The Directors Guild of America Award to “The Revenant’s” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu on Saturday has neutralized a traditional bias against directors winning back-to-back Oscars and has pushed his film ahead of “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” as the front-runner for Best Picture.
If you’re thinking this is a little like saying that winning the New Hampshire primary will make Bernie Sanders the favorite to win South Carolina, don’t think that.
Different horses, different races.
Sanders has never had a chance in South Carolina while “The Revenant” has really been the Oscar contender to beat since the nominations were announced nearly a month ago.
While the subjects being dramatized in “Spotlight” (priest sexual abuse and church cover-up) and “The Big Short” (how Wall Street vultures bet against the market in the run-up to the Great Recession) are both more urgent and more powerful, “The Revenant” tells an intimate story of survival on a canvas of epic size and scale.
Its 12 Oscar nominations include two for acting and one in each of the key categories of picture, directing, film editing and cinematography. Its only negative in the grand scheme of Oscar handicapping was that Iñárritu is coming off a pair of Oscars last year for directing the Best Picture winner “Birdman.”
The DGA alters that consideration.
Inarritu won the DGA award for “Birdman,” too, and his win for “The Revenant” makes him the first director to win two in a row since the guild began giving out awards in 1948. That has only happened twice in Oscar history and not since Joseph L. Mankiewicz backed up his 1949 win for “A Letter to Three Wives” with one for “All About Eve” in 1950.
The DGA and academy memberships are different groups, of course. The DGA has perhaps two and a half times as many members as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – more than 14,000 to fewer than 6,400 — but as anyone familiar with statistics would agree, that’s a hell of a sample of informed opinion. It makes it easier for the academy at large to break precedent itself and go big on “The Revenant.”
Conventional wisdom before Saturday had “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller winning both the DGA and Oscar. That was predicated on the movie’s popularity with industry guilds, on the relative new-to-the-director-club status of former actors Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) and Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) and on the two-in-a-row director jinx.
Toss it all out. Inarritu is the front-runner now and so is “The Revenant.”
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“The Revenant” photo credit: 20th Century Fox