Today marks 72 years since the release of the brilliant “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a classic neo-western that saw John Huston take home the Oscar for Best Director. However despite this victory, along with a Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor win, Huston’s 1948 classic starring Humphrey Bogart lost out in Best Picture to Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet.”
It has never been all that strange for the two awards not to correlate, even back then. Just a few years prior at the beginning of the decade, John Ford picked up his 2nd directing win for “The Grapes of Wrath,” leaving Alfred Hitchcock empty-handed despite his first (and only) Best Picture win for “Rebecca.”
In its history, 27 directors out of a possible 91 have lost Best Picture after taking home the Best Director statue – almost a quarter. You’d have to go all the way back to the 2nd Academy Awards to find the first and only director winner not to be nominated for Best Picture – Frank Lloyd’s “The Divine Lady.”
It’s an award that has typically favored a more popular, respected director. In 1981, “Chariots of Fire” pulled off a Best Picture win in a very competitive category. However, first time director Hugh Hudson did not have the same success, as the Academy instead favored Warren Beatty for “Reds,” a previous nominee.
More recently, the Best Director prize has been awarded to the more stylish and louder direction, as opposed to something more subtle. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant“ was acclaimed as an immersive cinematic experience as he swept throughout awards season against Tom McCarthy’s much quieter work, however, it was McCarthy’s “Spotlight” that took home Best Picture.
A Director/Picture split has been a much more common occurrence in the last few years. Ben Affleck was snubbed all together despite “Argo” becoming unstoppable, with Ang Lee winning for his mesmerizing work for “Life of Pi”, renowned for its breathtaking visuals. Just last year, Alfonso Cuarón was a slam-dunk in Best Director for “Roma”, however “Green Book” won Best Picture despite Peter Farrelly failing to make the five.