Martin Scorsese reached “venerable legend” status by the time of Goodfellas, and for the next two decades it was a running joke that the Academy continued to deny a Best Director Oscar to the best living director. In the 16 years between Goodfellas and The Departed, the award was bestowed on the likes of Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Ron Howard. Ouch.
By the time he won in 2006 for a film that wouldn’t crack the top 10 for most Scorsese freaks, the validation was for Scorsese’s career output rather than The Departed. Likewise, Joel and Ethan Coen were great for two solid decades before finally winning in 2007 for No Country for Old Men.
Meanwhile, masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, Robert Altman, and Nick Ray (to say nothing of the Akira Kurosawa and Jean-Luc Godard) never won Best Director Oscars, while John G. Avildsen, Robert Redford, Delbert Mann, Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty and Norman Taurog did. Reward the guy who made Bulworth, but not the guy who made Modern Times—good call!
The Academy continued to favor flavors of the month over established greats this year, giving the Best Director Oscar to 38-year-old Tom Hooper instead of fellow nominees/Academy bridesmaids David Fincher or Christopher Nolan. Hooper is a competent young filmmaker who was probably a charming presence at Academy screenings; Fincher and Nolan are two of the most important directors of the millennium.
However, the Fincher and Nolan snubs don’t reach a Scorsese-after-Goodfellas level of ridiculousness yet—their bodies of work just aren’t deep enough. In my opinion, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Pedro Almodóvar are the greatest active, relevant directors to never win an Academy Award for Best Director. Given the Academy’s rich history of egregious snubs, they may be waiting a long time.