What do the DGA nominations tell us about Oscars?

This morning, the Directors Guild of America nominated Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper“), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood“), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman“), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel“), and Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game“).

Will Directors Guild Awards preview Best Picture at Oscars?

Missing from the list were such notable contenders as Golden Globe nominees David Fincher (“Gone Girl“) and Ava DuVernay (“Selma“); Cannes Best Director-winner Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher“); BAFTA nominees Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash“) and James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything“); BFCA nominee Angelina Jolie (“Unbroken“); newcomer and Original Screenplay contender Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler“); and three-time DGA-nominee Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar“).

It’s no surprise that Linklater, Inarritu, and Anderson got in: the three have shown up at every significant precursor thus far, and Linklater is currently out front to win the Oscar with 17/10 odds.

Eastwood, on the other hand, has won a handful of prizes (most notably from the National Board of Review), but the two-time DGA winner and four-time Oscar champ was snubbed at the Globes, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice.

Tyldum, meanwhile, has failed to register at any significant precursor event, despite his film having been a formidable contender since premiering at Telluride. What Eastwood and Tyldum’s inclusions tell us is that “American Sniper” and “The Imitation Game,” which have also shown up at the PGA and WGA Awards, have the kind of widespread industry support that makes a Best Picture nomination a near-guarantee.

Yet, as is the case every year, there is likely to be at least one or two discrepancies between the Directors Guild list and the academy’s. So while these five nominees may appear to be in good shape heading into Thursday’s nominations, nothing is set in stone. The DGA, comprising over 14,500 members including television and commercial directors, is a more populist voting body than the 400-member directors branch of the academy. This has often led to more esoteric choices at the Oscars compared to the DGA, which often reflects a film’s overall popularity within the industry as opposed to its popularity among academy directors specifically.

Birdman’ will lead Oscar nominations with nine,
Boyhood’ and ‘Imitation Game’ will score seven

David Lynch, for example, has reaped three Oscar nominations for directing “The Elephant Man” (1980), “Blue Velvet” (1986), and “Mulholland Drive” (2001), yet was only cited by the DGA for the Best Picture-nominated “Elephant Man.” His nominations for “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland” were the only bids received by those films at the Oscars. That also happened to Martin Scorsese for “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) and Robert Altman for “Short Cuts” (1993); they replaced the DGA’s more populist choices Robert Zemeckis for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and Andrew Davis for “The Fugitive,” respectively.

At times, two names from the DGA’s list have been left off the academy’s, which happened in 1994 when Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) were omitted by the Oscars in favor of Woody Allen (“Bullets over Broadway”) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (“Red”).

Kieslowski is one of several foreign directors to make the cut at the Oscars, along with Pedro Almodovar (“Talk to Her”), Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”), and Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”), who got in ahead of DGA contenders Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”), Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”), and Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”), respectively.

It’s important to note that with the exception of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” all of the above-mentioned titles cited by the DGA were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, while none of the above films recognized only by the academy directors branch were.

Granted, this is not an entirely representative sampling, and ever since the academy expanded its Best Picture field in 2009 from five to as many as 10, there hasn’t been an instance when a director was nominated and the film wasn’t. Even in 2012, when only Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln“) and Ang Lee (“Life of Pi“) showed up at both DGA and the Oscars, all eight films cited by one group or the other ended up with Best Picture bids. The other three DGA contenders that year were Ben Affleck (“Argo“), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty“), and Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables“), while the academy opted for Michael Haneke (“Amour“), Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild“), and David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook“).

Oscars update: ‘Birdman,’ ‘Grand Budapest’ reap bids with 10 of 11 guilds

So who gets in and who gets left out? The most vulnerable would appear to be Tyldum, who has yet to build up the kind of cachet that usually results in an Oscar nomination. He could be replaced with Fincher, an ultra-cool auteur and two-time nominee (for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network”), or DuVernay, who would be the first African-American woman ever to compete in the category. Chazelle could be the academy’s hot newcomer like Zeitlin was, while Miller could still cash in on his Cannes victory.

This much is certain: because Oscar ballots were turned in last Thursday, the DGA announcement will have no influence over the nominations whatsoever, but it will have a significant impact on voters once those nominations are announced, and if “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “The Imitation Game” all compete for Best Picture, a mention by the DGA will make them look that much stronger.

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