Directors can be considered longshots until they begin showing up on multiple nomination lineups at various award shows. Ridley Scott, a four-time Academy Award nominee, is one of the greatest living filmmakers to never win an Oscar, despite one of his films taking home the best picture prize. However, with two distinct features this year—House of Gucci and The Last Duel—Scott’s industry clout and overdue narrative could bring him to one historic nomination (or possibly two?).
Scott turned 84 on Nov. 30, and if he manages to be nominated for director, he’ll surpass John Huston as the oldest nominee in the category’s history. Huston was 79 when he was nominated for Prizzi’s Honor (1985). No filmmaker has ever been nominated in their 80s, though this conversation is sure to come back up next year for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
A respected veteran in Hollywood, Scott’s career spans over 40 years, with classics such as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). His history with the Academy has been fascinating to analyze at a macro level. His first nod as a director came for the female road flick Thelma & Louise (1991). Debuting out-of-competition at Cannes, the film was a summer release and a box office hit. It also serves as the last movie with two leading ladies, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, both recognized as best actresses. He received another nod for the war film Black Hawk Down (2001), but his closest moment to gold was one year prior with Gladiator (2000).
Scott is one of the few filmmakers in the aughts that married critical prestige and consumer box office with the Russell Crowe film. A summer movie that captured the attention of mainstream audiences, it went on to win five Oscars for best picture, actor (Crowe), sound (Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, Ken Weston), costumes (Janty Yates) and visual effects (John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke, Rob Harvey). So how did Scott lose the directing prize? What’s interesting is, in hindsight, his loss isn’t surprising. He didn’t win any essential precursors like the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, DGA or BAFTA.
Moreover, he would eventually lose to Steven Soderbergh, the last person who was double nominated for directing two films, which Scott’s campaign team surely wants to mimic this season. Soderbergh made the shortlist for Erin Brockovich and won for Traffic. The only other double-nominated filmmaker was Michael Curtiz, nominated for Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and Four Daughters.
The polarization of Scott’s two current films will indeed present obstacles. Still, at this point in other respective awards seasons, I don’t think many pundits had deemed Todd Phillips (Joker), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) or Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) definitive contenders in the race. Perception can be reality, but the narrative that The Last Duel is critically divided has occupied conversations surrounding it. However, with an admirable 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, why are many of us writing the 20th Century Studios film off? With standout performances from stars Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck, the two could be one of those seemingly “dead in the water” contenders that come roaring back for the first half of the precursor season (i.e., Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train or Daniel Bruhl in Rush).
The reactions for his outing with Lady Gaga on House of Gucci are a bit all over the place, but official reviews won’t drop until Nov. 22, two days before its release in theaters. Does that mean that distributors United Artists Releasing and MGM may be expecting a lower-than-expected number? Probably, or maybe by that point, a massive box office will drown out any critical divide for the crime drama. The savvy campaign is undoubtedly putting Gaga near the forefront of best actress, along with supporting actor Jared Leto and costumes and makeup.
The narrative for overdue directors doesn’t typically catch onto the awards enthusiast zeitgeist the way actors do. It was somewhat present when Scott helmed The Martian (2015), but it wasn’t enough to stop Alejandro G. Inarritu from winning back-to-back statues. The social media and industry campaign to get Martin Scorsese his Oscar picked up significantly with Gangs of New York (2002), and carried him through to another nom for The Aviator (2004) and eventually to his first Oscar win for The Departed (2006), which was bestowed on him by his “three amigos”—Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, one of the best Oscar moments in modern history. That type of campaign doesn’t happen too much anymore.
In 93 years of the Oscars, countless auteurs have failed ever to make it to the Oscar podium. For example, Orson Welles, who directed Citizen Kane (1941), which many consider the single greatest movie ever made, left the world without an Oscar in hand. Coincidentally, he lost his Kane Oscar to John Ford for How Green Was My Valley which marked his third (of his eventual four) career wins.
Add other masters of cinema like Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet and Stanley Kubrick, and you can find shock by the list of names that have never made their trip to the Oscar stage.
If this year doesn’t work out for Sir Ridley Scott, perhaps it’s time to give him an honorary Oscar.