“Best Director” Madness 2023: Introduction and Bracket Reveal

They do brackets for everything at this time of year. For those of us who live the Way of the Bracket, this deluge of bracketology is reminiscent of April Fools’ Day for those of who live the Way of Lying Indiscriminately. It’s nice to see people trying because it’s precious.

Because the Oscars happened a few hours after the Selection Sunday show, this year’s bracket is Oscars-themed. To start with, I listed all the directors who had won Best Director at some point in their career. The exceptions are Jerome Robbins (who co-directed West Side Story and has no other feature directorial credits), Michael Hazanavicius (because The Artist sucks) and the Daniels (who hadn’t won Best Director when I started doing this project). That got me to fifty directors. I also listed my top fifty directors who had been nominated for Best Director but never won the award. At that point I asked my friend to choose thirty-four Best Director winners and thirty-four Best Director nominees; those are the sixty-eight directors in the bracket. Apologies to Mike Leigh, Gillo Pontecorvo, Frank Borzage, Lewis Milestone, and many more.

Because I didn’t want to make an incredibly chalky bracket, I outsourced a fair bit of it to said friend, who made that original top 68, as well as a modern heel, ChatGPT. (That’s right, Snobby McLuddite has welcomed AI to the blog.) I have three rankings for a 68-team bracket in the model of the March Madness bracket we all know. One is from the friend, one is from ChatGPT, and one is from me. I averaged the seeds to come up with the final order. Ties in the averages were broken by giving the director with the highest single ranking from the three brackets the top spot. And one final note: for each of the top 16 seeds, I split them evenly between Director winners and Director nominees. There are two 1-seeds for winners, two 2s, two 3s, and two 4s, and the same goes for nominees. This changed a couple seeds, which we’ll be talking about in a second.

The last thing to mention at the outset is that the criteria for victory in each matchup will change from round to round. We’ll get there too.

First: the Jupiter Region, with the #1 overall seed at the top.

Orson Welles was a 2-seed who turned into a 3-seed; Jean Renoir was a 4-seed who turned into a 5-seed. Given that Spielberg is underseeded (shockingly, not my fault!), Paul Thomas Anderson is extremely underseeded (really not my fault!), and there are a few legends in this group otherwise, this is a really nasty bracket for Kubrick. The matchup of the first round is absolutely Billy Wilder vs. PTA.

Second: David Lean, the fourth overall seed, leads the Thailand Region.

Any bracket where Alfred Hitchcock is not the top-rated seed is a tough one, although on the whole this one doesn’t strike me as the toughest bracket to get through. This has the chance to be a really chalky little region. The matchup of the first round here is the 8-9 between George Stevens and Ernst Lubitsch, who I think are both underseeded and Lubitsch especially so. Both of them would be competitive in a second-round matchup against Lean.

On the other side of the bracket, the second overall seed is Akira Kurosawa, sitting comfortably atop the Mount Aso Region.

Akira Kurosawa has the latest Best Director nomination of any top-4 seed, as his only competitive recognition from the Academy was for Ran. It’s fitting, because this is probably the most contemporary region in the bracket; nine of the seventeen directors listed are still active. I think there’s a good case to say that the matchup of the first round is Coppola against Wertmuller, but I’m more interested in two modern icons with mercurial filmographies, Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow.

The final 1-seed in this bracket is the reason why I had to farm this exercise out; I can’t be trusted not to just send him through all his matchups without a second thought. The final 2-seed in this bracket, hilariously, is just as likely to get that treatment from me. Welcome to Wales.

Make no mistake, this is absolutely the Industrial Rev coal miner side of the bracket if there is one. Fellini is hanging around as a 5-seed for some reason. Bergman, my heart’s darling, is going up against Hal Ashby in the first round. Howard Hawks is a 6-seed and is going to go up against one of the two most technically proficient directors working right now. And the matchup of the first round doesn’t even involve any of those guys. It’s William Wyler against James Cameron in the 3-14 slot, which is just brutal. Let me just reiterate again how much I am dreading the possibility of a Ford-Bergman matchup by showing you my Twitter profile:

We’ll be tackling this round by round in future iterations, and as I’ve intimated, the criteria will change for each round. In the spirit of chaos which this particular exercise invites, I’ve decided to make the criteria quotes from Roger Ebert reviews of eight films: 2001, Ran, The Grapes of Wrath, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Psycho, Cries and Whispers, The Departed, and The Apartment. (Why Ebert? Because bracketology is a populist endeavor, and so few people have been so cheerfully populist as Ebert in cinema’s short history.) Even though there are only six rounds, I have a stable of eight quotes in order to keep myself from trying to predict matchups and criteria in the future. Like it is for mid-majors and Cinderellas in March Madness, what matters is the now.

The Round of 64 is here.

The Round of 32 is here.

The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 are here.

The Final 4 and Championship are here.

5 thoughts on ““Best Director” Madness 2023: Introduction and Bracket Reveal

  1. Dude, I read all five parts of this tournament series in one sitting. While I’ve enjoyed every entry in your movie diary this year and more straightforward write-ups on individual releases and certain events, I think it’s your games – thought exercises, if you prefer – that excite me the most. Running your own blog means you could talk about anything you want in any way you want, and ideas like Director Madness impose a structure that lets your mind run in all kinds of interesting directions. I first came to Seeing Things Secondhand through your most recent stab at an updated AFI 100 Films list, and romps like these deliberately RNG-affected filmmaker match-ups remind me why each inbox notification compels me to drop everything. In all, great work as always, mate, and thanks for sharing this.

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