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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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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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