Does the Chloe Zhao DGA win make ‘Nomadland’ unbeatable at the Oscars for Best Picture?

Chloe Zhao won at the Directors Guild of America Awards on April 11 for her helming of “Nomadland.” The guild has a great track record of previewing the Best Director winner at the Academy Awards. Since aligning its awards with the academy, only eight of the DGA picks failed to pick up an Oscar bookend. That stat makes Zhao all but certain to become the second female helmer to prevail at the Academy Awards after Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” 2009).

Bigelow numbers among the 55 DGA winners for best director of the year who went on to claim bragging rights as the helmer of the Oscar winner for Best Picture. But we are just coming off two of those 17 years when there was a disconnect between the guild and the academy.

In 2020, Sam Mendes won his second Directors Guild Award for helming the WWI drama “1917” but the Oscar went to “Parasite” director Boon Jong Ho, who also shared in a historic Best Picture victory. While “1917” had won Best Picture with the PGA, it was snubbed at the SAG Awards. The cast of “Parasite” pulled off a surprise win there for Best Ensemble.

In 2019, Alfonso Cuarón won with the DGA for “Roma” but “Green Book” took home the top prize at the Academy Awards. While that film’s director, Peter Farrelly, had been nominated by the guild he was snubbed by the directors branch of the academy. And his movie did not number among the five nominated for Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards; “Black Panther” won that race.

In 2018, Guillermo del Toro bagged the DGA Award for “The Shape of Water” before claiming Oscars for both directing and producing this Best Picture champ. As with “Green Book,” his film was snubbed by SAG, which went with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

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In 2017, all three guilds let us Academy Awards watchers down as the producers and directors backed “La La Land” and its helmer Damien Chazelle while the actors went with the cast of “Hidden Figures.” SAG did foresee the Best Picture win for “Spotlight” in 2016 by awarding its ensemble after the PGA went with “The Big Short.” And the DGA was so enamored with the work of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu on “The Revenant” that it made him its first back-to-back winner. He had prevailed the previous year for “Birdman,” which did go on to win the top award at the Oscars.

Prior to that the most recent disparity between the DGA choice for Best Director and the academy pick for Best Picture was in 2013. While Cuaron (“Gravity”) won top honors from the guild, “12 Years a Slave” claimed Best Picture at the Oscars. (The PGA had awarded its prize to both films). Just the year before, the correlation between the two awards had been so strong that the Oscar-snubbed helmer Ben Affleck won over the DGA and saw his film — “Argo” — go on to be named Best Picture by the academy.

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The other unlucky 13 exceptions to the DGA rule (and four of these, as noted, also number among the eight instances where the DGA champ did not also win Best Director at the Oscars) were:

1948 — DGA to “A Letter to Three Wives” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and Best Picture to “Hamlet”;

1951 — DGA to “A Place in the Sun” (George Stevens) and Best Picture to “An American in Paris”;

1952 — DGA to “The Quiet Man” (John Ford) and Best Picture to “The Greatest Show on Earth”;

1956 — DGA to “Giant” (George Stevens) and Best Picture to “Around the World in 80 Days”;

1967 — DGA to “The Graduate” (Mike Nichols) and Best Picture to “In the Heat of the Night”;

1968 — DGA to “The Lion in Winter” (Anthony Harvey) and Best Picture to “Oliver!” (that film’s Carol Reed won Best Director as well);

1981 — DGA to “Reds” (Warren Beatty) and Best Picture to “Chariots of Fire”;

1985 — DGA to “The Color Purple” (Oscar-snubbed Steven Spielberg) and Best Picture to “Out of Africa” (that film’s Sydney Pollack won Best Director as well);

1989 — DGA to “Born on the Fourth of July” (Oliver Stone) and Best Picture to “Driving Miss Daisy” (that film’s director Bruce Beresford was DGA and Oscar-snubbed; Stone won the Oscar too);

1995 — DGA to “Apollo 13” (Oscar-snubbed Ron Howard) and Best Picture to “Braveheart” (that film’s Mel Gibson won Best Director as well);

1998 — DGA to “Saving Private Ryan” (Steven Spielberg) and Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love”;

2000 — DGA to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Ang Lee) and Best Picture to “Gladiator” (Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for “Traffic”); and

2005 — DGA to “Brokeback Mountain” (Ang Lee) and Best Picture to “Crash.”

Besides Mendes, Affleck and the four men mentioned above, the other two DGA champs who did not win an Oscar as well were Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather,” 1972) who saw the Oscar go to Bob Fosse (“Cabaret”) and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”, 2002) who was bested by Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”).

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