Given that they take place in the US it’s not surprising that the Academy Awards are dominated by Americans when it comes to who wins. However there have been quite a number of non-American directors who’ve won the Oscar for Best Director. In the interest of not having the list dominated by British directors this will focus on those born in non-English speaking countries and is not intended to be comprehensive.
Forman hails from the Czech Republic back when it was still Czechoslovakia. The first of his two wins was for the seminal film ” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ” which depicted the horrors of a mental hospital. Later Forman won again for the film ” Amadeus .” This film about Mozart is told from the perspective of the composer’s jealous colleague giving the work deeper levels than a more straight forward bio-pic would have.
This Taiwan native has one of the most varied filmography’s of any director. He has done everything from British costume dramas to American superhero films and rarely ever works in the same genre twice. Lee was first nominated for his direction of the Chinese language film ” Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ,” however it was for his unconventional tale of forbidden love, ” Brokeback Mountain ,” that Lee was able to claim the Oscar.
Born in the Turkish city of Constantinople, which later became Istanbul, Kazan helped craft some of the most iconic moments in film. He was awarded the Oscar for his direction of “On the Waterfront,” the film containing the iconic “I could’ve been a contender” speech from Marlon Brando. Prior to that he won for “Gentleman’s Agreement,” a film which examined anti-Semitism in New York City.
Wilder a native of Austria-Hungary from a region which is now part of Poland. He had a very light touch as a director and yet his films all had a distinct feel to them that was uniquely his. ” The Lost Weekend ” was his first Oscar and told a dramatic story of an alcoholic writer on a binge. His later film ” The Apartment ” is considered to be the first firm blueprint of the modern romantic comedy genre.
Born in Germany, in a region which is now part of France, Wyler is the single most nominated director in the history of the Oscars with 12 nominations to his name. He took the statue on three occasions. He won for films both leading up to and examining the aftermath of World War II: “Mrs. Miniver” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” His final win was for one of the most awarded films of all time: the staggeringly epic “Ben-Hurr.”
Nichols was born in Germany, began directing American films in the 1960s and is still working to this day. He’s been the man behind quite a few notable films however his greatest acclaim came early when he was awarded the Oscar for ” The Graduate .” The off kilter love story of a young man coming of age and contending with, amongst other things, an older woman trying to seduce him remains a steadfast classic.
This French director is one of the Academy’s most controversial winners. Though it’s difficult to argue he didn’t deserve to win for his highly personal film ” The Pianist ” there are other circumstances that raise quite a few eyebrows. Polanski could not be present to accept his award because since he fled the country in the 1970s following statutory rape charges he can’t return to US shores without being arrested. Voters were able to overlook that on this occasion.