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2020 Oscar Circuit: Best Director


2020 OSCAR PREDICTIONS: The Best Director Oscar race has long been tied to the winner of Best Picture. Over the last six years, however, we have seen that previously steady pairing dissipate quite a bit. Four times in that span has the Oscar-winning director’s film watched as their film lost the big prize to one of their peers.

In total, Best Picture and Director have split 27 times in 91 years. Twenty-one of those times it happened with both the director and picture being nominated. The director of the Best Picture-winning film has missed on a Director nomination five times (“Green Book” – 2018; “Argo” – 2012; “Driving Miss Daisy” – 1988; “Grand Hotel” – 1931/32; “Wings” – 1927/28). Only one person has ever won Best Director without his/her film being nominated for Best Picture (Frank Lloyd won in 1928/29 for “The Divine Lady” at the second Oscars.)

There are a few precursors to consider when forecasting the Oscar here, but none more reliable than the Directors Guild Award (DGA). In fact, the DGA is the most reliable precursor for any award in the Oscar hunt, as it has only differed from the eventual Oscar winner eight times in 72 years (89% efficient). The DGA winner’s movie has won Best Picture all but 17 times in that span as well (76%).

This year, our DGA winner is Sam Mendes (“1917”). Mendes’ World War I epic also took home the Producers Guild Award (PGA), marking the 22nd time in the 30 years of the PGA’s existence that the two aligned. Out of those 22 matches, 15 of 22 went on to win both Best Picture and Director Oscars.

Throw in the Best Director prize from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice (where he tied with “Parasite’s” Bong Joon-ho), and all the stars seem to be aligning for Mendes to win his second Director Oscar (“American Beauty,” 1999).

Is there anyone that can stop him? Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for BEST DIRECTOR:

The Irishman” (Netflix)
Director: Martin Scorsese

PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS (for director): “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), “Hugo” (2011), “The Departed” (2006), “The Aviator” (2004), “Gangs of New York” (2002), “Goodfellas” (1990), “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “Raging Bull” (1980)
PREVIOUS WINS: “The Departed” (2006)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “Silence” (2016), “Casino” (1995), “Cape Fear” (1991), “The King of Comedy” (1982), “Taxi Driver” (1976)


OSCAR SCENE: “The Doorway”

Martin Scorsese is a national treasure. The director is one of the three or four best of all time in his craft, and his two nominations this year (Picture, Director) brings his career total to 14 (nine in Director). This nomination allows him to pass Billy Wilder for the 2nd most of all time, and he now trails only William Wyler (12) for that distinction.

One of the great things about working with Scorsese is that an acting nomination often follows. This year, both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci were cited in the Supporting Actor field. In total, Scorsese has directed five Oscar-winning performances: Best Actress Ellen Burstyn (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” 1974); Best Actors Robert De Niro (“Raging Bull,” 1980) and Paul Newman (“The Color of Money,” 1986); Best Supporting Actor Joe Pesci (“Goodfellas,” 1990); and Best Supporting Actress Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator,” 2004). Only three directors – William Wyler (14), Elia Kazan (9), and Woody Allen (6) – have directed more people to Oscars.

Joker” (Warner Bros.)
Director: Todd Phillips

PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS: “Borat” (Adapted Screenplay, 2006)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “The Hangover” (2009), “Old School” (2003)


OSCAR SCENE: “The Murray Franklin Show”

Todd Phillips’ directing career took a major swing this year, knocking the ball out of the park with his bleak comic book adaptation, “Joker.” Phillips has mostly been known for his raunchy comedies (see above), but the Brooklyn native proved that there is massive talent with his work here. He will next deliver a Hulk Hogan biopic starring Chris Hemsworth as the muscular titular character.

Parasite” (Neon)
Director: Bong Joon Ho

OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “The Host” (2006), “Mother” (2009), “Snowpiercer” (2013), “Okja” (2017)Parasite

OSCAR SCENE: “The Arrival”

Bong Joon-ho is the fourth Asian nominated for the Best Director Oscar (Hiroshi Teshigahara, Akira Kurosawa, and Ang Lee), and the first Korean director to receive any nomination.

The inventive director’s film is odd and beautiful, and is the most likely to upset Mendes’ “1917” for Best Picture. It’s also likely that he has the best odds to upset Mendes for Director as well. His work on “Parasite” earned him his first three nominations (Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay).

1917” (Universal Pictures)
Director: Sam Mendes

PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS: “American Beauty” (1999)
PREVIOUS WINS: “American Beauty” (1999)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “Road to Perdition” (2002), “Jarhead” (2005), “Revolutionary Road” (2008), “Skyfall” (2012)

1917 running movie

OSCAR SCENE: “1600 Men”

What more is there to say that wasn’t mentioned in the opening. The British director has won every major precursor on his way to his second Academy Award, and I expect to see him doing so on Oscar night.

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” (Sony Pictures)
Director: Quentin Tarantino

PREVIOUS NOMINATIONS (Director): “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
PREVIOUS WINS (Original Screenplay): “Django Unchained” (2013), “Pulp Fiction” (1994)
OTHER NOTABLE WORKS: “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “Jackie Brown” (1997), Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003 and 2004), “The Hateful Eight” (2015)


OSCAR SCENE: “Spahn Ranch”

The two-time Oscar-winner has yet to win for Picture or Director. The violent nature of his films might have had a hand in that in the 90s, but as the diversification of the Academy continues, it feels like his films get closer and closer to winning the coveted prizes. This feeling – along with the general Hollywood nostalgia base of his movie – led many to believe that Tarantino and his film were the early frontrunners (especially following his win for Best Picture with the Critics’ Choice Awards). But, alas, it looks like we will have to wait for his next work to bring Tarantino the gold in a category outside of Screenplay.

WILL WIN: Sam Mendes “1917”
SHOULD WIN: Sam Mendes “1917”
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Rian Johnson “Knives Out” or Taika Waititi “Jojo Rabbit”


  1. Sam Mendes “1917
  2. Bong Joon-Ho “Parasite
  3. Quentin Tarantino “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
  4. Martin Scorsese “The Irishman
  5. Todd Phillips “Joker

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Written by Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Game of Thrones, Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.


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