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21 First-Time Directors Nominated For An Academy Award

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Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Some filmmakers spend their whole careers trying to nab one of the Academy's five annual "Best Director" nomination slots. But in some rare cases, a director's debut film will make such a lasting and deep impression that the Academy of Arts and Sciences takes notice. Here are 21 directors who were nominated for an Oscar for their first efforts.

1. ORSON WELLES // CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Often considered the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1942including one for Best Director for its director (and star and writer) Orson Welles—but only won a single award for its original screenplay. While Welles was one of the youngest filmmakers to receive a directing nomination at the age of 26, the prestigious award went to John Ford for the film How Green Was My Valley.

2. DELBERT MANN // MARTY (1955)


In 1955, first-time feature film director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky made the film adaptation of the teleplay Marty (which the pair had also collaborated on two years earlier). The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine, and earned a win for Chayefsky’s screenplay and Mann’s direction.

3. SIDNEY LUMET // 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)


At 33, Sidney Lumet was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for his debut feature film, 12 Angry Men. The tension-filled courtroom drama was nominated for two additional Academy Awards, including Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Lumet lost; the Oscar instead went to David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai.

4. JACK CLAYTON // ROOM AT THE TOP (1959)


In 1959, British director Jack Clayton received international critical acclaim for the harsh indictment of the British class system he depicted in Room at the Top. Based on author John Braine’s novel of the same name, the black-and-white film earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. Interestingly, Hermione Baddeley’s supporting performance as Elspeth in Room at the Top holds the record for shortest performance to be nominated for an Academy Award, clocking in at only 2 minutes and 20 seconds of screen time. Clayton didn't take home the best directing trophy; it went to William Wyler for Ben-Hur.

5. MIKE NICHOLS // WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was nominated for every eligible category during the 39th Academy Awards in 1967. To date, it's one of only two films that have achieved this record (the other is the 1931 film Cimarron). Mike Nichols was nominated for Best Director, but lost the Oscar to director Fred Zinnemann for A Man for All Seasons.

6. AND 7. WARREN BEATTY AND BUCK HENRY // HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978)


During the 51st Academy Awards in 1979, first-time directors Warren Beatty and Buck Henry were nominated for the film adaptation of Harry Segall’s stage play Heaven Can Wait. Beatty was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Adapted Screenplay, which he also shared with screenwriter and director Elaine May. While Beatty and Henry lost the Oscar for directing to Michael Camino for The Deer Hunter, Beatty would win the Best Director Academy Award for the film Reds a few years later.

8. ROBERT REDFORD // ORDINARY PEOPLE  (1980)


Robert Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People, was nominated for six Oscars during the 53rd Academy Awards in 1981. Before the film’s release, Redford was mostly known as an actor with iconic films his CV, including All the President’s Men, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ordinary People ended up winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

9. HUGH HUDSON // CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)


The British film Chariots of Fire earned seven Academy Award nominations and four wins, including Best Original Screenplay. The film’s director, Hugh Hudson, was nominated for Best Director with his feature film debut. Although Warren Beatty ultimately took the trophy home for for Reds, Hudson’s film won the Best Picture prize.

10. JAMES L. BROOKS // TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)


Before Terms of Endearment was released in 1983, James L. Brooks was mostly known as a television producer with big hits like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Taxi under his belt. However, Brooks’ first attempt at film directing earned him three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director.

11. ROLAND JOFFÉ // THE KILLING FIELDS  (1984)


Director Roland Joffé made the transition from television to the big screen with The Killing Fields. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director; the film earned six additional nominations and won three of them, including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Haing S. Ngor—a non-actor who was also making his film debut.

12. KENNETH BRANAGH // HENRY V (1989)


In 1989, the British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V earned rookie director (and the film’s star) Kenneth Branagh an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. While the film only won one Oscar—Phyllis Dalton took home the statue for Best Costume Design—Branagh’s Henry V is considered one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play.

13. JIM SHERIDAN // MY LEFT FOOT (1989)


Dublin-born director Jim Sheridan is a six-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker. His first nomination came from My Left Foot in 1989. Sheridan didn’t win the trophy, but actor Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Irish artist Christy Brown.

14. KEVIN COSTNER // DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)

In 1990, Dances with Wolves became a pop culture phenomenon, grossing $424.2 million worldwide and garnering 12 Academy Award nominations. Although it was Kevin Costner’s first time behind the camera, the actor-turned-director was honored with the Best Director Academy Award, and he beat out top-tier directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Frears, and Barbet Schroeder for the prestigious and notable award.

15. JOHN SINGLETON // BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)


In 1991, John Singleton made his directorial debut with Boyz n the Hood, which explored gang violence in South Central Los Angeles during the early '90s. The film earned Singleton two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Original Screenplay and the other for Best Director. Singleton was the first African-American nominated for Best Director, and, at 24, also the youngest director to be nominated.

16. SPIKE JONZE // BEING JOHN MALKOVICH  (1999)


Before he started making feature films, Spike Jonze was mostly known for his strange and quirky commercial work and music videos. In 1999, Jonze earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for Being John Malkovich. Although Jonze is one of the youngest directors to be nominated for an Oscar, the then-30-year-old filmmaker lost the award to Sam Mendes for American Beauty, which also won Best Picture.

17. SAM MENDES // AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Speaking of Sam Mendes: In 1999, the British director made the transition from stage plays to major motion pictures with American Beauty. The film, about the emotional and psychological dangers of living in the American suburbs, was a box office hit and a cultural touchstone for many moviegoers in the late '90s. American Beauty won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Kevin Spacey, and Best Director fo Mendes in his film directorial debut.

18. ROB MARSHALL // CHICAGO (2002)


Chicago was the ninth movie musical to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was nominated for 13 Oscars for the 75th Academy Awards, including Best Director for Rob Marshall, who was making his feature debut. (He had previously directed a TV movie version of Annie.) Marshall ultimately lost the award to director Roman Polanski for The Pianist.

19. BENNETT MILLER // CAPOTE (2005)


Though Bennett Miller had directed a theatrically released documentary in 1998 called The Cruise, his feature film debut was a biopic about author Truman Capote writing the nonfiction book In Cold Blood. While the film only won one Academy Award—Best Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman—Capote was nominated in four other categories including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Catherine Keener, Best Picture, and Best Director for Miller, who lost the award to director Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain.

20. TONY GILROY // MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007)


While Tony Gilroy has a long career as a screenwriter, penning such movies as The Cutting Edge, Armageddon, and the first three movies in the Jason Bourne film series, the filmmaker decided to take a stab at directing with the film Michael Clayton in 2007. The movie earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for George Clooney, while Tilda Swinton earned a win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Tony Gilroy was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for his debut feature film.

21. BENH ZEITLIN // BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)


At the beginning of 2013, 30-year-old Benh Zeitlin was honored with an Academy Award nomination for his directorial debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild, but the award went to Ang Lee for his skillful direction of Life of Pi.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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