20 Visionary Filmmakers Who’ve Never Received a Best Director Nomination

By
Daniel Dylan Wray

The Oscars are, of course, one giant inner circle backslapping party. Everyone knows this yet, for some reason, the ceremony continues to be taken seriously. Occasionally talent is celebrated with adoration and a little gold fella and crying – always crying – but more often than not, the politics of the industry dictates the sway of things.

There’s not a film fan alive that would argue that Scorsese’s The Departed is his greatest directorial accomplishment. Yet that’s what bagged him the award simply because he had been overlooked for so long and his time was due. The man behind the typewriter of some of Scorsese’s greatest accomplishments – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull – Paul Schrader has never even been nominated for an Oscar let alone won one.

The one consistency to be found throughout the awards year-on-year is the passing over of visionary talent in favour of famous ones. With that in mind, and as the 87th Awards approaches this weekend, we look at twenty of the greatest and most visionary directors that have never even got a nomination. (This list could have been all women because in the near 90 years of the Academy Awards only four women have ever been nominated in the best Director category.)

Werner Herzog 

The late film critic Roger Ebert said Herzog "Has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular." Despite this, the Academy has never nominated him for best director for either his feature or documentary work.

David Cronenberg
Despite Cronenberg’s career taking a notably more Hollywood-friendly and orthodox route in recent years, this – coupled with a fantastic bout of innovative psychological horror/thriller films in the 1980s – hasn’t secured him Academy recognition as a director.

Claire Denis
Denis’ career isn’t so much scattered with cinematic achievements as it is filled with them. From her 1988 Palm D’Or winning Chocolat to 2013’s superb Bastards, there's been nothing nomination-worthy for the Academy.

Jim Jarmusch
Despite working with big-name, Academy-friendly actors and having a demeanour that screams red-carpet worthy, Jarmusch’s determined commitment to his cinematic vision and a desire to remain fiercely independent is perhaps the reason behind his lack of nomination, as it seems ludicrous that any such decision would be based on his work.

Alejandro Jodorowsky 

His Chilean roots combined with his religiously challenging material was no issue for film fans and critics in the 1970s but he was seen as something of a no-go among the politically aware Academy while relations with Chile were fraught.

Lars von Trier
His Dogme 95 days were hardly likely to land him a great deal of Academy recognition but it’s difficult to see how, in a year that David O. Russell was given a nod for the painfully average The Fighter, Von Trier’s Melancholia was overlooked.

Nicolas Roeg
In hundreds of years time, filmed footage of David Bowie jittering around, coked-up out of his head with his penis out while pretending to be an alien will go down as not only one of cinema’s greatest artefacts but human beings’. On top of this, Roeg directed the inimitable Performance. If only he had cast Tom Hanks in Walkabout he may have scooped up a nomination.  

Debra Granik
Winter’s Bone was generally recognised by the Academy in 2011 but Granik’s directing, which was as beautifully paced as it was shot, was criminally overlooked.

Wim Wenders
Generally adored for his documentaries but ignored for his features by the Academy. He’s ignored in both categories when it comes to directing.

Fritz Lang
There are few who could deny the directorial majesty and cinematic impact of films like Metropolis or M.... except the Academy.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder 

An auteur who worked at break-neck speed until his premature death from a drug overdose at 37. Fassbinder was fast, wild and loose when behind the wheel of the German New Wave movement. While inconsistent he was a character with a unique vision worthy of greater appreciation.

Sergio Leone
Given the Academy’s love for all things Clint Eastwood, the man behind many of his greatest on-screen moments, such as the Dollars Trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Good the Bad the Ugly, Leone has never been given a nod.

Lynne Ramsay
From directing the gritty and sobering Ratcatcher, set in a Scottish housing estate to the hugely acclaimed and commercial We Need to Talk About Kevin, nothing in this journey has been nomination-worthy.  

Yasujiro Ozu
Not only can films such as Tokyo Story and Late Spring be found in numerous critics’ best-of lists but their influence in contemporary cinema has been monumental.  

Andrei Tarkovsky
"Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream." Said Ingmar Bergman -himself a multiple recipient of the best director nomination. However, American politics and the Cold War was a clear roadblock when it came to ever recognising Tarkovsky’s clear skill as a director.

Bela Tarr
Sátántangó, a seven-hour Hungarian film in black-and-white, was hardly likely to be a blockbuster smash. But its critical and cinematic impact, along with many of Tarr’s other films, set him apart as a clear talent with a unique vision.

Roy Andersson
Anderrson injects humour through stillness in his directing, his films are filled with elongated takes and a bitterly dead-pan humour that weaves between the surreal and the absurd. He is a true master of his craft, while capturing and presenting Swedish culture and quirks like no other. 

John Waters 

The Academy frequently indulges CGI-heavy, unnecessarily sentimental films deemed to be ‘black humour’. but when it comes to black humour being found in the trashy and the sleazy it tends to run a mile. Such films are perhaps seen as not proper or artistic, what Waters achieved on such tiny budgets from films such as Pink Flamingos was both impressive and visionary.

Johnathan Glazer
Sexy Beast was a solid directorial debut, and it was certainly a film in which Glazer got some powerhouse, bordering on the ridiculous, performances from his actors. However, 13 years later he released Under the Skin, one of 2014’s undeniable masterpieces and surely more worthy of a director nod than the slightly forgettable work of Morten Tyldum in The Imitation Game at this year’s awards.

Clio Barnard
A relatively new director with visionary prowess and a palpable sense of compassion in her films, Barnard created one of the greatest British films in recent years in The Selfish Giant.

Jean-Luc Godard
One of the forefathers of the French New Wave and director of the constant poll-topping and pioneering Breathless. No nomination. 

Follow Daniel on Twitter: @DanielDylanWray

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