One of the more interesting questions in this year’s Oscar race is wondering what the Directors branch is going to do. Will their choices be as strange and random as last year, when only two names from the DGA also made Oscar’s list? In 2012, for the first time in Oscar/DGA history, the Academy ballots were turned in before the Directors Guild announced their five nominees. That meant that Academy’s director’s branch really had no specific guidelines about how to vote. Each group simply voted for the films they thought were the best and the directors who deserved to be nominated based on those observations. That meant more directors in the Academy voted for Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin and David O. Russell while more directors in the DGA voted Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and most notably, Ben Affleck. If there seemed to be anything set in stone about last year it was that Bigelow and Affleck would be nominated. The DGA, a very large voting body of 14,500 voted for them. But the smaller Academy branch, of roughly 400 or so, did not.
Only two names carried over from the DGA’s list — Ang Lee (who won the Oscar) and Steven Spielberg. There are possibly several explanations for this. The first is that with no DGA to guide them they relied on the films they’d already seen. The second is that the prognosticators had it wrong. They were underestimating the power of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, perhaps. In more a typical year, Michael Haneke probably would have been nominated by the DGA. Really, Benh Zeitlin was the biggest surprise of last year. He came from out of nowhere, made his film on a shoestring budget using crowdsourcing, mainly, to get it made. It was glorious. It was probably what every filmmaker would like to see happen to them — have a dream, live that dream, get an Oscar nomination. But in so doing, the consensus that we’ve all come to rely on had been shattered.