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With No DGA, How Might Best Director Go?

A major crutch has been pulled out from under Oscar voters this year and that’s their reliance on the DGA and the PGA.  For now we’ll focus on how the DGA’s date change could affect the Best Director nominations, expanding on a Twitter conversation I had with Ashley Reynolds regarding Paul Thomas Anderson. The way I see it, the Weinstein Co. will get one of their directors in but they’ll have to make a choice, Sophie. Paul Thomas Anderson vs. Quentin Tarantino vs. David O. Russell.

As it stands right now, Russell has the momentum. But since we won’t see if the DGA chooses him first, we have to rely on the Academy doing that on their own. If you’ve been following the Oscar race for a while you know that there is usually one or two non-matches from DGA to Academy. That’s because the Academy’s directing branch is around 400 where the DGA membership is around 9,000. So while the Oscars might represent a select poll of first-class directors, if you multiply that sampling by a factor of 20 you’re likely to see a much broader range of taste. With that in mind, we can expect the DGA to choose titles with more popular appeal and Russell would have a better shot. PTA has a better shot with the smaller sampling, I figure.

To my mind there are two locks right now: Ben Affleck for Argo and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. I expect the next two in line will be Tom Hooper for Les Miserables and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty. But I say this sight unseen.  It’s just a hunch and it’s based on their position in the industry — both have won recently, thus, more attention will paid to them. That leaves the Weinstein slot open. There, I figure, is your cliffhanger. Of course, Hooper or Bigelow could fail to make the cut. Another director entirely could take one or both their spots — like Benh Zeitlin or Michael Haneke. Usually when the Academy splits from the DGA they pick a more obscure choice over a more popular one.  But let’s look at how it could go and then look at the times when the Academy has gone a different way.

In the last ten years, when did the DGA pick a director that the Academy didn’t?

2011: David Fincher, Dragon Tattoo –> Terrence Malick, Tree of Life
2010: Christopher Nolan, Inception –> Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
2009: no variation
2008: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight –> Stephen Daldry, The Reader
2007: Sean Penn, Into the Wild –> Jason Reitman, Juno
2006: Bill Condon, Dreamgirls –>Paul Greengrass, United 93*
2005: no variation
2004: Marc Forster, Finding Neverland —> Mike Leigh, Vera Drake*
2003: Gary Ross, Seabiscuit –>Fernando Merielles, City of God*
2002: Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings Two Towers –>Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her*

4 of  the past 10 times when the Academy’s directors branch picked a director that the DGA did not, the variant Academy film did not go on to be nominated for Best Picture but the DGA’s did.

3 of the 10 times when the directors branch picked a director that the DGA did not, the variant Academy film went on to be nominated for Best Picture.

2 of the 10 times matched 5/5 with corresponding Best Picture nominations.

But it’s also important to note that only once since the new rules too effect has the movie the DGA chose not gone on to get either director or picture nomination at the Oscars and that was Fincher for Dragon Tattoo — that it was supplanted by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and War Horse (neither of which earned directors nominations from either group) tells you a lot about how and why the Academy picks some films. But lingering guilt and perhaps frustration contributed to Dragon Tattoo winning the editing Oscar, making it the first film since 1968 to win editing without a corresponding Best Picture nomination*.  That shows support for Fincher’s work and respect for his team, even if his film didn’t get enough number ones for Best Pic.

*[Forgot about The Bourne Ultimatum and Black Hawk Down both won editing Oscars without a BP nomination .  Thanks Linus!]

Aside from that exception, over the past 3 years — since 2009 when the Academy grew the field of BP nominees to ten to establish the current system — any director the DGA picks usually goes on to see his or her film at least get a Best Picture nomination.  In other words, prior to 2007, the variant directors the Academy opted to nominate didn’t have a corresponding Best Picture nomination, but now, with the expanded list, it’s very likely they would have.

But let’s look at a chart that weaves the Golden Globes, DGA and Oscar together.

 + won
GG-Golden Globes
DGA-Directors Guild


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+(GG) Michel Hazanavicius+ The Artist+/GG+
Martin Scorsese, Hugo (GG+) Martin Scorsese Hugo/GG
Alexander Payne, The Descendants (GG) Alexander Payne The Descendants/GG+
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris-(GG) Woody Allen Midnight in Paris/GG
David Fincher, Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick Tree of Life
The Help-GG
War Horse-GG
 GG-director only Clooney for Ides Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Tom Hooper+ (GG) Tom Hooper+ The King’s Speech+(GG)
David Fincher (GG+) David Fincher Social Network(GG+)
Darren Aronofsky (GG) Darren Aronofsky Black Swan (GG)
David O’Russell(GG) David O’Russell, The Fighter (GG)
Joel and Ethan Coen True Grit
Christopher Nolan, Inception (GG) Inception (GG)
The Kids Are All Right(GG+
Winter’s Bone
Toy Story 3
127 Hours


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Kathryn Bigelow+(GG) Bigelow+ Hurt Locker+(GG)
Lee Daniels Lee Daniels Precious (GG)
Jason Reitman (GG) Jason Reitman Up in the Air (GG)
Quentin Tarantino (GG) Tarantino Inglourious Basterds (GG)
Jim Cameron (GG+) Jim Cameron Avatar (GG+)
A Serious Man
Globes only: An Education
Clint Eastwood, Invictus (GG) District 9
The Blind Side


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Danny Boyle+ (GG+) Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire+ (GG+)
Ron Howard (GG) Ron Howard Frost/Nixon (GG)
Gus Van Sant Gus Van Sant Milk
David Fincher (GG) David Fincher Benjamin Button (GG)
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Globes nominated only:
Stephen Daldry (GG) Stephen Daldry The Reader (GG)


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Joel and Ethan Coen+ Joel and Ethan Coen+ No Country+ (GG)
Sean Penn, Into the Wild Jason Reitman Juno (GG)
Julian Schnabel (GG+) Julian Schnabel
Tony Gilroy Tony Gilroy Michael Clayton (GG)
Paul Thomas Anderson Paul Thomas Anderson There Will Be Blood (GG)
Globe nominated only
Joe Wright (GG) Atonement (GG+)


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Stephen Frears (GG) Stephen Frears The Queen (GG)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Babel (GG+)
Bill Condon, Dreamgirls (GG+)
Faris and Dayton Paul Greengrass Little Miss Sunshine(GG)
Martin Scorsese, The Departed+(GG+) Martin Scorsese+ The Departed+(GG)
Globe nominated only
Clint Eastwood, Letters & Flags Clint Eastwood Letters from Iwo Jima*


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Ang Lee+(GG+) Ang Lee+ Brokeback Mountain (GG+)
George Clooney (GG) George Clooney Good Night, Good Luck (GG)
Paul Haggis Paul Haggis Crash+
Bennett Miller Bennett Miller Capote
Steven Spielberg (GG) Steven Spielberg Munich


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Alexander Payne (GG) Alexander Payne Sideways (GG+)
Martin Scorsese (GG) Martin Scorsese The Aviator (GG+)
Taylor Hackford Taylor Hackford for Ray (GG)
Marc Forster (GG) Mike Leigh for Vera Drake Finding Neverland (GG)
Clint Eastwood (GG+) Clint Eastwood+ Million Dollar Baby+(GG)


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation Sofia Coppola Lost in Translation (GG+)
Clint Eastwood, Mystic River Clint Eastwood Mystic River (GG)
Peter Jackson, ROTK+(GG+) Peter Jackson+ ROTK (GG+)+
Peter Weir, Master and Commander Peter Weir Master and Commander (GG)
Gary Ross, Seabiscuit Fernando Merielles Seabiscuit (GG)


DGA / GG Director | Director Oscar | Best Picture Oscar / GG-Best Picture

Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York (GG+) Martin Scorsese Gangs of New York (GG)
Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings (GG) Pedro Almodovar Two Towers (GG)
Roman Polanski, The Pianist Roman Polanski+ The Pianist (GG)
Rob Marshall, Chicago+(GG) Rob Marshall Chicago+(GG+)
Steven Daldry, The Hours (GG) Steven Daldry The Hours (GG+)

I have worked down my list of Best Directors down to:


We only have five slots for the Globes, five slots for the DGA and five slots for Oscar’s Best Director. Three of the names above will have to go. Or it might not look at all like that. There might be other names like Joe Wright, Robert Zemeckis, The Wachowskis and Tykwer, Ava DuVernay (first black female director nominee??), Peter Jackson – it’s still too soon to know.