Several directors this Oscar season have been nominated previously for the Academy Award for their chosen profession but never won, but they will have to compete with veterans like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro, who are hoping to take home third and second trophies, respectively.
Here are this season’s possible directing contenders who could claim their first prize early next year.
Pedro Almodovar - “Parallel Mothers”
This Spanish auteur competed for Best Foreign Language Film twice—for 1988’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and won for 1999’s “All About My Mother.” In 2002, he earned his first directing bid and won for original screenplay for “Talk to Her.” In 2019, his biographical “Pain and Glory” vied for Best International Feature Film. His current film that stars Penelope Cruz lost out as Spain’s official pick in the foreign category. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t earn another directing shot.
It’s almost hard to believe but Paul Thomas Anderson has gone zero for eight at the Oscars. He earned original screenplay nominations for 1997’s “Boogie Nights” and for 1999’s “Magnolia.” He claimed his first bids for Best Director and Best Picture, along with an adapted screenplay nomination, for 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.” In 2014, he scored another adapted screenplay chance with “Inherent Vice.” In 2017, he competed for Best Picture and Best Director for the “Phantom Thread.” His highly acclaimed coming-of-age film “Licorice Pizza” is picking up critics awards, and is currently in limited release before it opens wide on Christmas Day.
Wes Anderson earned his lone Best Director Oscar nomination for 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which also competed for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The comedy film that starred Ralph Fiennes as a concierge would earn nine nominations in total and won for costume design, makeup and hairstyling, production design, and original score. Earlier in his career, Anderson and Owen Wilson shared an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” while he and Roman Coppola similarly earned recognition for their original script for 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom.” Anderson also branched into stop-motion animation with 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and 2018’s “Isle of Dogs,” which both competed in the Oscar’s Best Animated Film category. His current title is a stylized valentine to journalism that stars many of his usual subjects such as Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, and Owen Wilson.
Sir Kenneth Branagh is a rarity, having received Oscar nominations in five distinct categories. In 1989, he competed for both director and actor for his version of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” He then competed in the Live Action Short category with 1992’s “Swan Song,” which featured John Gielgud as an aging actor. In 1996, he was up for adapted screenplay for his take on “Hamlet.” In 2011, he competed in the supporting line-up for his role of Laurence Olivier in 2011’s “My Week with Marilyn.” Ever since “Belfast”—a nostalgic look at his own childhood in Northern Ireland—secured the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, he has been one of the frontrunners for Best Director.
The New Zealand filmmaker became the second woman ever granted a Best Director spot on the ballot when she competed for 1993’s “The Piano.” (There have only been five more since.) She also won for her original screenplay. But Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” swiped both the Best Director and Best Picture prizes that year. After a 12-year break since her last film, “Bright Star,” Campion has come back with a bang with her Western that stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a toxic cowboy who messes with his brother’s new wife as well as his new step-nephew. Campion could become the third female to win, following Chloé Zhao last year for “Nomadland.” Zhao’s predecessor was Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first female filmmaker to win Best Picture and Best Director for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.”
George Clooney - “The Tender Bar”
Clooney earned a Best Director and Best Picture nomination for his 2005 historical drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” about the conflicts between newsman Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy and his anti-communist agenda. He was also up for Best Original Screenplay and won for his supporting role as a CIA officer in “Syriana” that same year. He was a co-producer of “Argo,” which won Best Picture in 2012. Clooney has also earned Oscar nods for Best Actor for 2007’s “Michael Clayton,” 2009’s “Up in the Air” and 2011’s “The Descendants.” As for this year, his current film is a coming-of-age tale of fatherless young boy who hangs out at a bar with his uncle, based on the hit book.
Adam McKay - “Don’t Look Up”
Adam McKay, who got his start directing and co-writing such Will Ferrell comedies as 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and 2008’s “Step Brothers” switched gears a bit when he took on the 2015 adaptation of “The Big Short,” which dug deep into how the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 came to be. He would receive Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2018, he took a darkly comical look at the foibles of the former Vice President Dick Cheney. The movie, "Vice," earned eight nods, including Best Picture, and won for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. His latest stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and many more, and premieres on Netflix on December 24th.
One-time indie stalwart Tom McCarthy won Best Picture for his journalistic tour de force “Spotlight,” as well as an Oscar for his original screenplay. But he was overlooked in the directing category. He also previously claimed an Oscar for his contributions to the original script to Pixar’s animated film “Up.” His current film, “Stillwater,” is about an oil-rig worker played by Matt Damon who tries to prove the innocence of his convicted daughter. This title came out way back in July and might be a bit too lost in the shuffle of a crowded field.
You would think that a legend like Ridley Scott would have a boatload of directing Oscars by now, but that is sadly not the case. His first helming nomination was for 1990’s “Thelma and Louise,” which would go on to win for Callie Khouri’s screenplay. In 2000, his second chance for directing Oscar was for “Gladiator,” which would win Best Picture, but Steven Soderbergh took the prize for “Traffic.” His next chance was for his depiction of a 1993 military raid that went wrong in “Black Hawk Down.” The film ended up winning for editing and sound. And while his 2015 film “The Martian” made the cut for Best Picture, Scott was left out for his direction. What will it take to celebrate this talented man? Perhaps a showboating performance by Lady Gaga might do the trick.
Denis Villeneuve - “Dune”
This Canadian filmmaker is known for such action-filled films as 2015’s “Sicario” and 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049.” He earned his lone directing Oscar bid for his 2016 sci-fi adventure “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as scientists who try to communicate with extraterrestrial aliens who have landed on Earth. The film would earn seven other nods, including Best Picture, adapted screenplay, and cinematography. It’s only natural that Villeneuve was chosen to do a new remake of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, and it will likely be the only blockbuster nominated for Best Picture this year. “Dune: Part Two” will land in October 2023.