If more voters knew that Spike Lee could be the first black director ever to win the DGA or the Oscar for directing, they might be able to focus hard on handing their awards to Lee at last. But I’m not so sure people think about it that way — certainly not the 15,000 DGA members who will decide the winner this weekend.
To make matters slightly more confusing, Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born and Peter Farrelly for Green Book aren’t nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, which generally means — except in the case of Ben Affleck for Argo — they’re not likely to win the DGA. But what if one did? Well, then, you’d likely have a new indicator for your Best Picture winner at least, but you might still be stuck on Best Director.
The reason for this is that Alfonso Cuaron is expected to win Best Director at the DGA. And if he does, it will be only the second time in their entire history that a director has won for a foreign language film. The first was Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 (the year I started this website and helped gestate an entire godforsaken industry of Oscar watching). Many folks, including myself, wrongly assumed that winning the DGA meant Crouching Tiger would become the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. But it did not because Gladiator won instead. Meanwhile, Steven Soderbergh won the Oscar for directing while Lee and Ridley Scott did not. That was a year to rival this one in terms of sheer crazy unpredictibility, that’s for sure.
Still, Crouching Tiger had made around $100 million, was a cultural phenomenon, and entered the Oscar race with ten nominations. By the end, it would win Best Foreign Language film (of course), along with cinematography, original score, and production design. Gladiator came in with 12 nominations and would win Best Picture, actor, costume design, sound mixing, and Best Visual Effects. The Oscars were different back in 2000. You weren’t dealing with a preferential ballot. You weren’t dealing with Netflix, you weren’t dealing with social media, and you weren’t dealing with a situation where the DGA and Oscar only matched 3/5 on director.
In 2012, the DGA and Oscar only matched 2/5 with their director lineups. The only two names who crossed over in that instance were Ang Lee for Life of Pi (he has his own “Ang Lee stat”) and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. Ang Lee ended up winning the Oscar, but Ben Affleck won the DGA as Argo swept the entire season.
The DGA this year seems to be Alfonso Cuaron’s to lose. The other two directors who match with Oscar are Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman and Adam McKay for Vice. Admittedly, BlacKkKlansman and Vice are pretty great films to have in the race, especially considering how dark they are, how political they are, how angry they are. Roma is not. Roma is quiet and saintly and about as pure as a film can possibly get. There is really no hatred for it anywhere.
Still, you need 15,000 people to watch it — a foreign language film in black and white. On the other hand, since it’s easy to access on Netflix, probably all of them already have.
Folding in the BAFTA, only Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuaron have the Globe, the DGA, the BAFTA, and the Oscar nod in directing. That makes the Best Director race mostly down to those two.
I don’t think you can bet against Alfonso Cuaron. For one reason, he’s Alfonso Cuaron. He’s already won and he’s part of an impressive wave of Mexican film directors — the Three Amigos — who have overtaken Hollywood. He’s beloved, he’s revered, he’s respected. And even if they haven’t seen Roma, people likely still would vote for Cuaron. Remember the rule of Oscarwatching: most people want to be on the side that’s winning.
And there is Spike Lee. If there’s anyone who might surprise and upset Cuaron, it’s Spike, who first burst onto the scene in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It. He was and remains one of the biggest disruptors and influencers in all of Hollywood history. Uniquely and stubbornly himself as an artist, he did not try to make films that Hollywood liked. Rather, Spike Lee has only made the kinds of films he wanted to make. Every film in his repertoire is a Spike Lee Joint, including BlacKkKlansman. It is a wholly American film inside and out, one that points a finger right at Hollywood history and at the current president. Spike Lee, who had never been nominated for either a DGA or for Best Director at the Oscars, is competing with Alfonso Cuaron (who has already won) and Adam McKay (who has already been nominated for director — and won for screenwriting). Lee has an incomparable career spanning more than 30 years and he had never been nominated. 30 years.
Then there is the question of Bradley Cooper, who theoretically could put the first-time DGA winner to the test. If Bradley Cooper wins that, does it count as a DGA win? In other words, could it mean, or somehow indicate, a potential split that goes A Star Is Born’s way?
Finally, Adam McKay is the third DGA nominee also nominated for an Oscar this year. McKay’s Vice has nominations in all of the top categories and clearly has a passionate fanbase. But Vice lacks the top nominations of Best Film and Best Director at BAFTA, which makes it a tough sell for wins since the AMPAS and BAFTA have a sizable membership overlap. Still, that it’s nominated at all points to a new dark, edgier, and cynical age of Oscar movies — which means they’ll be a lot better than they usually are.
But the question of whether the DGA will tell us what is going to win Best Picture remains unclear. Many will be watching the BAFTAs to see how they turn out, but keep in mind they have not agreed with the Oscars recently, because the Oscars use a preferential ballot and the Brits do not. Most will tell you that Roma is the most likely, but I’m not 100% sold on it being a slam dunk right now. There are just too many variables to consider.
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