If misery loves company, Martin Scorsese might try summoning the ghosts of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Perhaps together they can explain why none of them has ever been able to call himself an Oscar-winning director.
Scorsese's latest work, "The Aviator," soared last month with a leading 11 Academy Award nominations. But so did his last film, "Gangs of New York," which earned 10 nominations two years ago (second only to "Chicago"), only to lose in every category.
The 62-year-old filmmaker is now 0-for-6 at the Academy Awards, losing four times when nominated as best director ("Raging Bull," "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Goodfellas" and "Gangs of New York") and twice when competing for screenwriting honors. Perhaps things will be different this year with his lucky seventh nomination -- or will they?
The race for best director will be tight. Clint Eastwood, already an Oscar winner, is one of Hollywood's most popular filmmakers. He could easily win again for "Million Dollar Baby." Then there are the other nominees -- Alexander Payne ("Sideways"), Taylor Hackford ("Ray") and Mike Leigh ("Vera Drake"). Payne might have the best shot at surprising, and he could siphon off enough votes from Scorsese or Eastwood to tip the scales in any direction.
If Scorsese loses, at least he has no chance of being the only director winless after five nominations. It's a dubious distinction he'd share with Hitchcock, whom you'd think would have be a shoo-in for such classics as "Rear Window," "Psycho" and "Spellbound." But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in all its wisdom, thought these films were worth nominations and nothing more. "The Birds," "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest" didn't even earn Hitchcock a nod.
The good news is: This is Hollywood, where there seems to be an award for everybody. In a worst-case scenario, Scorsese can look forward to that inevitable honorary Oscar, such as the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, usually given to recipients late in life. It's Tinseltown's way of making sure that one of its best won't get sent off to that big cast party in the sky empty handed.
To be sure, Hitchcock and Welles were eventually hailed with honorary awards. One can only imagine what was running through Hitchcock's head in 1968 when he won his Thalberg. At the time, Hitchcock was 68 years old and still making films. He marked the event with the shortest acceptance speech in academy history, muttering, "Thank you" before walking off stage.
This year Sidney Lumet -- who helmed "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network" -- gets his honorary Oscar. Lumet is 80 years old and still working, but not on the sort of projects likely to give him what he richly deserves -- recognition among his peers as an Oscar-winning director.
Perhaps Lumet, Scorsese, Welles, Hitchcock and Kubrick have more in common than an empty spot on the mantelpiece. They're not just great directors, they're famous for making realistic, sometimes gritty, and often controversial films. That's not always the best sort of movie to bet on, when it's time to hand out awards.
Just look at the classic Scorsese characters: Travis Bickle, the mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran in "Taxi Driver"; Jake La Motta, the brutal boxer in "Raging Bull"; the various thugs in "Goodfellas"; and, now, the obsessive-compulsive billionaire Howard Hughes in "The Aviator."