Should Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), as widely predicted, emerge victorious in Best Director at the coming Oscars, he will, at age 32 years and 38 days, mark the category’s all-time youngest winner. To date, that record has long been held by filmmaker Norman Taurog who, at age 32 years and 267 days , scored the directing Oscar for his work on the Pre-Code comedy “Skippy” (1931). However, while Chazelle would be the category’s youngest winner, he doesn’t even rank among the 10 youngest Best Director nominees in Oscar history.
The youngest filmmaker to thus far garner a Best Director Oscar nomination was John Singleton who, at age 24, was recognized for his directorial debut “Boyz in the Hood” (1991). Moreover, Singleton marked the first African-American to ever land a nomination in the category. He was defeated by Jonathan Demme, taking the Oscar for Best Picture-winner “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).
Orson Welles was just 26 years old when his masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (1941) scored nine Oscar nominations, including Best Director. Ultimately, the Academy proved fonder of “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), which took the Best Picture prize, as well as the award in directing for John Ford. Welles’ only victory that evening came in Best Original Screenplay, an honor he shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz.
Four filmmakers were age 29 when they received their first Best Director Oscar nominations – Kenneth Branagh for “Henry V” (1989); Claude Lelouch for “A Man and a Woman” (1966); M. Night Shyamalan for “The Sixth Sense” (1999); and George Lucas for “American Graffiti” (1973).
With the exception of Lelouch, who took home the Best Original Screenplay prize for his picture, none of the filmmakers won an Oscar for their respective films. Branagh was topped by Oliver Stone for “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989); Shyamalan was defeated by Sam Mendes for “American Beauty” (1999); and Lucas was beaten by George Roy Hill for “The Sting” (1973). For the directing prize, Lelouch fell to Fred Zinnemann for his work on “A Man for All Seasons” (1966).
Recently, three directors garnered Best Director Oscar nominations at age 30. There was Benh Zeitlin, nominated for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012); Jason Reitman, recognized for “Juno” (2007); and Spike Jonze, up for “Being John Malkovich” (1999). These men also came up short, as Zeitlin lost to Ang Lee for “Life of Pi” (2012); Reitman was defeated by Joel and Ethan Coen for “No Country for Old Men” (2007); and Jonze was topped by Mendes for “American Beauty” (1999).
Rounding out the 10 youngest Best Director Oscar-nominees to date is none other than Steven Spielberg, who, at age 31, received his first nomination in directing for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). While Spielberg’s first bid in Best Director was not a successful one – he lost to Woody Allen for “Annie Hall” (1977) – the filmmaker would of course go on to grand Oscar success, with seven Best Director nominations, including two victories, so far under his belt. Those wins came more than a decade after Spielberg’s first appearance in the category, as he triumphed for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).
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