Ben Affleck had to be one disappointed filmmaker at the nomination announcement for the 85th Academy Awards. While his true-life docudrama Argo scored seven bids including Best Picture, his name was nowhere to be seen on the Best Director list. Yet with his recent victories at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards (for the film’s ensemble), Argo is being seen as a potential favorite for the Best Picture prize.
With a win, Affleck would find himself in very rare company in Oscar history. Since the very first handing out of the Academy Awards in 1929, three films that have won the top prize didn’t have any of their directors nominated for their efforts. Even two of the decade’s first Best Picture prize-getters would land this unusual feat.
The first-ever Best Picture winner also had the dubious honor of having a no-show in the directing category. The WWI-set aviation epic Wings had an ambitious director in William Wellman (who would later go on to create the original and often-remade A Star is Born) and two top-notch performers in Gary Cooper and “It girl” Clara Bow. Despite its historic status as the only full silent movie to win the prize (with 2012 winner The Artist having a crucial moment of sound in its climax), Wings wouldn’t have Wellman competing for his profession’s top honor.
The second winner was the 1932 ensemble dramedy Grand Hotel, which boasted one of the most significant ensembles in movie history. This MGM project under the guidance of producer Irving Thalberg boasted stars John Barrymore, Oscar nominees Greta Garbo & Lewis Stone, Oscar winners Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery & Joan Crawford, and one of the great movie lines in Garbo’s legendary “I want to be alone.” Even with its heavy duty star power, Grand Hotel‘s director Edmund Goulding would be on the outside looking in for the Best Director race – he was snubbed. Yet Goulding wouldn’t be the only Grand Hotel participant to not show up on Oscar night – the film’s Best Picture nomination would be its only bid.
Nearly 60 years after Grand Hotel’s unique 1-for-1 situation, another movie would achieve Oscar’s top summit without having its director represented. The adaptation of the play Driving Miss Daisy boasted a trio of top-notch actors in nominees Morgan Freeman & Dan Aykroyd and Best Actress winner Jessica Tandy. The film would also win Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (for playwright Alfred Uhry’s screenplay based on his own material). Even with Miss Daisy‘s significant victories, one would not be assured. While he had been a previous nominee for directing for 1983’s Tender Mercies, Bruce Beresford was not on the shortlist for Best Director – the award would eventually go to Born on the Fourth of July‘s Oliver Stone.
In the 85-year history of the Academy Awards, there has been proof of a film being able to win the ceremony’s top prize without the need for its director to get nommed. Wings, Grand Hotel and Driving Miss Daisy may very well be listed as examples of films that somehow directed themselves to the Best Picture prize – even if the director somehow should have been given a chance to compete. With Affleck’s Argo having a great run of recent awards success, its odds of becoming the fourth film to win Best Picture without its leader getting any recognition have risen. On February 24, Affleck will find out if his efforts will land him an unusual place in a club of rare Oscar history.