Inside Every Recent Oscar Best Director Winner

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The Academy Award for Best Director is one of the most coveted prizes in Hollywood, shining the spotlight on the visionaries behind the camera. The distinction has been a part of the Oscars since the ceremony’s inception in 1929 (originally split between comedy and dramatic categories, it merged one year later).

But in spite of its long history, we are still seeing the award evolve. In 2017 the youngest director ever, Damien Chazelle, won for “La La Land” at the age of 32. Three of the last four winners were Mexican filmmakers. To date, only one woman has won the award: Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.” This year could yield the second woman (Greta Gerwig) or first African-American (Jordan Peele) ever to win the prize. And in this exciting 2018 race, for all five nominees—Paul Thomas Anderson (Focus Features’ “Phantom Thread”), Guillermo del Toro (Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “The Shape of Water”), Gerwig (A24’s “Lady Bird”), Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros.’ “Dunkirk”), and Peele (Universal Pictures’ “Get Out”)—a win would mean their first Oscar in any category.

Brush up on the recent history of the Academy Award for Best Director, as well as their movies’ history and other notable accolades, below. (And for advice from last year’s nominees, click here!)

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Year: 2016
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate
Premiere history: Aug. 31, 2016 Venice Film Festival; wide release Dec. 9, 2016 (United States)
Other awards won (selected): British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Film; Best Actress in a leading role (Emma Stone), Best Direction; Critics’ Choice Awards Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay; Golden Globe Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Emma Stone), Best Director
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone, won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design (won); Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design, Best Film

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Year: 2015
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Premiere history: Dec. 25, 2015
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards Best Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Direction, Best Cinematography; Critics’ Choice Award Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Cinematography; Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio, won), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design

READ: Inside Every Recent Oscar Best Picture Winner

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Year: 2014
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Aug. 27, 2014 Venice Film Festival; limited release Oct. 17, 2014; wide release Nov. 14, 2014
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Cinematography; Critics’ Choice Awards Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Acting Ensemble, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing; Independent Spirit Awards Best Film, Best Male Lead (Michael Keaton), Best Cinematography; Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Other Oscar nominations: Best Director (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Year: 2013
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Premiere history: Aug. 28, 2013 Venice Film Festival; Oct. 4, 2013 (United States)
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Outstanding British Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography; Critics’ Choice Awards Best Director, Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie; Golden Globe Best Director
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Year: 2012
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Premiere history: Sept. 28, 2012 New York Film Festival; wide release Nov. 21, 2012
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Cinematography, Special Visual Effects; Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song

Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Year: 2011
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman
Distributor: Warner Brothers France; The Weinstein Company
Premiere history: Cannes Film Festival May 2011; wide Release January 25, 2012
Other awards won (selected): British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor (Jean Dujardin); Critics Choice Awards Best Picture, Best Director; Golden Globe Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Jean Dujardin)
Other Oscar nominations: Best Director (won), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin, won), Best Supporting Actress (Bérénice Bejo), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (won)

Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”
Year: 2010
Cast: Anthony Andrews, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall
Director: Tom Hooper
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Premiere history: Sept. 6, 2010 Telluride Film Festival; UK-wide release Jan. 7, 2011
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Colin Firth), Best Original Screenplay; British Independent Film Awards, Best British Independent Film, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Screenplay; Critics’ Choice Awards Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Original Screenplay; Golden Globe Award Best Actor Motion Picture Drama (Colin Firth); Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth)
Other Oscar nominations: Best Actor Colin Firth (won), Best Director (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Geoffrey Rush), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Helena Bonham Carter), Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing

Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
Year: 2009
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Evangeline Lilly, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Premiere history: Sept. 2008 Venice Film Festival; wide release June 26, 2009
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound
Other Oscar nominations: Best Director (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Sound Editing (won)

Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Year: 2008
Cast: Rubina Ali, Tanay Hemant Chheda, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Madhur Mittal, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Aug. 30, 2008; UK-wide release, Jan. 9, 2009
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, British Film Independent Awards Best Director; Golden Globe, Best Director of a Motion Picture, Best Motion Picture Drama; Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Awards; Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Other Oscar nominations: Best Director (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”
Year: 2007
Cast: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald
Distributor: Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage
Premiere history: Cannes Film Festival May 19, 2007; wide release Nov. 9, 2007
Other awards won: British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Direction, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem); Critics’ Choice Awards Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem); Golden Globe Awards Best Screenplay; Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Other Oscar nominations: Best Director (won), Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem, won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

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