Not Always Married :: Best Picture & Best Director
Many people were surprised when "Argo" won last year’s Best Picture Oscar, because Ben Affleck had not even been nominated for his direction. His situation, though increasingly rare, is not unique in Academy Awards history. William Wellman, director of "Wings" (1927), the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar, was not nominated either. Because movies are considered a director’s medium (a compelling case could be made that editors are equally important), conventional wisdom suggests that the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars should go in tandem. As the following examples show, that has not always been the case.
Ang Lee has two Best Director Academy Awards, for last year’s "Life of Pi" and for 2005’s "Brokeback Mountain," but neither won for Best Picture. (Does anybody remember "Crash?") George Stevens was also the Academy’s choice for Best Director twice - "A Place in the Sun" (1951) and "Giant" (1956) - yet neither film won the big prize. Alfred Hitchcock, on the other hand, never collected an Oscar, but guided one Best Picture winner, "Rebecca" (1940). The same is true of Edmund Goulding, whose "Grand Hotel" (1932) picked up the Best Picture prize - amazingly, the only category for which it was nominated.
The first Academy Awards were handed out for movies released in 1927-28. It was not until the 1932-33 prizes were given, however, that the Best Director winner also helmed the Best Picture: Frank Lloyd for the today barely watchable "Cavalcade." It happened again for the next two years - Frank Capra and "It Happened One Night," John Ford and "The Informer" - but the prizes were split for 1936 and 37. Capra would have another double triumph with "You Can’t Take It with You" (1938), and Victor Fleming would be twice honored for "Gone With the Wind." Hitchcock lost the directing award the next year to John Ford for "The Grapes of Wrath." Ford would collect two little men for 1941’s "How Green Was My Valley" (the Academy did nominate "Citizen Kane" and Orson Welles, but lacked the courage to give him the top honors).
The awards were linked again until 1948, when "Hamlet" was cited for Best Picture, and its director, Laurence Olivier, won for Best Actor, but John Huston was chosen as Best Director for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." The separation continued in 1949: "All the King’s Men" was the top picture, but Joseph L. Mankiewicz was the Best Director for "A Letter to Three Wives." He would win again in 1950, and so did his movie, "All About Eve."
But the next year, Stevens’ "A Place in the Sun" lost to "An American in Paris." The two gilded men were married again until 1956, when "Around the World in 80 Days" collected the top honor, while Stevens went home with his second Oscar. The awards were in synch for the rest of the decade, and Vincente Minnelli, who had helmed "An American in Paris," would finally get recognition for himself and his picture, as "Gigi" (1958) took both awards.
The prizes were in lockstep until 1967, when "In the Heat of the Night" was the Best Picture, but Mike Nichols was Best Director for "The Graduate." (He and his debut film, "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," had been nominated for both prizes the year before, but lost to the conventional "A Man for All Seasons," helmed by Fred Zinnemann.) The next division did not occur until 1972, when Bob Fosse grabbed the award for "Cabaret" but "The Godfather" was the top film. Then a remarkable run of tandem Oscars did not end until 1981, when "Chariots of Fire" was the Best Picture, but Warren Beatty Best Director for "Reds."
The awards would go hand-in-hand again until 1989, until Oliver Stone won for "Born on the Fourth of July," a film that lost the top prize to "Driving Miss Daisy." The awards remained joined at the hip once more until 1998. That year, "Shakespeare in Love" was the Best Picture, but Steven Spielberg collected his second Best Director Oscar, for "Saving Private Ryan." Sam Mendes reunited the prizes with "American Beauty" (1999), but another divorce occurred the following year, with "Gladiator" winning Best Movie, while Steven Soderbergh earned the Director nod for "Traffic." Ron Howard reconciled the awards in 2001 with "A Beautiful Mind," but another split came the following year, with Roman Polanski collecting the prize for "The Pianist," but "Chicago" capturing the highest honor. Since then, the only exceptions were those for Ang Lee. But with 10 movies nominated in the Best Picture category vs. only five nominees for Best Director, the odds of a split have increased.