20-year itch: Sam Mendes could set record for the longest gap between directing Oscar wins with ‘1917’

Sam Mendes really knows how to end a decade on a high note. Twenty years ago, he made his feature film directorial debut with “American Beauty” (1999), which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, along with Best Director for Mendes — the most recent director to prevail for a debut. Now, he’s back with his World War I epic “1917” and is a massive contender to take home a bookend Best Director statuette, which would give him the longest gap between two wins.

Twenty-one people have scored multiple Best Director Oscars — 18 with two, two with three and one with four — but most have typically won two of them within a period of 10 years. Five have a gap of more than 10 years between two victories. The record is currently held by Billy Wilder, who won his two awards 15 years apart for “The Lost Weekend” (1945) and “The Apartment” (1960).

Two have a gap of 13 years: Fred Zinnemann, for 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” and 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons,” and William Wyler, a three-time champ whose final two wins were for “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) and “Ben-Hur” (1959). Wyler’s first Oscar was for “Mrs. Miniver” (1942).

Clint Eastwood‘s twin wins for “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) are 12 years apart. The indefatigable 89-year-old is also back in this year’s race with “Richard Jewell,” and a victory would put him at a 15-year spread from “Million Dollar Baby.”

SEE ‘1917’: Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins and more on how it takes ‘a lot of praying’ to make a one-shot war movie [WATCH]

Four-time champ John Ford has a max of 11 years between his final two Oscars for helming “How Green Was My Valley” (1941) and “The Quiet Man” (1952). His first two were for “The Informer” (1935) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), which means his four wins in 17 years took less time than Mendes will now need to win two.

Mendes hasn’t been nominated since his big breakthrough, so if he does nab his sophomore bid and wins, he’d have a 2-for-2 record like Frank Borzage, who triumphed for “7th Heaven” (1927/28) (in the drama directing category) and “Bad Girl” (1931/32), and reigning champ Alfonso Cuaron, whose victory for “Roma” came five years after his first for “Gravity” (2013).

Since “1917” held its first screenings last weekend, Mendes has risen from fifth to fourth place in our director odds, with multiple Experts and Editors picking him for the win. Shot to look like one continuous take — DP Roger Deakins is staring down at a second cinematography Oscar — “1917” is a visual spectacle with a character-driven story at the center, following two young soldiers tasked with delivering a message to stop a planned British attack that will lead 1,600 soldiers into a trap. The film is inspired by stories Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred Mendes, told him of when he was a messenger on the Western Front. The director also co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns and served as a producer, so he could wind up with a hat trick of Oscars for it.

Here are the director win gaps from longest to shortest:

15 years
Billy Wilder: “The Lost Weekend” (1945) and “The Apartment” (1960)

13 years
William Wyler: “The Best Years Of Our Lives” (1946) and “Ben-Hur” (1959); third win for “Mrs. Miniver” (1942)

Fred Zinneman: “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “A Man for All Seasons” (1966)

12 years
Clint Eastwood: “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)

11 years
John Ford: “How Green Was My Valley” (1941) and “The Quiet Man” (1952); other two wins for “The Informer” (1935) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940)

9 years
Milos Forman: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Amadeus” (1984)

7 years
Elia Kazan: “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947) and “On the Waterfront” (1954)

Ang Lee: “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “Life of Pi” (2012)

Leo McCarey: “The Awful Truth” (1937) and “Going My Way” (1944)

5 years
Alfonso Cuaron: “Gravity” (2013) and “Roma” (2018)

David Lean: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

Steven Spielberg: “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

George Stevens: “A Place in the Sun” (1951) and “Giant” (1956)

4 years
Frank Borzage: “7th Heaven” (1927/28) (drama) and “Bad Girl” (1931/32)

Frank Lloyd: “The Divine Lady” (1928/29) and “Cavalcade” (1932/33)

Robert Wise: “West Side Story” (1961) (with Jerome Robbins) and “The Sound of Music” (1965)

3 years
Oliver Stone: “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989)

2 years
Frank Capra: “It Happened One Night” (1934), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936) and “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938)

Lewis Milestone: “Two Arabian Knights” (1927/28) (comedy) and “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1929/30)

1 year
Alejandro G. Inarritu: “Birdman” (2014) and “The Revenant” (2015)

Joseph L. Mankiewicz: “A Letter to Three Wives” (1949) and “All About Eve” (1950)

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