Just like the Oscars, there are only five coveted spots reserved for the best directors of the year in the Directors Guild Awards. This year’s race is somewhat surprising—not so much in terms of who made it, but of who didn’t make it. However, could the Oscar race for Best Director pan out differently than what is to come out of the DGAs? Can we see a different winner in both events? Even more intriguing, which of these men could actually miss out on their chance for an Oscar this year, and be replaced by a snubbed director (or a duo of them)?
After Kathryn Bigelow‘s history-making victories for The Hurt Locker last year, including a DGA win, this year’s director’s race seems to revert back to White male dominance and is further solidified with the selections for the DGA feature film nominees. But looking past that, the films by these men have been amongst the most well-received by critics, industry insiders, and film fans alike in the past year. They are underdogs in their own right, notably Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell, who landed their first guild nominations ever with Black Swan and The Fighter, respectively (Two very female-driven films, might I add—both Amy Adams and Melissa Leo aren’t being pegged for Best Supporting Actress nominations in Russell’s film for nothing!).
David Fincher and Tom Hooper are the “no, duh”s of this race, seeing that The Social Network and The King’s Speech are juggernauts this awards season and are generally seen as the two horses in a two-horse race for the Best Picture Oscar. Fincher has already scored at the DGA: In 2003, he won the DGA Commercial Award for Speed Chain (Nike), Gamebreakers (Nikegridiron.com), and Beauty for Sale (Xelibri Phones) and in 2008, he received a DGA Feature Film nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but lost to Danny Boyle and his Slumdog Millionaire, both of which did win their corresponding Oscars. Hooper is also no stranger to the DGA, but is a stranger in the Feature Film category: He was previously nominated in 2009 for the DGA Award for Movies for Television/Miniseries for John Adams.
Out of this year’s nominees, the most acquainted with the DGA Feature Film category is Christopher Nolan, the director of Inception. He has found himself in the running for the DGA two other times: once for 2000’s Memento and the other for 2008’s The Dark Knight.
The most surprising snubs are for the Coen Brothers—Joel and Ethan Coen—whose True Grit appears to be peaking at the right time, critically and in the box office. Word around pundits was that Boyle could snag a nomination for 127 Hours, but failed to make the final five.
However, don’t count them out just yet. I only believe that one person is a lock for the Best Director Oscar, and that is Fincher. He and his Facebook film has literally won every critics’ award and I have very little doubt that he will lose out on the Critics’ Choice Award and Golden Globe. Hooper is another one that I don’t doubt will make it to the running, but probably moreso for the film itself rather than the directing (Fincher obviously has a huge advantage).
That leaves Aronofsky, Nolan, and Russell. Nolan is a very interesting case, seeing as his two previous DGA nods did NOT lead to Oscar nominations for his directing. But if the third time is indeed the charm and seeing that he has respectable wins in the critics’ circles, then it’s mostly safe to say that he’ll finally have a shot this year. However, doubts still linger.
My doubts for both Aronofsky and Russell are even larger. Aronofsky’s film may be too shocking and creatively complex for the generally older and conservative Oscar crowd, and from reading critics’ opinions and readers’ comments on various outlets, Russell is the “filler” guy in the spot that belongs to either the Coens, Boyle, or any other leading name. I’m slightly more confident that Aronofsky will land a spot in the Oscar field due to the support of the film itself (The Fighter is more of an “acting” movie), but if someone else should sneak into the Best Director race in February, these two guys are most in danger of having those spots taken from them.
But Coens and Boyle aside, how come no one has mentioned Ben Affleck yet, who pulled triple duty as director, writer, and star of The Town? Or could Lisa Cholodenko and Debra Granik put females back in the race for their efforts in The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone? British director Mike Leigh is yet another possibility for Another Year. If one or two of the DGA nominees should go out, there are actually a few strong possibilities to go in for the Oscars, not just the two that are being buzzed about.
But for now, out of the five directors who are being recognized, the lucky director to win the DGA for Feature Film is almost sure to win the Best Director Oscar. Since 1948, the winner of this coveted award has also gone on to pick up the corresponding Oscar, with only six occasions being the exceptions. The last time the DGA winner didn’t win the Oscar occurred in 2002, where Rob Marshall won the DGA for Chicago but lost the Academy Award to Roman Polanski for The Pianist. If the same case were to happen this year, it would be a rare occurrence—almost a miracle for those who want to see it that way.
Regardless of how the DGAs pan out and the corresponding Oscar race, these five directors have truly overcome odds and established greatness in their storytelling and in marking their places in cinema with these nominations. So all I have left to say is: Godspeed, good men.