Why the directors branch of the Academy didn't nominate one of its most revered members
Credit: Giles Keyte
  • Movie

Every year, the director’s branch of the Academy throws the town a curve ball. Last year, it was the omission of Selma director Ava DuVernay; two years earlier, Ben Affleck’s snub was heard around the world, even as his film Argo went on to win Best Picture.

This year, Ridley Scott — once considered the front-runner to win best director for The Martian — was the victim of the branch’s mercurial ways. Over the course of his career, Scott has received three Oscar nominations for directing (Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Black Hawk Down), but he has never won. Now, he’ll have to wait a little longer.

“It’s painful,” says one insider, who was around for a snub back in the ’90s. “You wonder if it’s personal. And all those feelings get in the way of you celebrating your movie.”

Every Academy member votes for the Best Picture category, but only those in the directors branch — made up of roughly 400 members — get to vote for their peers. So while personal relationships may be a factor, others things could also be at play.

“The writers and directors are smarter then the average Academy member,” said one insider familiar with their inner-workings. “To their credit they nominated both Michael Haneke (Amour) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) over Affleck. [I thought] both films had much more of a director’s mark on them [compared to Argo]. With The Martian, it’s solid work from a really good director, but it’s not artistic work from a good director. That’s the difference.”

Another insider says that the directors branch is made up of many directors for hire, like Scott, and they often don’t like to nominate their competition — preferring instead to pick the auteur who generates his or her own material. “They are an extremely envious, jealous group that begrudges the success of others,” the insider revealed. “They normally nominate people who they can’t compete with.”

Every director nominated this year had a hand in writing their film’s screenplay with the exception of Lenny Abrahamson, the director of Room (and the person seen as taking Scott’s place). Scott, however, wasn’t involved in writing The Martian either; the script, a nominee in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, was written by Drew Goddard.

Politics aside, the director-film mismatch is a phenomenon that’s been going on for decades. Back in 1976, Martin Scorsese was omitted from the Best Director list even as his film, Taxi Driver, was nominated for Best Picture. In 1995, Apollo 13 landed nine nominations, including Best Picture, but director Ron Howard received no love from his own branch. Both Taxi Driver and Apollo 13 lost Best Picture without those corresponding Best Director nominations, but not Driving Miss Daisy. Before Affleck and Argo, the 1989 drama was the last film to win the Oscars’ top prize while its director, in its case Bruce Beresford, was not even nominated.

“Ridley is in good company,” said another insider. “It’s not a list anyone wants to be on, but it is good company.”

But his company could get even better, provided The Martian wins Best Picture at the Feb. 28 ceremony. Scott is a producer on the film, and would win his first Oscar if his blockbuster takes top honors. Ultimately, that may be just the thing he needs to get over the snub.

Just ask Ben Affleck.

The Martian
2015 movie
  • Movie
  • 142 minutes
  • Ridley Scott