Oscars: Is Best Picture and Best Director split the new normal at Academy Awards?

It’s Academy Awards 101: the film that wins Best Picture usually wins Best Director. But is that really the case anymore? Let’s take a look back at the history of these two races at the Academy Awards.

Since the turn of the century, these two categories have coincided all but seven times. That seems like a fairly good track record – until you consider the fact that in the previous 40 years, the two categories aligned all but five times.

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In 1967, “In the Heat of the Night” won the prize of the night while Mike Nichols graduated with directing honors for “The Graduate.” In 1972, “The Godfather” was named Best Picture after “Cabaret” maestro Bob Fosse danced away with the Oscar. In 1981, Best Director Warren Beatty for “Reds” was probably seeing red after “Chariots of Fire” rode off with the top trophy. In 1989, Oliver Stone bore a second directing Oscar for “Born on the Fourth of July,” as “Driving Miss Daisy” drove itself to Best Picture glory. (“Daisy” driver Bruce Beresford wasn’t even nominated by the academy.) And in 1998, a Best Directory victory by Steven Spielberg for “Saving Private Ryan” couldn’t save the film from the stunning “Shakespeare in Love” shocker at the end of the show.

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Fast forward to this century, and it’s a very different story. We’ve continually seen more and more divergence. In 2000, “Gladiator” slayed the film competition as Steven Soderbergh cruised to a Best Director victory for “Traffic.” In 2002, “Chicago” was music to the academy’s ears, even though Roman Polanski hit all the right notes playing “The Pianist.” And in 2005, Ang Lee climbed up “Brokeback Mountain” to collect the directing trophy, just before “Crash” sped its way to a fiery Best Picture upset.

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And in the past five years, we’ve seen the film/director split all but one time. In 2012, “Argo” managed to go all the way after director Ben Affleck was famously snubbed. Lee was the beneficiary again for the wonderful “Life of Pi.” In 2013, “12 Years a Slave” worked its way to film of the year, while “Gravity” captain Alfonso Cuarón captured the Oscar. In 2015, “Spotlight” was shining bright after it hit the spot with the academy but the directing recipient was revealed to be Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “The Revenant.” And last year, “Moonlight” was over the moon after that dramatic Best Picture correction was made. “La La Land” at least managed to land the Oscar for conductor Damien Chazelle.

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The only recent match was in 2014, when Iñárritu flew away with both honors for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.)” Talk about the unexpected virtue of studying Academy Awards history. It may be time to amend a most important rule in the Oscars textbook.

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