Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, and the Directors Guild Award: Isn’t It Ironic?

3 Feb
Actor and nominee Affleck attends the 65th annual Directors Guild of America Awards in Los Angeles, California

Congratulations to Ben Affleck on winning the prestigious Directors Guild of America award for Argo.

If this were a normal Oscar year, Affleck would surely be sitting in the catbird seat, confidently awaiting benediction at the annual Academy telecast. Simply, since the late 1940s when the DGA launched its own prize, the Oscar for Best Director and the DGA’s prize have overlapped in all but 6 or 7 times (depending on one’s point of view). The last such occurrence was during the 2002/03 awards season when first-time feature film director Rob Marshall won the DGA prize for musical blockbuster–and Best Picture front-runner with 4 acting nominees–Chicago while Roman Polanski was honored by Academy members for the harrowing tale of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.

Of course, Affleck was snubbed by his peers in the directors branch of the Academy, so an Oscar for Best Director is not in the cards this year; however, as one of the co-producers of Argo, Affleck could still walk away with a trophy for Best Picture, and that would be great. Interestingly, Affleck is one of only three DGA winners who were not even nominated for the Oscar. The first person to do so was Steven Spielberg, who made headlines when his big-screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winning The Color Purple scored 11 nominations, including Best Picture–and three performance nods–though Spielberg was locked-out of the Best Director race.  The guild saw fit to make a statement by honoring Spielberg anyway, or at least that’s the way it seemed at the time.  The Academy ultimately opted for the safe route by bestowing top honors on Out of Africa, which also earned 11 nods, and its director, Sydney Pollack. Come Oscar night, The Color Purple went 0 for 11, tying with 1977’s The Turning Point for most Oscars lost in a single evening.

Now, history appears to be repeating itself as Affleck assumes the role of the odd man out, and Spielberg’s Lincoln is the leader of the current pack with 12 nods–including Best Director, natch. Of course, this Oscar race is unlike any other–at least in recent memory–since there are nine  Best Picture nominees, and since Affleck is only one of three DGA nominees who were also glossed over by members of the Academy, the others being Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables).

Spielberg’s movie reeks of prestige as it follows President Lincoln’s mission to hold the Union together and abolish slavery during the waning days of the Civil War. Timing is essential. Everything about Lincoln is first-rate.  Argo, on the other hand,  also borrows from history as it shines the light on a little known episode during another bleak time in American history. In this case, Affleck shows what happens when a CIA operative goes undercover as a Canadian filmmaker in Tehran on the pretext of scouting locations while actually orchestrating a rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis.  In both instances, the outcome is already known, but the films offer plenty of drama and excitement anyway. Excellent films, both. “Best” is really a matter of taste in this instance. At this point, Spielberg is almost certainly the man to beat in his Oscar category, but the race for Best Picture is not as easy to call. Stay tuned.

The Exceptions:

  1. 1968 |   DGA:  Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter) | Academy – Carol Reed (Oliver!); Oliver! also wins Best Picture
  2. 1972 |   DGA: Francis Coppola (The Godfather)  | Academy – Bob Fosse (Cabaret); The Godfather wins Best Picture
  3. 1985 |  DGA – Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple) | Academy – Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa); Out of Africa also wins Best Picture
  4. 1995 |  DGA – Ron Howard (Apollo 13); Howard was not nominated for the Oscar | Academy – Mel Gibson (Braveheart); Braveheart also wins Best Picture
  5. 2000 |  DGA – Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) | Academy – Steven Soderbergh (Traffic); Gladiator wins Best Picture
  6. 2002 | DGA – Rob Marshall (Chicago) | Academy – Roman Polanski (The Pianist); Chicago wins Best Picture


  • Originally, the DGA did not follow the same traditional calendar year as the Academy, which is why two 1949 releases, All the King’s Men, directed by Robert Rossen, and A Letter to Three Wives, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, competed in separate DGA races, each a winner,  while duking it out for honors at the same Academy ceremony with Mankiewicz snaring Best Director and Best Picture going to All the King’s Men.
  • Oliver Stone won both the DGA award and the Oscar for 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July while the Oscar for Best Picture went to Driving Miss Daisy, the director of which, Bruce Beresford, was snubbed by both organizations.
  • Ang Lee likewise triumphed in both the DGA and Oscar races for Brokeback Mountain (2005) though the Academy’s top prize was awarded to Crash (directed by Paul Haggis).

Thanks for your consideration…


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