Since the Directors Guild of America aligned itself with the Oscars calendar in 1950, all but seven of its winners for Best Director have repeated at the Oscars. However, the guild does less well predicting the five Oscar nominees. In its first 15 years, there were anywhere from four to 18 DGA nominees. From 1963 – 1965, it went with five before going to 10 for the rest of the decade. Finally, beginning in 1970 it enshrined the number of nominees as five. And since then, there have only been five years where it previewed the exact lineup of Oscar contenders.
The most recent of these was in 2009 when Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) won both races over James Cameron (“Avatar”), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), and Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”).
This year, our experts are expecting the guild to recognize Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma“), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), and David Fincher (“Gone Girl”). Those were the five Golden Globe nominees, as well as five of the BFCA six (the other being Angelina Jolie for “Unbroken”), so it stands to reason that therein lies our Oscar frontrunners.
Yet nothing goes according to plan, so let’s take a look at what we know.
Despite its four Golden Globe nominations and five BFCA bids, “Selma” has not been hitting its stride with the guilds (only the Costume Designers and Makeup & Hairstylists have recognized it). That’s because screeners were either not sent to guild members or arrived too late. As they were sent to academy members on Dec. 19, DuVernay may very well be nominated at the Oscars but snubbed by the DGA. So who gets her slot instead?
Perhaps Christopher Nolan, a three-time DGA nominee [“Memento” (2001), “The Dark Knight” (2008), and “Inception” (2010)] for “Interstellar” (odds of 33/1). However, his epic film has faced an uphill battle this awards season, with only an AFI citation and a few scattered tech nods at various guilds and precursors (he was nominated by the Chicago Film Critics).
“Nightcrawler” and “Whiplash” have proven popular with the major guilds, but can rookie filmmakers Tony Gilroy or Damien Chazelle (who was nominated by BAFTA) break into a field crowded with veterans?
It’s happened before: look at Bennett Miller, cited for his first film, “Capote” (2005), and back in contention again this year with “Foxcatcher,” which won him the Directing prize at Cannes. That film has shown up at the PGA, WGA, and SAG, so a nod here wouldn’t be out of the question.
Or the guild could go with one of their old favorites, two-time guild and Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood [“Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)]. He’s in contention with “American Sniper,” a late-breaking entry that has proven to be more popular than many expected it to be.
The Directors Guild encompasses 14,500 members spanning film, television, music videos and commercials, as opposed to the more exclusive Directors Branch of the academy, which has 382 members. The guild nominations often indicate the widespread appeal of a film, if not necessarily its director.
Academy members have oftentimes sprung for more esoteric choices in their voting, leading to such surprise inclusions as Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” 2012), Michael Haneke (“Amour,” 2012), Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake,” 2004), and Pedro Almodovar (“Talk to Her, “2002), none of whom had reaped a DGA bid.
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