can Wait),and Alan Parker (Midnight Express).  While those five actual films are of varying quality,the names behind them are all heavyweights and it was formidable company.

The Deer Hunterwas a divisive film upon its release and remains so today (praised for its leisurely-paced first half and its capture of inexpressive male friendship;criticized for the Russian Roulette melodrama and its depiction of the Vietnamese).WithThe Deer Hunter,Cimino aimed to make something epic and classically Greek in its storytelling,and watching the film you can actually feel his young talent.Cimino next famously (infamously?) went on to direct 1980'sHeaven's Gate,a film of disastrous proportions that has been covered ad nauseum as one of cinema's biggest catastrophes.  He directed four more films after that,none to any significant acclaim,the last onereleased 20 years ago.

It's interesting to look over the list of the men (and one woman) who have won the Best Director Oscar since Cimino in 1978 to see where their careers have gone...

(How long until Kathryn Bigelow isn't the *only* woman.Care to make a guess?)

1979 Robert Benton
1980 Robert Redford
1981 Warren Beatty
1982 Richard Attenborough
1983 James L Brooks
1984 Milos Forman
1985 Sydney Pollack
1986 Oliver Stone
1987 Bernardo Bertolucci
1988 Barry Levinson
1989 Oliver Stone (again)
1990 Kevin Costner
1991 Jonathan Demme
1992 Clint Eastwood
1993 Steven Spielberg
1994 Robert Zemeckis
1995 Mel Gibson
1996 Anthony Minghella
1997 James Cameron
1998 Steven Spielberg (again)
1999 Sam Mendes
2000 Steven Soderbergh
2001 Ron Howard
2002 Roman Polanski
2003 Peter Jackson
2004 Clint Eastwood (again)
2005 Ang Lee
2006 Martin Scorsese
2007 Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
2008 Danny Boyle
2009 Kathryn Bigelow
2010 Tom Hooper
2011 Michel Hazanavicius
2012 Ang Lee (again)
2013 Alfonso Cuaron
2014 Alejandro G Iñárritu
2015 Alejandro G Iñárritu (again)

(How delightful that Scorsese,a director's director,got his Oscar from three legendary men)

The biggest surprise is that a majority of the winners are,regardless of the films they won for,major filmmakers with expansive careers.  Few (nobody?) could argue that Sydney Pollack,Bernardo Bertolucci,Steven Spielberg,Roman Polanski,Ang Lee,Martin Scorsese,Peter Jackson,Joel & Ethan Coen,Alfonso Cuaron,and Inarritu aren't among the great filmmakers of the past forty years of cinema

One trend that we don't see much lately that we saw quite alot in the 80s and 90s was the actor-turned-director,and how eager The Academy always was to hand them statues;Oscars went to Robert Redford,亚博主页Warren Beatty,Kevin Costner,Clint Eastwood,and Mel Gibson within a 14-year period.  It would be like Bradley Cooper winning the Best Director Oscar next year forA Star is Bornwhich seems highly unlikely in this current climate.

3 directors won when they directed Meryl Streep including Robert Benton (pictured for Kramer vs Kramer).All in the first 8 years of Meryl's screen careerWhile Cimino is a special case because of theHeaven's Gatefracas,the list makes you wonder who the other winners were who have truly faded or disappeared.  Robert Benton went on to make two or three more solid films (Places in the Heart,Nobody's Fool) but nothing major materialized.  James L.Brooks did well byBroadcast NewsandAs Good As It Gets,but has basically disappeared (and his last film,How Do You Know,felt unbearable).  The careers of both Tom Hooper (the least technically-proficient winner in this modern-day list) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) could go either way still.

What's surprising,and satisfying,about the list is how many very talented directors have actually won.  In addition to the masters mentioned above,we've seen victories from Milos Forman,Oliver Stone,Barry Levinson,Jonathan Demme,Anthony Minghella,James Cameron,Danny Boyle,and Kathryn Bigelow.  Is this the one category where,viewed historically,Oscar voters have gotten it right more often than not?

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Reader Comments (16)

Is this the one category where,viewed historically,Oscar voters have gotten it right more often than not?

No.Check the screenplay categories for the real auteurs.The idiosyncratic writer-director consolation prize categories.The Andersons are waiting (Wes and Paul Thomas).

July 6,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Right in awarding talented directors?Yes.Awarding them for the proper work?Not always.But that's true in every category I suppose.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

The last male American director to win this award was...the Coens,almost a decade ago.Cool.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I agree that it looks like a good list of top names for the most part.And I think they are in general robust choices.And it is indeed cool that the winners have been so diverse (and non-American-male) in recent years.What I'd like to see more of is adventurousness in the nominations.In the sixties and seventies,foreign films were frequently nominated in this category,and these nominations included such (wonderfully welcome) headscratchers as Woman in the Dunes,Alice's Restaurant,Fellini-Satyricon and La Cage aux folles.Even in the past 30 years,the Director's Branch was nominating films such as Henry V,Short Cuts,Three Colours: Red,Mulholland Drive and City of God.But it feels as though in the past 8-10 years,while the winners have been pleasingly diverse,the nominees have in general been safer,and more closely tied to the Best Picture fronturunners.That said,2012 was a classic year for the category,with Zeitlin,Haneke and Russell all being nmomianted against the odds.More like that please!

R.I.P.Michael Cimino.An intriguing figure,director of one great film (The Deer Hunter),one almost-great (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot),one great fun (Year of the Dragon) and one great big (Heaven's Gate).

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

The Deer Hunter is one of the all-time great films.The final scene will take your breath away,so poignant.While it was a competitive year,Cimino deserved the Oscar.From what I read,he certainly is (was) an interesting character.RIP.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Cimino deserved his Oscar as it is comforting to know thatHeaven's Gatehas been getting some re-evaluation and praise while I hope people check outYear of the Dragonand the extended director's cut ofThe Sicilianas the latter is severely underrated.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

No Fincher,Aronofsky,Haynes,Almodovar,Van Sant,Lee (Spike),PT Anderson...

Guess they'll have to wait until they are in their 70's.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Inarritu has one too many- and they never gave Hitchcock.Welles or Kubrick as best director Oscar

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Hell no!I would change 90% of the winners

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

"The biggest surprise is that a majority of the winners are,regardless of the films they won for,major filmmakers with expansive careers.Few (nobody?) could argue that Sydney Pollack,Bernardo Bertolucci,Steven Spielberg,Roman Polanski,Ang Lee,Martin Scorsese,Peter Jackson,Joel & Ethan Coen,Alfonso Cuaron,and Inarritu aren't among the great filmmakers of the past forty years of cinema"

Really?I'd challenge that.I'm willing to be that if you asked 1000 critics to name their top ten directors of the last 40 years and ranked them according to mention,Pollack (whom I like),Jackson (ditto),and Innaritu (notsomuch) wouldn't make the top 100.Heck,I think you could ask them to name 100 and I'd still doubt two of them.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Inarriitu has two too many.I hope he's taking a long break.

July 6,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Cimino's passing made me sad.He was brilliant but incredibly undisciplined and stubborn.I did always appreciate that he pulled Streep,Savage and Walken out of the theater.And I choose filmmakers and audience over film critics.Let's not go crazy and give them too much power.

July 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I'm with Joel6.Right directors,wrong movies.Often.

July 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterErik

Another recent trend is the Picture-Director split.Has happened about a third of the time in the past two decades,but so rarely before that: (And Ang Lee twice!)

1998 Steven Spielberg (again)
2000 Steven Soderbergh
2002 Roman Polanski
2005 Ang Lee
2012 Ang Lee (again)
2013 Alfonso Cuaron
2015 Alejandro G Iñárritu (again)

July 7,2016 | Unregistered CommenterFake Plastic Tree

I am still flummoxed by Hooper's win over Fincher.Sigh.

July 7,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I'm with @joel6 - good/great directors,wrong movies - and @Paul Outlaw.

July 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

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