Directors Guild Awards cliffhanger: ‘Boyhood’ vs. ‘Birdman’ (or ‘American Sniper’ surprise?)

On Saturday, the Director’s Guild of America, by far the most accurate Oscar predictor we have, will announce its winner for Best Director. In its 66-year history, only seven guild honorees did not repeat at the Oscars and most of them helmed the Best Picture champ. In a year like this, with so many moving parts and cliffhangers adding confusion to the race, a little bit of clarity is necessary.

For months now, this has looked like Richard Linklater’s to lose. The “Boyhood” director is way out front with our experts, with odds of 2/11. After wins at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice — as well as the various critics groups — he should have this in the bag. The Texas-born auteur has been one of the most unique voices in independent cinema for over twenty years, with such films as “Dazed and Confused” (1993), the “Before” trilogy (1995, 2004, and 2013), and “Bernie” (2011) to his credit. “Boyhood” is a monumental achievement for Linklater, a passion project twelve years in the making, and if the film is the Best Picture frontrunner many are expecting it to be, than the DGA should only serve to solidify this.

DGA predictions: Oscars frontrunner Richard Linklater (‘Boyhood’) will win here first

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars: “Birdman” surprised everyone by besting “Boyhood” at the PGA Awards, followed by a more expected SAG Ensemble victory. If this makes it the new frontrunner, the next logical step would be a win for its helmer, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. A previous DGA and Oscar nominee for “Babel” (2006), Inarritu currently sits in second place with odds of 9/1. The propulsive, comedic “Birdman” represents a change of pace from the kinds of serious-minded ensemble dramas the Mexican filmmaker is known for. It’s also a technical marvel, filmed to look like it was all done in one take, and in the past two years, the academy has gone for directors whose job looked the hardest: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi” (2012) and Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” (2013). Inarritu’s feat of filmmaking looks no less difficult than Cuaron’s or Lee’s, and he may benefit from the same mindset that propelled them into the winners circle.

Yet that argument could also be made for Linklater: after all, what could be more difficult than spending over a decade shooting a film? This much is certain: if the Best Picture race is truly between “Boyhood” and “Birdman,” logic dictates the DGA should be between Linklater and Inarritu, and the winner here will repeat at the Oscars.

Nothing is certain, however, and there’s an upset lurking in the wings, one who may have been snubbed by the academy but whose film is still a formidable threat: Clint Eastwood. A two-time guild and Oscar victor for “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), the veteran filmmaker was snubbed by the directors branch at the academy for “American Sniper.” But if “Argo” taught us anything, its that lack of a Best Director nomination doesn’t kill your film’s chances at winning, especially if you have a popular actor/director at the helm. At the age of 84, this beloved Hollywood icon has created one of the biggest moneymakers of his career, a film that has stayed atop the January box-office and become the highest grossing Best Picture nominee. If voters want to reward a populist hit, they have few options, and this could also serve as a way to honor one of their favorite filmmakers with a career achievement award. Like Ben Affleck before him, Eastwood could easily win and tip the race in “Sniper’s” favor. He currently sits in third place with odds of 33/1.

Then there is Wes Anderson for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Like Linklater, Anderson is a Texas-born independent who has carved a place for himself in Hollywood cinema as one of its most unique auteurs, and after almost twenty years, he’s finally reaped his first guild nod. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is his biggest commercial success to date, and has tied “Birdman” for the most nominations. Yet Anderson is ranked fourth with odds of 50/1, despite his film winning the Globe for Best Picture (Musical/Comedy). Our experts are predicting him to prevail at the Oscars in the Original Screenplay category (odds of 8/13), so perhaps the DGA and the academy feel inclined to spread the love.

One film that could use a rebound at the guilds is “The Imitation Game,” and if it wants to assert itself as a major player, a win for first-time nominee Morten Tyldum is crucial. Tyldum, a Norwegian who came to fame for the comedic thriller “Headhunters” (2011), surprised many by showing up here and at the Oscars, and he’ll hope to follow in the footsteps of Tom Hooper (“The Kings Speech”) in 2010 as an emerging talent riding a wave of support for his film towards victory against a category filled with veterans. The big difference between the two is that Hooper was nominated by the Globes, Critics Choice, and BAFTAs before winning the DGA and Oscar, whereas Tyldum was shut out of all of those major precursors. Another big difference: “The Kings Speech” had triumphed at the PGA prior to Hooper upsetting front-runner David Fincher (“The Social Network”). So Tyldum comes in fifth place with odds of 100/1.

What does this all mean?

DGA predictions slugfest:
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seal the deal for ‘Birdman’? [Video]

If Linklater wins as expected, than either “Boyhood” truly is the frontrunner, or we’re looking at our third Picture/Director split in a row. Should Inarritu prevail here, there will likely be no split and “Birdman” will take both Oscars. If Eastwood surprises, there could be a split with “American Sniper” taking Picture and either Linklater or Inarritu winning Director. And should either Tyldum or Anderson take home the DGA golden plaque, than “The Imitation Game” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel” could make a stunning Oscar comeback. 

If you haven’t made your DGA predictions yet, there’s still time. Click here to visit our predictions center, where you can enter your picks or use the easy drag-and-drop menu below to get started and be in with a chance to win $100 if you get the highest score. 

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