Where the DGA Award Goes, Oscar Usually Follows…

8 Jan

Hey, y’all! The nominations for this year’s Directors Guild of America Award have been announced, and there are only a pair of moderate surprises. Of course, Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) are all on board. The two “surprises,” if that’s the right word, are Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi).  The former is a surprise only in that his film has not been as widely praised as other entries in the line-up while the latter’s offering has also received mixed reviews and has, additionally, been slow to build an audience.  The more high profile omissions include Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), possibly Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and, okay, both Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). Personally, I would have loved it if Wes Anderson had been recognized for Moonrise Kingdom though I do not think his omission is earth-shattering.

Why all the hoopla over the DGA? Well, ever since the guild started awarding an annual prize back in the 1940s, it has long been considered a crystal ball, of sorts, for the Oscars, often signaling the Academy’s choice for Best Director, which, of course, generally correlates with the Best Picture Oscar. How neat and tidy is that? Of course, over the past few decades, the Academy and the DGA have not matched up as consistently as they once had. For example, in 2000, the DGA award went to Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) while the Academy singled out Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) for Best Director yet  looked to a third movie, Gladiator (directed by Ridley Scott), to bestow the Best Picture Oscar. In 2002, Rob Marshall  (Chicago) took the guild prize, but the Academy, somewhat surprisingly, honored Roman Polanski for The Pianist even though Chicago was named Best PictureThen, in 2005, the DGA once again honored Ang Lee, for the “breakthrough” Brokeback Mountain. The Academy likewise singled out Lee, but the Best Picture trophy was awarded to Crash. These calls aren’t as easy to make as they once were though the last few DGA recipients, two of which are also in the race this year, have emerged victorious at the Oscars to boot.

Well, Oscar nominations are due Thursday morning, and it will be interesting to see how this lineup compares (or contrasts) with the Academy’s selection. Keep in mind, just as with the guild awards, directors nominate other directors though the Academy’s voting branch is much smaller than that of the DGA, which means there might still be hope for the Andersons: Paul Thomas and Wes (no relation).  Something else to consider is the Academy’s latest Best Picture policy that recognizes as many as 10, but no more than 5, finalists, which means that films nominated for Best Picture and Best Director will likely stand a better chance at claiming the top Oscar, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here are snapshots, so to speak, of the current DGA nominees.

Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Argo" - Arrivals

Ben Affleck (Argo): Actor/directors, such as Woody Allen (Annie Hall, 1977) and Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, 1990) have won DGA awards for movies in which they also starred; both also won Oscars. Additonally, Clint Eastwood has twice been recognized by his peers in the guild for movies in which he directed himself: Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004); he likewise went on to garner top honors with the Academy. On the other hand, Mel Gibson was nominated for the DGA prize for Braveheart, in which he also acted, but he lost that award–to Ron Howard for Apollo 13–though he ultimately claimed Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Win or lose, with Argo, Affleck has made a huge leap from an actor who sometimes directs (Gone, Baby, Gone, and The Town) to a filmmaker with which to be reckoned.


Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty): This is Bigelow’s second DGA nomination. She became the first woman to win both the DGA prize for feature films and the Academy Award for Best Director for 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Her latest nomination proves that The Hurt Locker was no fluke. She will almost certainly be on this week’s Oscar ballot as well. Zero Dark Thirty is currently playing in limited engagements–as in less than 100 theatres across the country, per Box Office Mojo. It will be interesting to see if the controversy surrounding the film’s depiction of “enhanced interrogation” (aka torture) will be a turn-off or a turn-on for mainstream moviegoers when its run expands after the Oscar nods are announced.

tom hooper les miserables

Tom Hooper (Les Misérables): This is Hooper’s second DGA nomination for feature films. He won for 2010’s The King’s Speech in a tough race that pitted him against, among others, David Fincher for The Social Network. Hooper went on to win the Oscar as The King’s Speech also won for Best Picture. Though the reviews for Les Misérables have most certainly been mixed, the movie opened huge–though its box office take has tapered somewhat. Still, it has already hit 100 million, thereby recouping its original production costs. Today’s nomination for Hooper bodes well for this week’s Oscar nods. My feeling is that Hooper’s colleagues appreciate the challenges of shooting a period film with hundreds, if not thousands, of extras, a musical, no less, in which the all the singing was recorded live on the set. Degree of difficulty often counts. Hooper also boasts a DGA nom for his work on the John Adams miniseries on HBO.



Ang Lee (Life of Pi): This is Lee’s fourth DGA nomination. As outlined above, he has twice won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). He shot Life of Pi in 3-D, and the film has been heralded for being a major technical accomplishment, but will that be enough to assure a third win? Lee’s first DGA nod was for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, which went on to garner 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture–but nothing for Lee as director.


Steven Spielberg (Lincoln): This is Spielberg’s 11th DGA nomination. He has won three times: The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998); his other nominations are for Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Empire of the Sun (1987), Amistad (1997), and Munich (2005). He has also been honored with a DGA Lifetime Achievement award. His Lincoln is the top grossing picture in this already impressive lineup of contenders. Many prognosticators believe Lincoln is the movie to beat for the Academy’s top award though, of course, Spielberg has been down this path with the Academy more than once. For example, in 1998, he won both the DGA award and the Oscar for Saving Private Ryan, but the Best Picture Oscar went to Shakespeare in Love.

Thanks for your consideration…

Directors Guild.org: http://www.dga.org/Awards/Annual.aspx

Zero Dark Thirty at Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=binladen.htm


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