Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a chance to make history in about ten days. The Mexican filmmaker is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the 88th Academy Awards for “The Revenant,” just twelve months after he won both prizes for “Birdman.” While both races remain wide open, with “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” providing a strong challenge, and George Miller proving to be more than a dark horse in the directing category, there’s a strong possibility that Inarritu could take both for the second year in a row.
No director has won an Oscar for Best Director two years in a row since John Ford (for “The Grapes Of Wrath” in 1940 and “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941). No director’s successive films have won Best Picture since David Lean (“The Bridge On The River Kwai” in 1957 and “Lawrence Of Arabia” in 1962). And no filmmaker has pulled off both feats just a year apart.
Which is to say that Inarritu dodged a bullet in terms of following up his Oscar-winning movie by picking absolutely the right project, something that plenty of filmmakers have failed to do. And it got us thinking about follow-ups to Best Picture winners in general, so we’ve compiled a list of ten of the worst and ten of the best. Take a look below and let us know your thoughts.
The 10 Worst
Billy Wilder - “The Emperor Waltz” (1948)
One of the few two-time Best Picture-winning directors on this list, Billy Wilder got it right the second time he had to follow up winning the big prize, with witty Cold War satire “One, Two, Three” following the sublime “The Apartment.” But the first time didn't turn out as well. Powerful alcoholism drama “The Lost Weekend” took Best Picture at the 18th Academy Awards, and once WWII ended, Wilder intended to make a movie about the American presence in Europe in the aftermath of the conflict (the idea would eventually turn into “A Foreign Affair”). But after witnessing the concentration camps, he decided to make something lighter, namely a musical comedy for Bing Crosby. The result was “The Emperor Waltz,” about a traveling salesman in Austria whose dog falls for the poodle who’s been intended for the emperor’s pet. The film isn’t entirely terrible —this is Billy Wilder, after all— but it’s a tone-deaf, overly convoluted, rather empty trifle, lacking memorable music, jokes, and just about anything worthwhile (both Crosby and Joan Fontaine are hopelessly miscast). One can hardly blame Wilder for being distracted, but it’s sad that this sticks out like such a sore thumb among a mostly impeccable filmography.
Robert Wise - “Two For The Seesaw” (1962)
Robert Wise is another two-time winner, taking Best Picture first for “West Side Story” and then for “The Sound Of Music” a few years later. The latter was followed up by the left-turn war drama “The Sand Pebbles” and was well-received, but Wise unfortunately made the mostly-forgotten “Two For The Seesaw” after the former. Like “West Side Story,” the film is based on a Broadway hit, in this case a play by William Gibson (the “Miracle Worker” author, not the cyberpunk guy) which had starred Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft onstage. Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine stepped into their roles, respectively as a divorcé lawyer recently moved from Nebraska to New York and a free-spirited dancer he falls for —therein lies the rub. Though the two stars began a secret relationship while filming, they don’t share much chemistry, and Mitchum seems somewhat miscast in a role like this, while MacLaine is almost too perfectly cast, insofar as she’s essentially reprising her role from “The Apartment.” It all feels a bit minor, and Wise never finds a way to make it particularly cinematic: again, it’s no train wreck, but it’s a historical footnote at best, despite a pair of Oscar nods for its cinematography and André Previn’s theme song.
John G. Avildsen - “Slow Dancing In The Big City” (1978)
After an underdog win for an underdog story, you could forgive director John G. Avildsen for following the extraordinary success of “Rocky” with another movie from a similar mold. Unfortunately, what he made instead was “Slow Dancing In The Big City,” a sickly musical romance that disappeared without much of a trace. Following aging columnist Lou (Paul Sorvino) as he falls for youthful, facing-disability ballerina Sarah (Anne Ditchburn, a dancer in her first acting role), the film aims for the same mix of grit (Lou befriends a drug-addicted Puerto Rican kid who wants to be a drummer!) and fairy tale magic that proved so successful with “Rocky.” But lightning didn’t really strike twice. Sorvino and Ditchburn aren’t wildly convincing as a couple, ad Ditchburn unfortunately isn’t all that swell as an actress, her wooden line readings unfortunately outweighing her dancing prowess. But mainly it’s the script that lets the whole affair down: it’s a clunky, cliched thing trying to recapture the magic of classic Hollywood but which ends up feeling cheesy. Avildsen would bounce back a few years later with the mega-success of “The Karate Kid,” but this film proved to be a major bump in the road.
Miloš Forman - “Hair” (1979) and “Valmont” (1989)
At least Wilder and Wise followed one of their Oscar winners with good films: the great Czech helmer Miloš Forman also has two great Best Picture victors on his CV, with 1975’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and 1984’s “Amadeus,” yet he followed them up with two disappointments. Four years after Forman’s Ken Kesey adaptation came another counter-culture pic —his expansive adaptation of hippie-musical fave “Hair.” But by the turn of the decade, the already creaky material felt even more dated, and while Forman clearly has an eye for how to shoot a movie musical, it's too bad he didn't venture into the genre with a better source —imagine what he might have done with a “Chicago” or a Stephen Sondheim piece. He soon bounced back with another stage adaptation, Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” and returned to world-class form, but his next picture after that, 1989’s “Valmont,” proved disappointing. Co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière and based on the same source material as “Dangerous Liaisons,” which hit theaters a year earlier, it’s a rather stodgy, passion-free take on the material in which the cast, with the exception of Annette Bening, are mostly ill-chosen —Colin Firth, Fairuza Balk, Meg Tilly and Henry Thomas just aren’t quite what the story required.
Sydney Pollack - “Havana” (1990)
We’ll say this for “Havana” —it features less of a drop-off in quality than most of the films on this half of the list. But that’s only because Pollack’s Oscar-winner, “Out Of Africa,” isn’t very good. It's an over-acted, over-cooked romance that sums the Academy up perfectly, being an Africa-set movie that won Best Picture, despite not being about Africans. His followup three years later was less politically suspect for the most part, but was far more turgid and boring. Set in the late 1950s on the eve of the Cuban Revolution, the film reunites Pollack with Robert Redford, as an American gambler who’s enlisted by Lena’s Olin’s beautiful revolutionary to help smuggle in radios, and falls for her despite her husband (Raúl Julia, who took his name off in a dispute over credits). With lavish production values that never quite feel authentic (obviously the film wasn’t able to shoot in Cuba, so a vast set was built and there was some scenes shot in the Dominican Republican), it was a financial disaster, failing to get much awards buzz or much of an audience. And you can understand why: Pollack can’t decide if he’s making “Casablanca” or a lavish period romance, and it ends up between two stools. And both of the stools are badly written.