On the morning when the Oscar nominations were announced in 1987, I got a call from David Lynch who said he was astounded that he’d been nominated for directing “Blue Velvet” and equally astounded that I had predicted his nomination in the Los Angeles Times the day before.
“How did you know?” he asked.
The answer, of course, is that I didn’t know. I’d just played an educated hunch. Though he hadn’t been nominated by the DGA, it figured that despite its graphic, inscrutable content, “Blue Velvet’s” daring originality would set well with his peers in the academy.
The academy’s relatively small directors’ branch, unlike the broader-based Directors Guild, had a history of finding room on its ballot for work outside the mainstream that its members appreciated.
The year before, the academy had nominated two of them, Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” and Hector Babenco’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” at the cost of the DGA nominees Steven Spielberg for “The Color Purple” and Ron Howard for “Cocoon.” Two foreign directors from Japan and Brazil with modest box office returns over two popular Americans that were major hits.
Spielberg was cut off earlier when he had a DGA nomination for his box office game-changer “Jaws” and saw what might have been his spot on the Oscar ballot go to Italian director Federico Fellini for “Amarcord.”
I bring this up now because we may be about to see another of those DGA/academy splits. Gold Derby is now running a poll about who among the DGA Awards nominees is most likely to be left off this coming Tuesday’s Oscar ballot.
Of the five — Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”), Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), Spike Lee (“BlackKlansman), Peter Farrelly (“Green Book”) and Adam McKay (“Vice”) — McKay seems most vulnerable. I’ll leave it to the voters to sort that out. I’d like to talk about who might replace whoever it might be, using the academy’s history as a guide.
The most reasonable assumptions would involve those directors of films that have gotten love on the other guild ballots. The SAG ensemble nominees whose directors did not receive DGA nominations are Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”
It won’t be Singer. Getting fired during a film’s production for absenteeism is no way to earn the respect of your peers.
And it won’t be Jon Chu. “Crazy Rich Asians,” as much fun as it is, doesn’t rise to the qualifying level for an Oscar movie.
It could be Coogler because “Black Panther” has been in the hunt and on the verge of favorite contender status during the nearly year of its release. It is admired by nearly everyone and is weighed down only by the enduring, earned prejudice against the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
John Krasinski’s horror movie hit “A Quiet Place” landed a spot on the Producers Guild ballot, and his wife Emily Blunt has a supporting actress nomination from SAG. She might repeat on the Oscar ballot, but Krasinski as a best director nominee is an off-the- charts long shot.
I see eight times in the last 25 years that the David Lynch rule applied and five and a half of those were for foreign films. The half goes to the 2006 “Letters from Iwo Jima,” a Japanese-language World War II movie director by iconic American director Clint Eastwood.
The American films shocking Hollywood with directing Oscar nominations were Lynch again, for the 2001 “Mulholland Drive” and Terence Malick for the 2011 navel-gazer “The Tree of Life.”
The other left-field nominees were Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Red” in 1994, Aussie Chris Noonan for “Babe” (1995), Spain’s Pedro Almodovar for “Talk to Her” (2002), Brazilian Fernando Meirelles for “City of God” (2003) and English veteran Mike Leigh for the 2004 “Vera Drake.”
In this decade, the academy and the DGA have agreed more often than not that the best directing work has been done by foreigners — Mexican directors Alejandro Innaritu (“Birdman” and “The Revenant”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Britain’s Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), and France’s Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”).
Maybe add another half-foreign nomination to Taiwan born-and-raised Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”).
It is certain that Mexico will add another double-winner this year with Cuaron for “Roma,” raising the question, has the DGA given the academy any reason to squeeze in an outlier?
I think it has and I think that outlier may well be another foreign director, Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski for the highly-regarded post-WWII love story “Cold War.” Academy members are well aware of Pawlikowski’s talents from his 2015 Oscar-winning foreign language film “Ida” and his direction here was even trickier to accomplish.
Pawel, if it works out, call me.
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 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.