Are we overestimating Alfonso Cuaron (‘Gravity’) at DGA Awards?

I’m predicting Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity“) to win at the DGA Awards, and so is pretty much everybody else. Indeed, all our Editors and the vast majority of Users and Experts have him in first as well. 

One Expert and a few Users back Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave“) and only a handful of Users are betting on David O. Russell (“American Hustle“).

Are these holdouts for McQueen and Russell onto something?

The assumption we’ve been making is that the Directors Guild will vote for Cuaron because “Gravity” is the most obvious directorial achievement of these three films, blending visual effects with live actors and creating a believable outer-space environment out of thin air. Surely, his fellow directors in the guild will rally behind the sheer technical grandeur of it, right?

That’s possible. Certainly Cuaron would win the award for the most directed feature film. But if that’s the only reason we’re predicting him, we might be on the wrong track.

–The fact of the matter is, the technical spectacle usually loses the DGA Award and the Oscar. Last year, Ang Lee won the Oscar for helming “Life of Pi,” the biggest technical achievement of 2012, but that was only because the directors branch of the academy snubbed nominate Ben Affleck (“Argo“). Affleck won at DGA and his film claimed Best Picture at the Oscars. 

Martin Scorsese‘s 3D adventure film “Hugo” was the most impressive technical achievement of 2011, but he lost at both DGA and the Oscars to Michel Hazanavicius for his homage to silent films, “The Artist.”

“Avatar” (2009) was the most recent sci-fi extravaganza to earn top Oscar nominations, and director James Cameron had won for a big-budget spectacle before – “Titanic” in 1997 – but DGA and Oscar voters opted for Kathryn Bigelow‘s comparatively low-tech indie “The Hurt Locker” instead.

Scorsese’s biographical period drama “The Aviator” was the kind of lavish epic Oscars often go for, and it seemed like the film to beat for much of 2004, but Clint Eastwood‘s downright minimalist “Million Dollar Baby” ambushed the race at the last minute and he won both the DGA and Oscar.

In 2001, it was yet another close race between technical prowess (Peter Jackson‘s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”) and smaller-scale, traditional storytelling (Ron Howard‘s “A Beautiful Mind”). Yet again, the spectacle lost, though Jackson would finally win in 2003 on his third try, taking the DGA Award and sweeping the Oscars for the “Lord of the Rings” finale, “The Return of the King,” .

But Cuaron does seem to be on a winning streak, doesn’t he? 

After all, he won both the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director, giving him strong momentum. That’s true, but it may be misleading. The Globes are bestowed by foreign journalists and Critics’ Choice by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn., so while these highly publicized events may influence the race, they ultimately have no bearing on DGA or the Oscars, which are handed out by peer groups rather than the press.

Remember, back in 2010 David Fincher won these two awards for directing “The Social Network,” and unlike Cuaron, Fincher’s film also won Best Picture at both kudos. But when it came time for the industry to have its say, they went for “The King’s Speech” every time: PGA, DGA, WGA, SAG, and finally the Oscars.

Industry groups are only just beginning to chime in on this year’s contenders, and we don’t know for sure which way the directors might be leaning, but if they pick “Gravity,” it won’t just be because it has the most moving parts. If “A Beautiful Mind” can beat “The Lord of the Rings,” we’d be foolish to write off “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle.”

At this point, I’ve almost convinced myself to stop predicting “Gravity” at the DGA Awards, but I’m sticking with it anyway, because other factors always come into play, and several favor “Gravity.”

Alfonso Cuaron is well-liked by his peers, with six career Oscar nominations for variously writing, directing, editing, and producing “Gravity,” “Children of Men,” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Despite being a critics’ darling for years, he’s never won DGA or Oscar, and he may be considered due.

The PGA Awards honored “Gravity” as Best Picture (in a tie with “12 Years”), so we already know the industry likes it better than they did “The Social Network,” and its poor showing at SAG is easily explained: only two actors in the film have face-time, so even if it was the guild’s favorite film, it didn’t give them much to vote for at their awards.

And “Gravity” is a big hit. Anomalies like “The Hurt Locker” winning are rare as the industry usually likes to honor creative successes that are also financial bonanzas. The PGA Award has predicted the Oscar for the last six years. If they’ve indeed narrowed the race to “12 Years” or “Gravity,” Cuaron’s film is the better marriage of art and commerce. Statistically speaking, as it’s the likelier bet for the Oscars, it’s the DGA frontrunner by default.

All that in addition to being the most technically impressive of the nominees.

Or maybe they’ll give DGA to David O. Russell, in which case who the heck knows? The way this awards season has developed, the Directors’ Guild could declare a three-way tie and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Are you sticking with Cuaron for DGA, or do you think McQueen or Russell could upset? Make your predictions and comment below.

8 thoughts on “Are we overestimating Alfonso Cuaron (‘Gravity’) at DGA Awards?

  1. Alfonso Cuaron deserves to win. Headlines like the one for this article annoy me, as they only throw a question of doubt on “Gravity” and it’s awards worthiness. The headlines never throw doubt on “12 YAS” or
    “American H.” Give credit to “Gravity.” It is an amazing achievement.

  2. In what universe is 12 YEARS A SLAVE “overrated?” Certainly not this one. What universe do you inhabit, Estaban? 🙂

    No, but seriously, I’m still thinking Cuaron wins at DGA despite technical spectacles losing in the past. After all, they don’t *always* lose: THE RETURN OF THE KING won in 2004, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON won in 2001, TITANIC in 1998, APOLLO 13 in 1996 and so on. So I think Cuaron is still the safe bet.

  3. Probably not. SAG voted for film with most acting. Producers voted for films that were hardest to get made. And directors might just vote for the most directed. It’s gonna come down to the little guilds to determine the winner.

  4. I’ve asked many DGA members who they are voting for and every single person I asked said Cuaron. There was even a member who said he didn’t care too much for the movie but still voted for Cuaron because he deserved it for what he did technically.

  5. In 2011, WGA went for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” original screenplay, because “The King’s Speech” writer was ineligible under WGA’s guidelines that year.

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