With DGA and PGA wins, why is ‘Gravity’ not lock for Best Picture at Oscars?

Gravity” has now won two of the three key precursor prizes leading up to the Academy Awards. On Saturday, helmer Alfonso Cuaron claimed the top trophy at the Directors Guild of America Awards. And last Sunday, the film was named Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America, albeit in an unprecedented tie with “12 Years a Slave.” 

Yet, not one of our 19 Experts is predicting “Gravity” to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Sixteen of them expect “12 Years a Slave” to win while three of us (myself included) are backing the bid by “American Hustle,” which won Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards over, among others, “12 Years a Slave”; “Gravity” was not nominated for that award as it is essentially a one-woman show.. 

However, all of us save one (Sasha Stone, Awards Daily) are predicting Cuaron to win Best Director at the Oscars. This overwhelming support translates into leading odds of 2/13. Stone is backing the bid by “12 Years” director Steve McQueen, who is in second place with odds of 12/1 while “Hustle” helmer David O. Russell has odds of 50/1 to win. 

Why are we forecasting this split between Picture and Director? And why are we going against history when it comes to these precursor awards predicting the big winner on Oscar night? 

RELATED: Which Best Picture nominee will get those crucial second-place votes?

There have been just three years since the PGA Awards began in 1989 that both it and the DGA went one way and the Oscars another:

In 1995, “Apollo 13” claimed both precursor prizes, as well as the SAG Ensemble Award, but could not overcome the Oscar snub of helmer Ron Howard to win Best Picture. That went to “Braveheart,” a film from another actor turned director (Mel Gibson) which had been blanked at SAG. 

In 1998, “Saving Private Ryan” won over both the DGA and PGA but was edged out at the Oscars by “Shakespeare in Love,” which had won the SAG Ensemble award over it. 

In 2005, “Brokeback Mountain” claimed both of these guild awards but was defeated at the Oscars by “Crash,” which likewise had beaten it for the SAG Ensemble prize.

The Directors Guild has been handing out awards since 1949. In its 65-year history, its winner has helmed the academy’s pick for Best Picture 52 times, including last year when Oscar-snubbed Ben Affleck won with the DGA while “Argo” went on to take the top Academy Award.

That 80% success rate by the DGA at predicting the Best Picture champ eclipses that of both the PGA (17/24 — 71%) and SAG (9/18 — 50%). 

The 13 exceptions to the DGA rule (and four of these number among the seven instances where the DGA champ did not also win Best Director at the Oscars) were:

1948 — DGA to “A Letter to Three Wives” and Best Picture Oscar to “Hamlet”

1951 — DGA to “A Place in the Sun” and Best Picture Oscar to “An American in Paris”

1952 — DGA to “The Quiet Man” and Best Picture Oscar to “The Greatest Show on Earth”

1956 — DGA to “Giant” and Best Picture Oscar to “Around the World in 80 Days”

1967 — DGA to “The Graduate” and Best Picture Oscar to “In the Heat of the Night”

1968 — DGA to “The Lion in Winter” and Best Picture Oscar to “Oliver!” (Carol Reed won Best Director as well)

1981 — DGA to “Reds “and Best Picture Oscar to “Chariots of Fire”

1985 — DGA to “The Color Purple” and Best Picture Oscar to “Out of Africa” (Sydney Pollack won Best Director as well)

1989 — DGA to “Born on the Fourth of July” and Best Picture Oscar to “Driving Miss Daisy” (Bruce Beresford was not nominated at either DGA or Oscars)

1995 — DGA to “Apollo 13” and Best Picture Oscar to “Braveheart” (Gibson won Best Director as well while “Apollo 13” helmer Howard was snubbed by academy)

1998 — DGA to “Saving Private Ryan” and Best Picture Oscar to “Shakespeare in Love”

2000 — DGA to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Best Picture Oscar to “Gladiator”

2005 — DGA to “Brokeback Mountain” and Best Picture to Oscar “Crash”

The PGA awards have foreseen 17 of the 24 Best Picture winners at the Oscars, beginning with that first year in 1989 when “Driving Miss Daisy” won both awards and including last year when “Argo” repeated. 

The academy chose its Best Picture champ by popular vote from 1946 to 2008 and the PGA used this system when it began doling out awards. However, it previewed the Oscar winner only 13 times in the first 20 years of these kudos, although all of the PGA winners did number among the five nominees for Best Picture. It got it wrong in the following seven years:

1992: PGA to “The Crying Game” and Best Picture Oscar to “Unforgiven”

1995: PGA to “Apollo 13” and Best Picture Oscar to “Braveheart”

1998: PGA to “Saving Private Ryan” and Best Picture Oscar to “Shakespeare in Love”

2001: PGA to “Moulin Rouge!” and Best Picture Oscar to “A Beautiful Mind”

2004: PGA to “The Aviator” and Best Picture Oscar to “Million Dollar Baby

2005: PGA to “Brokeback Mountain” and Best Picture Oscar to “Crash”; and

2006: PGA to “Little Miss Sunshine” and Best Picture Oscar to “The Departed”

When the academy expanded the roster of Best Picture nominees in 2009, it reverted back to the preferential system of voting it had used from 1934 to 1945. The PGA followed suit, forseeing the four Best Picture champs since then: “The Hurt Locker” (2009); “The King’s Speech” (2010); “The Artist” (2011); and “Argo” (2012). 

Besides Howard in 1995, there have been four other instances when the director of the PGA champ was not nominated for an Oscar.

In 1989, Beresford — who had also been snubbed by the DGA — sat on the sidelines and saw Oliver Stone win Best Director for “Born on the Fourth of July.”

In 2001, “Moulin Rouge!” helmer Baz Luhrmann watched his wife Catherine Martin collect two Oscars (Art Direction, Costume Design) and then DGA winner Howard claim an Oscar for helming Best Picture champ “A Beautiful Mind.”

In 2006, co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”) applauded as perennial also-ran Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar to place along his DGA trophy.

In 2012, DGA champ Affleck watched Ang Lee collect his second Oscar for helming “Life of Pi.” 

Beresford and Affleck did get great consolation prizes as their films — “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Argo” — joined “Wings” (1927/28) and “Grand Hotel” (1931/32) as the only four to win the top Academy Award without its director even being in the running at the Oscars. While “Wings” won the first-ever Best Picture Oscar, its helmer William Wellman was snubbed and Frank Borzage won Best Director for “Seventh Heaven.” Four years later, “Grand Hotel” won its only nomination — Best Picture — with its director Edmund Goulding among those snubbed; Frank Borzage won Best Director for “Bad Girl.”

Eighteen other Best Picture champs saw their helmers lose their Oscar bids for Best Director. 

At the second Oscars (1928/29), Frank Lloyd won Best Director for “The Divine Lady.” That was the only time this race went to the helmer of a film not nominated for Best Picture. “The Broadway Melody” won that award while Harry Beaumont lost his Best Director bid.  

John Ford won Best Director three times even though his film lost the big prize. He edged out fellow nominees in:

1935: Frank Lloyd‘s “Mutiny on the Bounty” won Best Picture; Ford won his first Oscar for “The Informer”;

1940: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” won Best Picture; Ford won his second Oscar for “The Grapes of Wrath”;

1952: Cecil B. DeMille‘s “The Greatest Show on Earth” won Best Picture; Ford won his record fourth Oscar for “The Quiet Man” (he had claimed this third in 1941 for helming Best Picture champ “How Green Was My Valley”). 

And George Stevens pulled off the same suprise in: 

1951: Vincente Minnelli‘s “An American in Paris” won Best Picture; Stevens won Best Director for “A Place in the Sun”; and 

1956: Michael Anderson‘s “Around the World in 80 Days” won Best Picture; Stevens won Best Director for “Giant.”

The other dozen times that the prizes split came in:

1930/31: Wesley Ruggles‘ “Cimarron” won Best Picture; Norman Taurog won Best Director for “Skippy”; 

1936: Robert Z. Leonard‘s’ “The Great Ziefeld” won Best Picture; Frank Capra won Best Director for “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”; 

1937: William Dieterle‘s “The Life of Emile Zola” won Best Picture; Leo McCarey won Best Director for “The Awful Truth”; 

1948: Laurence Olivier‘s “Hamlet” won Best Picture; John Huston won Best Director for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”; 

1949: Robert Rossen‘s “All the Kings Men” won Best Picture; Joseph L. Mankiewicz won Best Director for “A Letter to Three Wives”; 

1967: Norman Jewison‘s “In the Heat of the Night” won Best Picture; Mike Nichols won Best Director for “The Graduate”; 

1972: Francis Ford Coppola‘s “The Godfather” won Best Picture; Bob Fosse won Best Director for “Cabaret” which set the record for most Oscars (8) without taking the top prize; 

1981: Hugh Hudson‘s “Chariots of Fire” won Best Picture; Warren Beatty won Best Director for “Reds”; 

1998: John Madden‘s “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture; Steven Spielberg won Best Director for “Saving Private Ryan”; 

2000: Ridley Scott‘s “Gladiator” won Best Picture; Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for “Traffic”; 

2002: Rob Marshall‘s “Chicago” won Best Picture; Roman Polanski won Best Director for “The Pianist”; and

2005: Paul Haggis‘ “Crash” won Best Picture; Ang Lee won Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain.”

What do you think is going to win Best Picture? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. 

8 thoughts on “With DGA and PGA wins, why is ‘Gravity’ not lock for Best Picture at Oscars?

  1. Wow! We’re you up all night writing this article? It reads like you are horribly afraid that the truly amazing “Gravity” could actually win Best Picture. If it does I will rejoice.

  2. “Gravity” is usually quoted by the average movie goer as a best picture favorite because more people have seen it. This said, while “Gravity” is technically an excellent experience the film’s narrative, overall, is silly and ridiculous to say the least. While film critics groups are all over “12 Years A Slave”, a suppose the progressive guilt thing, often mentioned with this group, is alive and well but not so much so with the Academy. That is why the OSCAR might go to Cuaron for Director but the best picture will go to the terrific brilliant “American Hustle”. You heard it here first.

  3. Some people deny the truth even as it sits right in front of their faces. The truth is that Gravity is quite strong, and your refusal to acknowledge that just gives voters an even greater incentive to vote for it as their #1. You poo-poo Gravity at your own peril.

  4. You can’t measure all split years alike. In the days where Best Picture was decided by a weighted ballot a surge of voting could result in a situation like Crash or Shakespeare in Love. The preferential ballot prevents a surge like that (unless the movie wins in the first round) – so your number 2 and 3 movies in a three way race are going to be pivotal. There is just no telling right now which of those three will end up on top. Had the PGA kept counting (if they had more ballots) – they have 4,500 members contrasts with the Academy’s 6K – which direction would it go in? Which movie would have come out on top? The DGA has 14,500 – SAG has 100,000 – in neither of those instances did 12 Years come out on top. So American Hustle and Gravity are going to come in with a huge number of number of one votes. They’ll be set aside. 12 Years probably right up there. What hits 2 and 3 on those ballots is going to decide best picture. Funny, isn’t it? You’d think with a preferential ballot that might lead to more splits. In the past, when they did use a preferential ballot, the best winner was the one with the most nominations. Oscar history has ALWAYS resulted in the Best Picture winner being the popular crowd pleaser while the best director goes to the one people “respect” but don’t like – Reds/Chariots of Fire, Brokeback/Crash, Traffic/Gladiator and on and on it goes. So why are pundits flipping that? If Cuaron is winning director Gravity is probably winning Picture. I am predicting mcQueen and 12 Years because that scenario simply makes more sense to me. But if I switch to Cuaron I will switch to Gravity also. Just my two cents.

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