By all accounts, Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”) should be walking away with the DGA prize for Best First-Time Director. The actor-turned-auteur won rave reviews for helming and starring in this romantic drama about a fading musician (Cooper) and his rising protege (Lady Gaga), scoring nominations both in this category and in Best Director. Yet he’ll have to watch out for four other debut filmmakers at the Directors Guild of America Awards who just might give him a run for his money.
According to our racetrack odds, Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”) is the likeliest challenger to Cooper’s victory with second place odds of 19/5. Like his rival, Burnham is a performer who stepped behind the camera to create a tender portrait of an awkward pre-teen (Elsie Fisher) navigating the perils of adolescence. The film has brought him screenwriting nominations at the WGA, Critics’ Choice and Independent Spirits, plus a victory at the Gothams for Breakthrough Director.
Coming in third place with odds of 9/2 is documentarian Matthew Heineman (“A Private War”), who made his feature debut with this gritty biographical drama about famed war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike). Heineman previously triumphed in the guild’s doc category for “City of Ghosts” (2017) and “Cartel Land” (2015), which also brought him an Oscar nomination.
Musician-turned-director Boots Riley (“Sorry to Bother You”) currently holds fourth place odds of 9/2. The surreal satire about a telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) faced with a crisis of conscience has brought Riley Independent Spirit nominations for Best First Film and Best Screenplay, plus a Gotham bid for Breakthrough Director.
Rounding out the five is Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”) with odds of 5/1. Estrada made the leap from short films and television to features with this timely story about a parolee (Daveed Diggs) who witnesses a police shooting that threatens a lifelong friendship. The film began its awards run at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it competed for the Grand Jury Prize.
One thing working in Cooper’s favor is his nomination in the guild’s main category, where he contends alongside Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”), Peter Farrelly (“Green Book”), Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) and Adam McKay (“Vice”). In the past two years, fellow first-timers Luke Davies (“Lion”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) benefited from competing in both. In each case, they lost the major race, so a First-Time filmmaking victory works almost as a consolation prize. (The inaugural award was given to Alex Garland for “Ex Machina” in 2015; that year, there was no overlap between the two categories.)
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.