Some Academy Award categories are pretty easy to figure out, such as Best Actor/Actress and Costume Design. However, one that has always puzzled me is Best Director. While we know that a director is generally considered the author of a film, their exact role is not always clear, involving and affecting elements that are already awarded in separate categories (including writing, acting, cinematography, and sound design).

While the director's contribution might be clear to anybody working on the movie in question, it becomes a completely different matter when outside observers, like the Oscar jury, need to evaluate it. It seems impossible for them to decide, based purely on the finished work, how much was actually down to the director.

Given that much or all of a director's role cannot be clearly separated from those of other crew members and unambiguously observed in the finished work, how does the Oscar jury decide which movies should receive an Oscar for direction?

In other words, how does the jury know that the result is not simply down to the writing, the acting, the cinematography, or anything else that the director cannot necessarily be credited with? Is there some unique task performed only by the director that the jury can also observe? Is it more of an overall assessment of a movie's quality that can also be clearly separated from the more general Best Picture award? Do they consult other sources than just the finished work?

Note that this is not a question about what a director actually does but rather how the Oscar jury, as outside observers, can disentangle the director's role from those of other crew members with overlapping responsibilities.


1 Answer 1


This question has been asked here and here are a few points,

You read a script written on paper. There are many ways that certain things can be interpreted based on how that script is read/performed. Imagine how different a movie would be if an actor yelled all of their lines vs whispering them.

The director's main job is to oversee the 'tone' of the movie more or less and to direct the actors as to how something should be performed. (It is worth noting that most directors are also involved in various other aspects of production, some more heavily than others.)

Now to your actual question, how to judge a film's direction. This is obviously tricky. There is no real way to tell what exactly was an actor's choice vs something a director told an actor to do. That being said it is the director's decision to choose to use what was used and to say 'yea that is good' to an actor when they make a choice the director sees as appropriate.

So while judging direction is difficult I would say that a lot of comes down to tone. Did that scene 'feel right' in the context of the larger film? Was the way a character reacted to something realistic?

There are some other questions you can ask of a movie to judge direction, but it basically comes down to a bigger picture of how the actors performed and how the movie was put together as a whole.


A director is at his or her core a collaborator, but usually also the decision maker of a production. They field tons of questions a day from different departments about things we totally take for granted: Which of these two props should they use, which of these four scarves do you want them to wear, what type of rug do you want, etc.

And then much like those collaborations between the director and crew, there's matters of the visual components of the film that the director collaborates with a DP/Cinematographer on. Of course this is highly variable, some DPs make their own choices that a director may or may not approve of, and other directors might know exactly what they want and have the DP act as the Make It Happen person. This is why directors like Terence Malick or Spike Lee or whoever often have consistent visual trademarks age style even across multiple films with varying DPs.


You look at the movie as a whole. Some movies have character and thus actors that stand out, that's probably going to have a best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress, than you have special effect that can really take the film away (say Transformers) or the music.

When looking at best director you're looking at the movie as a whole, were there any parts that felt weak or unnecessary? does some acting seem off from the general tone of the film? is the medium used correctly like Sin City or Aviator where it's not be artist the best graphics but it's true to form.

It's a tough line to decide how much a director is deserving. A good team of actors and set designers and editors and etc...can make movies good.

So you have to ask, was the story told well, because in the end the final telling of the story is placed on the shoulders of the director.

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