directing school

Forgotten Best Pictures: 6 Oscar-Winning Films You’ve Never Heard Of

How many films can you name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture? Probably quite a few, if you think hard enough, but could you name most of them? Or even half of them?

Among the ninety films that won the Best Picture Oscar, many have been forgotten by modern movie audiences, even if being the toast of Hollywood for one glorious night, or even several years after before fading from cultural memory. Here’s just a few:

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Directed by F.W. Murnau, this movie won Best Unique and Artistic Picture at the first ever Academy Awards in 1929 (Wings won for Outstanding Picture; both categories were replaced by the modern Best Picture category.) It also helped Janet Gaynor, who later played the lead in A Star is Born (1937), win the first ever Best Actress Oscar. If you’re curious to see cinema history, the film is available to watch on YouTube in its entirety.

Cimarron (1931)

Starring Academy Award-nominees Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, this pre-code western was RKO studios most expensive project up to that date. In addition to Best Picture, the film took home two more Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay (for Howard Estabrook who later adapted David Copperfield in 1935) and Best Art Direction (for Max Rée who later worked on John Ford’s Stagecoach.)

Grand Hotel (1932)

Adapted from a Broadway play by by William A. Drake, this lavish romantic drama was Hollywood’s biggest film of the year and one of the first production to bring together an ensemble of several A-list actors — in this case, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, and Joan Crawford! It was remade twice in the first two decades after its release, and screenwriting juggernaut William Goldman tried unsuccessfully to adapt it in the 1970s. To date, it is the only film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without being nominated in any other category.

Cavalcade (1934)

In addition to Best Picture, Cavalcade won Best Director for Frank Lloyd and Best Art Direction for William S. Darling at the Academy Awards. Diana Wynyard was nominated for Best Actress but lost out to up-and-coming star Katherine Hepburn. The epic drama depicted the life and times of English citizens in the first quarter of the 20th century as the world transitioned into a more modern society. In 2002, Cavalcade was preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The second biopic to win Best Picture was The Life of Emile Zola, the 19th-century French novelist who penned J’Accuse in response to the imprisonment of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The film received ten Academy Award nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Joseph Schildkraut, who portrayed Dreyfus. The lead role of Zola was played by Paul Muni, who had already won the Oscar for playing Louis Pasteur a year prior.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekend is probably not the first film that comes to mind when people think of Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Nonetheless, the film was nominated for seven Oscars and won four: Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director and Best Screenplay for Wilder, who shared the latter with co-writer Charles Brackett. These were the first two Academy Awards Wilder won, but not his last. The film noir also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival.

2019 Academy Awards: The Nominees for Best Directing

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s nominees for Best Achievement in Directing:

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee

Lee has been a figure in American cinema since his 1986 feature debut, She’s Gotta Have It, which was adapted into a television series in 2017. Many of his films have examined race relations, urban life, political issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, and the role media plays in modern society. In 1983, Lee won the Student Academy Award, and has since been nominated for an Oscar five times, though this is the first time he’s been recognized for his Directing. BlacKkKlansman is up for Best Picture and stars John David Washington and Adam Driver as 1970s NYPD detectives exposing the Ku Klux Klan.

Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski

Pawel Pawlikowski is a Polish filmmaker who has helmed several award-winning documentaries and feature films, including Ida, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize his latest film, Cold War. In addition to Best Directing, Cold War is up for two other Oscars — Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film. Cold War is a period film loosely based on Pawlikowski’s parents, who fell in love and played music in Europe during the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West.

The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has been making a name for himself since his 2009 film, Dogtooth, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. His film The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell, was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. His period dramedy The Favourite has generated a lot of buzz since its release, with ten Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture and three Acting nods for its main cast of Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman. Colman in particular has become a favorite for her leading role as Queen Anne.

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having ten nominations total and two wins to date, including Best Film Editing and Best Directing for his 2014 space epic, Gravity. His oeuvre has been varied throughout the years, including Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Children of Men. Roma, a favorite in this year’s Oscars with 10 nominations, is a semi-autobiographical story set in the early 1970s and shot in stark black-and-white.

Vice, Adam McKay

Adam McKay has had an unconventional path to prestige filmmaking. The Philadelphia comedian failed his audition to be on Saturday Night Live but earned a spot on its writing staff and eventually became the show’s head writer. He had an instant chemistry with cast member Will Ferrell, and eventually wrote and directed several films starring the actor, including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers. His career moved to the next level with 2015’s The Big Short, which earned him the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Directing. His newest film, Vice, starring Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, has eight Oscar nominations, including three nods for McKay.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

9 Essential Books on Filmmaking and Directing

Even if you’re at the top of your game or currently getting hands-on at an intensive filmmaking school program, it can pay dividends to do some additional learning behind the scenes.

Thankfully, for those who live and breathe the craft, there are more than a few excellent books in which to immerse yourself and get even further ahead of the game…

… in fact, it could be argued that there are too many to choose from. With this in mind, join us as we separate the wheat from the chaff with:

9 Best Books on Filmmaking and Directing

The following is a summary of the best filmmaking books written by filmmakers, for filmmakers. Naturally, any list of this kind features a certain level of subjectivity, but all of the below are industry renowned titles and come highly recommended.

The Filmmaker’s Handbook

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The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age (2013 Edition) by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus

A staple of filmmaker’s bookshelves for well over a decade, the latest edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook has revitalized all of the essential knowledge which it has become known for and brought it right up to date. If you don’t own this book already, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

On Directing Film

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On Directing Film (1992) by David Mamet

David Mamet is heralded for both his on-stage work (for which he has won Pulitzer and Tony prizes) and also his work on the screen, having ratcheted up a couple of Oscar nominations. As such, Mamet has more than a few nuggets of wisdom to share throughout the pages of On Directing Film, making it a mandatory read for directors… or really, anyone working in film.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1999) by Peter Biskind

While not a manual on filmmaking, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders is essential reading in order to fully understand the foundations on which modern-day Hollywood was built. We could have chosen any title by this highly engaging cultural critic – Down and Dirty Pictures is also highly recommended – but Easy Riders is a great place to start.

Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics

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Directing: Film Techniques & Aesthetics (Fifth Edition, 2013) by Michael Rabinger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier

Another must-read for either those at filmmaking school or looking to make a career hop over to the director’s seat. What isn’t covered on the profession in this book could probably fit on the back of a postage stamp. From start to finish, this truly is one of the most comprehensive books ever written – and frequently updated – on the art and science of directing.

How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000

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How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail) by Bret Stern (2002)

Coupled with one of the more authoritative, traditional tomes on filmmaking listed here, Bret Stern’s very liberating approach to the topic will have you on the road to becoming an indie maverick in no time. How To Shoot a Feature Film For Under $10,000 is guaranteed to revolutionize your approach to problem solving (and hopefully make you a much better filmmaker in the process.)

On Film-Making

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On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2005) by Alexander Mackendrick, edited by Paul Cronin

Alexander Mackendrick’s seminal volume on the craft of filmmaking has long been an industry standard text, and one that has helped countless individuals find their own cinematographic eye and achieve success in directing. Following the great director and teacher’s death in 1993, the various handouts he would give to his students were collated by Paul Cronin and presented in this book (with a foreword from Martin Scorsese.)

In the Blink of an Eye

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In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Edition, 2001) by Walter Murch

As a thought-provoking treatise on the practicalities and aesthetics of cutting film, In the Blink of an Eye is a book everyone who works in editing should read. Don’t be put off – this isn’t a technical manual on the hows of editing, but more of a meditation on the whys.

Making Movies

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet (1995)

Legendary director Sidney Lumet didn’t see filmmaking as magic, so this magician was more than happy to share his secrets. Lumet wasn’t just a visionary–he was very much a workman, and believed having a clear, firm control of his set would lead to a smooth production that would allow everyone, from crew to cast, to do their best. The five-time Oscar nominee backs up his ideas with sample shot lists and schedules and other practical templates filmmakers can use to this day.

Rebel without a Crew

While Mexican director Robert Rodriguez is now more known for his blockbuster epics like Alita: Battle Angel and the Spy Kids movies, Rodriguez first rose to prominence with his independent film El Mariachi, which he shot with only $7,000. One way he saved money was by serving as his own editor, cinematographer, writer, producer, director, and film scorer–roles he still fills for many of his much higher-budgeted films to this day. His guerilla-style, ultra low-budget take on indie filmmaking is detailed in his book Rebel without a Crew, a must-read for filmmakers who don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal to make the movie of their dreams.

Rebel without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez (1995)

Read any other excellent books on filmmaking that we should be checking out and including here? Don’t hesitate to drop your suggestion in the comments below, and let’s chat books! And check out NYFA’s filmmaking programs to learn more about movie making.