Nine Great Directors Who Have Never Received a Single Oscar Nomination

Jean-Luc Godard

As we curl up in the warm glow of Oscar season, you may find the occasional list that bemoans some famous filmmakers never winning an Academy Award (e.g., the oft-nominated Alfred Hitchcock). Then there are the oddballs who haven't won an Oscar for directing, but at least were nominated for something, like Terry Gilliam (best screenplay), Tim Burton (best animated feature), and Lars von Trier (best song!). Some have even won in other categories, like Stanley Kubrick, who won for special effects, of all things. In fact, unless you're talking about the hacks, most notable filmmakers have been acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in some regard. Except for the following nine guys:

  1. Jean-Luc Godard. Though inarguably one of the most important directors who's ever lived, the ever-challenging Godard has proven himself too far out for the Academy. And whereas great international filmmakers often pick up nods in the Best Foreign Film category, Godard has been forever snubbed, even though he cranked out at least ten bona fide classics in the 1960s alone.
  2. Samuel Fuller. Not given much attention by critics or awards ceremonies in his day, with his genre-heavy work trapped in the B Movie Ghetto, today the late Mr. Fuller is considered by many to be one of America's finest directors, and certainly one of our most entertaining. It's hard to imagine Shock Corridor or The Naked Kiss ever being considered, but he did come close with Hell and High Water (actually one of his lesser films), which got him a DGA nod. Perhaps if his late-career masterpiece The Big Red One hadn't been butchered by its studio, he might have been noticed.
  3. Brian De Palma. I like to call him "The Samuel Fuller of his generation". De Palma's reputation as a sleazy guy who makes sleazy films may have marked him, but throughout his career he has churned out high-quality pictures that, in today's environment, might have endeared his directing work to the Academy: The Untouchables should have done it for him. (It did for costar Sean Connery.) Carlito's Way and Casualties of War deserved a better response. Even his more recent Redacted could have been a contender. But folks will always remember him for sordid thrillers like Body Double and Dressed to Kill.
  4. David Cronenberg. Unless your name is Peter Jackson, the Academy has no fondness for filmmakers who started in horror. And while I'm sure guys like Tobe Hooper and George Romero never expected otherwise, Cronenberg has made several obvious Oscar bait films, from M. Butterfly to A Dangerous Method. He wants it. But while in a perfect world, chillers like The Fly and Dead Ringers would have gotten mainstream awards attention, Cronenberg's stuff is just too creepy for those old fogies. He'll probably get there someday: A History of Violence and Eastern Promises did rack up Oscar nods. Just not for Cronenberg.
  5. Fritz Lang. The famed German director probably would have gotten some Oscar love for his silent classic Metropolis - but it came out before the Academy Awards even existed! His early talky M probably missed the mark since it was in German. By the time Lang emigrated to the United States, he - like Samuel Fuller - was considered a genre, not a prestige, filmmaker. So his work on Fury, The Woman in the Window, Rancho Notorious and The Big Heat went unheralded.
  6. Jim Jarmusch. Most quirky independent filmmakers eventually deliver something that's enough of a crossover hit to receive a token nomination. See: Werner Herzog, Wes Anderson, and David Lynch. But Jim Jarmusch remains too hip for everybody. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Mystery Train, Down by Law, Ghost Dog, and Dead Man have gone unnoticed by AMPAS.
  7. Wong Kar Wai. I can't really imagine why this Hong Kong legend's gorgeous 2000 romance In the Mood for Love - already acclaimed as one of the greatest movies of all time - didn't at least pick up a Best Foreign Film nomination. Unless that really was his peak, he's a major enough talent to win the Academy's favor eventually.
  8. Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Gay, German, drug-addicted, and wildly prolific, Fassbinder was once one of the most-discussed foreign filmmakers around, before his untimely death in 1982 at the age of 37. (By then he had already directed 20 features, a dozen TV movies, and two mini-series!) Yet his fascinating films like The Marriage of Maria Braun, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Fox and His Friends were a bit ahead of their time. And have apparently remained so.
  9. Sergio Leone. Back in the '60s, nobody would have considered spaghetti Westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West to be awards-worthy. But Leone's 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America, though it seemed tailor-made for the Academy Awards, was shut out completely. Blame the same studio tinkering that doomed The Big Red One.