Those ready to count out Martin Scorsese‘s chances of receiving a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards for “Silence” following his DGA snub should hold their horses. The acclaimed filmmaker could still be recognized by the notoriously esoteric directors branch much the same way he was for another long-in-development passion project with religious overtones, “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988). That film was also overlooked by the Directors Guild before reaping a lone Oscar bid for its helmer. So while Thursday’s announcement certainly helped the chances of Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), Garth Davis (“Lion”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”), and Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), it didn’t completely kill Scorsese’s.
The only time the director has competed at the Oscars without a corresponding DGA nom was for “Last Temptation,” which took years to make and drew considerable controversy for its depiction of Jesus’ final moments of doubt on the cross. Like “Silence,” that film had a weak showing at the precursors, snagging only two Golden Globe bids for Supporting Actress (Barbara Hershey) and Score. In fact, the only place Scorsese was recognized was with a 2nd place win at the LA Film Critics. Yet the directors branch, responding perhaps not only to his immense skill but also his determination in bringing Nikos Kazantzakis‘ novel to the screen, nominated him alongside Charles Crichton (“A Fish Called Wanda”), Alan Parker (“Mississippi Burning”), Mike Nichols (“Working Girl”), and the eventual winner, Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), leaving out DGA contender Robert Zemeckis (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). It was the only Academy citation the film received.
Scorsese won the DGA award for “The Departed” (2006), leading the way to his first Oscar victory. Over his career, he has received guild nods for “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Raging Bull” (1980), “GoodFellas” (1990), “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Gang of New York” (2002), “The Aviator” (2004), “Hugo” (2011), and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), missing only for “Taxi Driver” and “The Age of Innocence” at the Academy. Additionally, he won the guild’s TV prize for the “Boardwalk Empire” pilot in 2011 and competed for their documentary award for “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” in 2012. So his omission was surprising, but not unprecedented.
“Silence,” the director’s 28-year in the making epic about Jesuit priests facing persecution in 16th century Japan, has had a weak showing at the precursors thus far, missing out at both the Globes and BAFTA. It’s only guild mention so far has been for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto at the ASC. Many blame its late release date, while others believe the film is too long and taxing for voters to handle. Despite its impressive scale and scope, it may lack enough broad support to make it into Best Picture.
Yet the directors branch of the Academy is a small, insular group that bucks trends and recognizes outstanding achievements from filmmakers they admire. Look no further than Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”), Bennett Miller (“Foxcather”), and Benh Zietlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) to find examples of them thinking outside the box, often at the expense of a perceived frontrunner like Ridley Scott (“The Martian”), Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”), or Ben Affleck (“Argo”), all of whom competed at DGA (and in Affleck’s case, won). In fact, the worst possible position to be in right now is as the perceived Oscar winner, since members will oftentimes throw their vote to someone they believe needs their help over the person most expected to get in.
Scorsese is one of the world’s most admired auteurs, not just from movie fans, but from fellow filmmakers as well. For years there was outcry over the fact he had never won despite decades of groundbreaking work. Five out of his last six films have all been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars (the lone exception being “Shutter Island”), and “The Departed” won both prizes. Everyone in Hollywood is aware of his struggle to bring “Silence” to the screen, and if there’s anyone who would recognize the degree of difficulty and dedication needed to mount such an elaborate production, it’s directors. The questions is: if Scorsese’s in, who’s out?
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