Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) celebrated his 39th birthday on Feb. 21 and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) is 34 years old. Neither will beat Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) as the youngest Best Director Oscar winner (32 years, 38 days), though Gerwig would be the fourth youngest. But if either Peele or Gerwig upsets frontrunner Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), he or she would be the 21st winner under the age of 40.
While Gerwig, who would be 34 years and 212 days old at the ceremony, would slide into the fourth youngest slot, Peele would be the 18th youngest, edging out “The Awful Truth” (1937) director Leo McCarey (39 years, 158 days), “The Lost Weekend” (1945) helmer Billy Wilder (39 years, 258 days) and “Mr. Deed Goes to Town” (1936) champ Frank Capra (39 years, 290 days). All 20 under-40 champs were in their 30s at the time of their victories.
Since all but one directing winner have been men, much like Best Actor, most of the Best Director recipients won in middle age when they were more established. Forty men have taken home the award in their 40s and 26 people have won in their 50s, including Kathryn Bigelow, who was 58 years and 100 days old when she became the first female champ for “The Hurt Locker” (2009). Five have won in their 60s and Clint Eastwood, at 74 years and 272 days when he prevailed for “Million Dollary Baby” (2004), is the only septuagenerian winner.
There have been six nominees in their 20s — none women — but all have fallen short. “Boyz n the Hood” (1991) director John Singleton (24 years, 44 days) is the youngest and the most recent twentysomething nominee is M. Night Shyamalan, who was 29 years and 193 days old when he contended for “The Sixth Sense” (2000).
Peele and Gerwig’s rivals are all in the directing sweet spot age range: Del Toro is 53, and Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) are both 47, with Anderson 34 days older.
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