The industry's favourite ads by Oscar-winning filmmakers

A whacky Kenzo commercial directed by Spike Jonze
A whacky Kenzo commercial directed by Spike Jonze

Ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday, five ad execs share their picks for the best spots directed by Oscar winners and nominees.

Baz Luhrmann for Chanel No 5

Selected by Kathryn Jacob OBE, chief executive at Pearl & Dean

When a brand gets a filmmaker on board to create an ad, it’s looking for them to bring a filmic dynamic to the execution, something cinematic in a sea of sub-par TV spots.

This ad is unmistakably a Baz Luhrmann production, resplendent with all of the signature Luhrmann-esque treatments – a swooning score, highly stylised shots and an Antipodean nod with the casting of Oscar winner Nicole Kidman.

The interweaving of Chanel’s narrative of shimmering glamour (RIP Karl) and red-carpet aesthetic within a very personal – yet universal – theme of wanting to escape the mundanity of everyday life, makes it an ad that I can watch again and again. (I’m not the only one apparently, as it has totalled more than two million views since being posted to YouTube in 2012.) And who hasn’t run out of a taxi into the night with their pink tulle train trailing behind them in the rain?

Perfume ads are invariably about an idealised version of the self or relationships. And this lush, romantic fantasy of love and loss works as a fabulous reminder of Moulin Rouge!, evoking the film’s instantly recognisable Parisian spectacle.

Spike Jonze for Kenzo World

Selected by Paddy Collins, creative agency lead at Google

When you make the decision to hire a famous director you are hoping to harness that rarest of blends, a unique view of the world expressed in an inimitable style. Nobody embodies this better than Spike Jonze, a master of mixing techniques from a background of film, music and skateboard videos.

For Kenzo he made something that looked nothing like a traditional perfume ad – a playful but murderous young woman skittling and spiralling through a dreary hotel before exploding into a gigantic eye of freshly cut flowers. 

Jonze understands our curiosity and flanked the piece on YouTube with ‘making of’ videos, showing how camera reflections could be made to vanish from mirrors like vampires or how the soaring dance was improvised by shouting manic suggestions. These, alongside numerous remixes and parodies, have racked up hundreds of thousands of additional views.

In a noisy world where brands struggle to stand apart, Jonze created four minutes of pure distinction.

Various directors for BMW

Selected by Mark Elwood, executive creative director at MullenLowe London

Award-winning filmmakers in advertising? I’ll nominate BMW’s film series "The hire", created by Fallon in 2001. 

Eight short films, released on the interweb, back in the day when it made sounds while connecting and YouTube didn’t exist.

Still, it got more than 100 million views, inventing branded content. The series starred Clive Owen as "The driver" and was directed by the red carpet roll call of John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Wong Kar-wai, Neill Blomkamp, Joe Carnahan, Tony Scott and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Producers of the series included David Fincher and Ridley Scott. Best supporting female and male actors in the series included Madonna, Dakota Fanning, Lois Smith, Forest Whitaker, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman and James Brown. Apologies for the nerdy list but COME ON… my favourite is "Powder keg" by Alejandro González Iñárritu – only a four-time Oscar winner for Birdman and The Revenant.

Did I mention it was also winner of the first ever Cannes Titanium Lion? 

Wes Anderson for Amex

Selected by Harsh Kapadia, executive creative director of VMLY&R

Wes Anderson has created a world of his own. A world you wish you lived in. A world you wish your Instagram account could be filled with. He sells a dream. And yet he MAKES IT LOOK so easy. Anderson has directed many commercials that are absolutely stunning and beautiful, that leave viewers with no doubt that it’s a Wes Anderson ad.

What I love about this ad is that Anderson made Amex memorable and still did everything that he does in his films. Kudos to the creatives and client as well, but it takes the right director to make people feel that all he (the guy who creates beautiful worlds) needs is an Amex. When it came to direction, he did it in true Wes style. Fast-paced, manic, carrying the viewer along, and giving us the sense of what goes on in his head – always with subtle transitions to the next scene without you even noticing. Little things you’d discover on every re-watch. Great casting for each and every person – spot on. Even though he is the lead actor and director, the humour comes from his surroundings. The ad also doesn’t try to be funny. It is funny. And most importantly, it is most definitely an ad.  

Ridley Scott for Apple

Selected by Tim Delaney, chairman of Leagas Delaney

I have been fortunate to work with a number of Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated directors. In a campaign for Telecom Italia, Spike Lee directed Nelson Mandela (the president’s only commercial) and Woody Allen directed himself (asking humbly whether he could change some of the joke lines). Should-have-been-nominated Tony Scott directed Oscar-winning Marlon Brando for the same campaign. 

Michel Gondry did an Adidas spot for us – I didn’t write it but ended up having to re-edit it. The most memorable experience was working with David Lynch on an Adidas commercial. Not only was he charming, the whole shoot was like a masterclass in movie making, right down to the camera at one end of a glass tube and a tarantula crawling towards it, no CGI allowed. The fact that we blew up a highway next to LAX makes it my favourite. But the award for best ad by an Oscar-winning director has to go to Ridley Scott for Apple’s "1984". Perfect in every way. 


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