The Directors Guild Preview

DGA Awards
Kathryn Bigelow
The Hurt Locker

DGA Awards
James Cameron

DGA Awards
Lee Daniels
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
DGA Awards
Jason Reitman
Up In The Air
DGA Awards
Quentin Tarantino
Inglourious Basterds

The Directors Guild awards are being held this Saturday night. The race feels less certain than it did before the Producers Guild’s stunner that awarded The Hurt Locker over films that had more famous producers, made much more money, and were more popular overall with the public-at-large.

According to Wikipedia, the DGA has 13,459 members. That’s almost double the Academy’s vote. I don’t believe they are doing the preferential ballot – they don’t have to, with only five nominees.

What I have always admired about the DGA is that they give plaques to their nominees. Each nominee gets a silver plaque. The winner gets a gold one. What I like about how they do it is that they celebrate each nominee as though the nomination itself was a high honor. Perphaps it’s true with the Oscars, but the DGA have always always reflected that attitude more. This year, it feels like the five directors are brilliant. Ryan joked privately to me in email that they were like the Mod Squad. The only one missing from the Mod Squad’s pic is Quentin Tarantino, who truly stands in a class by himself. Perhaps they all do, but if Tarantino was anyone in the Mod Squad photo, he’d be the guy taking the picture.

After the PGA’s shocker, I feel unsure of even calling Kathryn Bigelow to win this thing hands down, although if there is a frontrunner, she is it. Avatar, Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and Precious are five great films. This is a lineup that almost rivals those from the 1970s. There might not have been a lot of films to choose from for Oscar’s Big Ten, but the small amount of films that were available are pretty damned good.¬† These five directors are all different. And they are all either at the top of their game, or close.

Kathryn Bigelow, Jim Cameron and Quentin Tarantino are, by now, masters of the craft.¬†¬† In many ways, each has made his or her definitive movie this year. All three nailed what they set out to do. Two out of the three wrote and imagined their entire films. In Cameron’s case, he created an entire universe.¬† And a whole language. The five films are completely different and tell wildly different stories. Three of them are based in war history; one is an imagined war. One is a coming-of-middle-age, and the last about struggling to break free of the pattern of abuse. Choosing a best director out of this mix is no easy feat.

1. Kathryn Bigelow. The Hurt Locker is a film that has come through against all possible odds. There isn’t a single “sellable” thing about this movie. No stars, a woman director, a movie about the Iraq war — by rights, this film should be left on the pile to be discovered years from now. But it just didn’t happen that way. It was one of those movies you had to see and if you saw it, you would find that it tells the moving story of three men on the ground in Iraq fighting our futile and unwinnable war. People say it doesn’t take sides – what it doesn’t do is lecture. It goes right into the motivations behind this war and it reveals the ultimate impossibility of it: there are always going to be scrappy warriors who can build better IED that kill us despite our military might. If 9/11 didn’t say it all, The Hurt Locker most certainly does.

“I want to have a son, Will,” Anthony Mackie discovers near the film’s end. It has taken him the whole movie to discover this. He reaches this decision after watching an Iraqi man laced with a bomb that cannot be removed in the time allowed. The man is worried for his family. He doesn’t want to die. Please take the bomb off, he pleads. Jeremy Renner tries to take it off – he is the guy that can do anything. He can find any trigger, any snare of bomb wires – but this, there is nothing he can do about this. There is no other choice but to let the man die. To run from the explosion, to save yourself. The man is begging you to save him but you can’t.

No other film about Iraq has said so profoundly why this war will never be won. Like the guys in The Hurt Locker who go looking for enemies they don’t even recognize, so do we keep bailing water out of the well only to see it fill right back up again.

Bigelow is not getting accolades because she is a woman. She is there because her film has the goods. Someone made the argument recently that had it been directed by Ridley Scott it wouldn’t be getting the same attention – and while I’ll concede that the idea of a woman winning for the first time in 82 years is a thrilling prospect — Ridley Scott could not have directed this film this way because it is wholly Bigelow’s vision. One would have to be familiar with Bigelow’s work to know this, but from the way she directs actors, to the sequences of the action shots, to the eroticism – this is all Bigelow. With much help from writer Mark Boal. I know it’s difficult for some people to wrap their mind around the fact that a woman could actually direct a film that wasn’t about whining, men and weight loss, but there it is. In fact, women have been directing great films all along; it’s just that no one has ever felt like they directed the best film of the year. Until now.

Awards Won:
Boston Society of Film Critics
Austin Film Critics
Broadcast Film Critics
Chicago Film Critics
Hollywood Film Festival (Director of the Year)
Kansas City Film Critics
Las Vegas Film Critics
San Francisco Film Critics
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Golden Satellites
Southeastern Film Critics
Toronto Film Critics
Washington DC Film Critics
Los Angeles Film Critics
New York Film Critics
National Society of Film Critics

Outstanding Nominations:
London Film Critics
Directors Guild

2. Jim Cameron for Avatar – firmly in the number 2 spot has to be Jim Cameron. It hardly seems possible that Cameron should be up for the DGA alongside his ex-wife, but that is how it turned out. The Hurt Locker was meant to be in the 2009 awards race, which would have made their awards runs a year apart. Avatar is, by now, a force of nature. Watching that film is an experience. You slip into another world where the rules have completely changed. The story is familiar, some say too familiar, but that is part of the film’s success. Make no mistake about that. Why do we think McDonald’s is so successful? People like to spend money when they know what they’re going to get. It’s much more difficult, in this economy, to spend it on a risky endeavor. Cameron not only shows every dollar spent on the screen, but he easily gives the average movie goer a lot of bang for their buck. Most people ask much of the viewer – Avatar gives everything back. You sit, you put on those glasses and you are immersed in another dimension, not unlike Jake.

This was Cameron’s lifelong dream, imagined as a teenager and developed for a decade. It took four years to film. It is a game-changer. The possibilities for what films can do, where directors can go, has been changed forever. And then there is the money. In a short week, Avatar will have toppled Titanic’s domestic box office take. It has already taken the global record.

Avatar’s message is loud and clear: we should never have invaded Iraq to get the oil and we should get out sooner rather than later. It is also new age in its depiction of all life being connected and that it’s meant to work in harmony. What we’re doing to our planet and to our own connection to the natural world is going to wipe us out.

Awards Won:
The Golden Globes

Outstanding Nominations:
London Film Critics

3. Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino is destined to be the Martin Scorsese of the Oscar race and he will not win until it’s almost too late.¬† The reason is that the Oscar race is almost always about “the story.” And Tarantino hasn’t been “the story” since Pulp Fiction, when his talent was just being widely recognized. Basterds has an outside shot for winning this if you look at the preferential ballot situation, which seems to say that films that are well liked by all but maybe not the first or second choice by members, could wind up the winner.

The thing about Inglourious Basterds is that it take a few viewings to uncover its brilliance and the more you watch it, the more you notice. Every scene is specific and intentional. It captures Tarantino’s duality many of his characters. It is a visual masterpiece. The scene when the Nazis are trapped and the fire breaks out has to be one of the best scenes put to screen all year. But Tarantino is also a gifted writer who spends as much time on the prose portions of the script as he does on the dialogue, even though the dialogue is his calling card, or has been. Basterds is different from his recent films, like Kill Bill. It’s not a film that centers around scenes of extreme violence, because the violent scenes are so specifically directed.

Nonetheless, some of the standout sequences, indeed, are framed around a violent act. One cannot help but marvel at Tarantino’s fluidity as an artist. He breaks the rules and makes the rules at the same time. Every sequence in Basterds is executed perfectly. But what you take away from it aren’t the equisitie shots or the violence; you remember the emotional tugs of the central characters. You see Shoshana’s grief and frustration – you remember Hans Landa’s personal rage at Bridget. You remember the love and betrayal felt by Nazi film god Frederick Zoller. Tarantino does all of this while filling in color with his vast knowledge of all things cinema.

Awards won:
San Diego Film Critics
Screen Actors Guild for Ensemble

Outstanding nominations:

4. Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

Jason Reitman is quietly collecting cache to win big at the Oscars. He reminds me of a young Steven Soderbergh — on his way, not quite there. And that’s a good thing. No one wants to peak on their third film out. Still, Up in the Air was a wonderful movie that needed less attention focused on it early on.

By the time the film was supposed to come out, the critics had already been down that road so there was no pre-release flurry. That, and the T-Rex called Avatar box office bombed the competition. Up in the Air still did respectable business, and it absolutely has its fans. It just isn’t “the story” this year.

Reitman is strong on writing and directing, and he certainly has a way with actors. Except for Juno, which was written by Diablo Cody, Reitman’s films have focused on a glib leading man waiting for his wakeup call. In Up in the Air, that wakeup call prevented the film from being the satisfying romantic comedy everybody wanted it to be; remember, Juno had a happy ending. It’s tough to pull off a film that is supposed to be strike a chord with Americans out of work but then not deliver on the one thing Americans need at a time like this: happy endings.

Both Precious and Avatar offer those up – and Inglourious Basterds takes it a step further by allowing us to luxuriate in the fantasy of rewriting history to slaughter Nazis instead of Jews. Who hasn’t fantasized about killing Hitler? But The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air are more about telling the absolute truth. It isn’t a pretty picture.

Reitman and Clooney made a great team, with Clooney serving as mentor, as he often does with young directors he works with.¬† Reitman certainly got great performances out of his three leads, and kudos for him for hiring non-actors who’d recently fired to play who had been fired. We really wanted to see corporate America get the once-over, but Reitman is not going to go there quite so easily.¬† He’s a director to watch, no doubt.

Awards won:
Dallas Fort-Worth Film Critics
Florida Film Critics
Palm Springs International Film Festival

Outstanding Nominations:
London Film Critics

5. Lee Daniels for Precious

Daniels has done the impossible with Precious. He has directed a film about an overweight black girl nobody had ever heard of and caused a mini-revolution while doing so. Daniels’ film explores the idea of fantasy as being sold to everyone, but especially those who do not fit the mold of perfection advertisers are always trying to foist upon us. It was a film that had a lot of early acclaim as the year began — very few films can withstand that length of time and remain in play. Precious is one of those – pushed forward by the emotional reactions of audiences. It made Gabby Sidibe into an overnight star, and it has cemented Mo’Nique’s dominance in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Mo’Nique’s performance, and Gabby’s, must be partly credited to Daniels. No other director could have called their inner lives forward the way he did. The film, despite it being based on the novel Push by Sapphire, seems very personal to Daniels’ own experience with abuse in the apartment complex where he lived. His own abuse, the fear, pain and suffering he witnessed as a child. He puts it all down into the movie. The forcefulness of that message, the truthfulness of it, is what has propelled this film this far.

For some reason, a few writers on the web have seen fit to make this film a lightning rod — Mo’Nique this or that, Mariah Carey, this or that. After a while, it becomes exhausting keeping up with it. Just let the movie be the movie. Let it be known, too, that of all of the directors in this race, Daniels (maybe Tarantino) is who I’d most want to hang out with. I don’t know if that counts for anything, but likability never hurt anyone in Hollywood. You know, just saying.

Awards won:
Dallas-Fort Worth Russell Film Award

Outstanding Nominations:
Film Independent Spirit Awards

The history

DGA | Oscar

*film won Best Picture at the Oscars


Danny Boyle, Slumdog Danny Boyle, Slumdog
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk Gus Van Sant, Milk
David Fincher, Benjamin Button David Fincher, Benjamin Button
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Stephen Daldry, The Reader


Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country
Sean Penn, Into the Wild Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood


Stephen Frears, The Queen Stephen Frears, The Queen
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Bill Condon, Dreamgirls Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Faris and Dayton, Little Miss Sunshine Paul Greengrass, United 93
Martin Scorsese, The Departed Martin Scorsese, The Departed


Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis, Crash Paul Haggis, Crash*
Bennett Miller, Capote Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich Steven Spielberg, Munich


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


Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
Clint Eastwood, Mystic River Clint Eastwood, Mystic River
Peter Jackson, ROTK Peter Jackson, ROTK*
Peter Weir, Master and Commander Peter Weir, Master and Commander
Gary Ross, Seabiscuit Fernando Merielles, City of God


Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York Martin Scorsese
Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings Pedro Almodovar
Roman Polanski, The Pianist Roman Polanski
Rob Marshall, Chicago Rob Marshall*
Steven Daldry, The Hours Steven Daldry


Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind*
Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson, LOTR
Christopher Nolan, Memento Robert Altman, Gosford Park
Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down
Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge David Lynch, Mulholland Drive


Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot
Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ridley Scott, Gladiator Ridley Scott, Gladiator *
Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich
Steven Soderbergh, Traffic Steven Soderbergh, Traffic


Frank Darabont, The Green Mile Lasse Hallstrom, Cider House Rules
Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
Michael Mann, The Insider Michael Mann, The Insider
Sam Mendes, American Beauty Sam Mendes, American Beauty*
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense


Peter Weir, Truman Show Peter Weir, Truman Show
Terrence Malick, Thin Red Line Terrence Malick, Thin Red Line
John Madden, Shakes in Love John Madden, Shakes in Love*
Steven Spielberg, SPR Steven Spielberg, SPR
Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful


James L. Brooks As Good As It Gets Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty
Steven Spielberg Amistad Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter
Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting
James Cameron, Titanic James Cameron, Titanic*
Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential


Cameron Crowe, Jerry Maguire Milos( Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt
Joel Coen, Fargo Joel Coen, Fargo
Mike Leigh, Secrets & Lies Mike Leigh, Secrets & Lies
Anthony Minghella, The English Patient Anthony Minghella, The English Patient*
Scott Hicks, Shine Scott Hicks, Shine


Mike Figgis for Leaving Las Vegas Mike Figgis for Leaving Las Vegas
Mel Gibson for Braveheart Mel Gibson for Braveheart*
Ron Howard for Apollo 13 Chris Noonan for Babe
Ang Lee for Sense and Sensibility Tim Robbins for Dead Man Walking
Michael Radford for Il Postino Michael Radford for Il Postino


Mike Newell for Four Weddings and a Funeral Woody Allen for Bullets Over Broadway
Frank Darabont for The Shawshank Redemption Krzysztof Kieslowski for Red
Robert Redford for Quiz Show Robert Redford for Quiz Show
Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction
Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump*


Andrew Davis for The Fugitive Robert Altman for Short Cuts
Jane Campion for The Piano Jane Campion for The Piano
James Ivory for The Remains Of the Day James Ivory for The Remains Of the Day
Martin Scorsese for The Age Of Innocence Jim Sheridan for In the Name Of the Father
Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List*


Robert Altman for The Player Robert Altman for The Player
Rob Reiner for A Few Good Men Martin Brest for Scent Of a Woman
Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven*
James Ivory for Howards End James Ivory for Howards End
Neil Jordan for The Crying Game Neil Jordan for The Crying Game


Barbra Streisand for The Prince Of Tides John Singleton for Boyz N the Hood
Oliver Stone for JFK Oliver Stone for JFK
Ridley Scott for Thelma & Louise Ridley Scott for Thelma & Louise
Barry Levinson for Bugsy Barry Levinson for Bugsy
Jonathan Demme for The Silence Of the Lambs Jonathan Demme for The Silence Of the Lambs*


Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part III Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part III
Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves*
Barry Levinson for Avalon Stephen Frears for The Grifters
Martin Scorsese for GoodFellas Martin Scorsese for GoodFellas
Giuseppe Tornatore for Cinema Paradiso Barbet Schroeder for Reversal Of Fortune

For the win only

+also won Best Picture

(best picture that didn’t match director)

2008 Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire+
2007 Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country+
2006 Martin Scorsese, The Departed Martin Scorsese, The Departed+
2005 Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain (Crash)
2004 Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby Clint Eastwood, MDB+
2003 Peter Jackson, Return of the King Peter Jackson, Return of the King+
2002 Rob Marshall, Chicago Roman Polanski, The Pianist (Chicago)
2001 Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind+
2000 Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger Steven Soderbergh, Traffic (Gladiator)
1999 Sam Mendes, American Beauty Sam Mendes, American Beauty+
1998 Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan Steven Spielberg (Shakespeare in Love)
1997 Jim Cameron, Titanic Jim Cameron, Titanic+
1996 Anthony Minghella, English Patient Anthony Minghella, English Patient+
1995 Ron Howard, Apollo 13 Mel Gibson, Braveheart+
1994 Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump+
1993 Seven Spielberg, Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List+
1992 Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven+
1991 Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs +
1990 Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves+
1989 Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July (Driving Miss Daisy – director Beresford not nommed for Oscar or DGA)
1988 Barry Levinson, Rain Man Barry Levinson, Rain Man+
1987 Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Emperor Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Emperor+
1986 Oliver Stone, Platoon Oliver Stone, Platoon+
1985 Steven Spielberg, Color Purple Sidney Pollack, Out of Africa+
1984: Milos Forman, Amadeus Milos Forman, Amadeus+
1983: James Brooks, Terms of Endearment James Brooks, Terms of Endearment+
1982: Richard Attenborough, Gandhi Richard Attenborough, Gandhi+
1981: Warren Beatty, Reds Warren Beatty, Reds (Chariots of Fire)
1980: Robert Redford, Ordinary People Robert Redford, Ordinary People+
1979: Robert Benton, Kramer Vs. Kramer Robert Benton, Kramer Vs. Kramer+
1978: Michael Cimino, Deer Hunter Michael Cimino, Deer Hunter+
1977: Woody Allen, Annie Hall Woody Allen, Annie Hall+
1976: John Avildson, Rocky John Avildson, Rocky+
1975: Milos Foreman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Milos Foreman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest+
1974: Frances Coppola, Godfather II Frances Coppola, Godfather II+
1973: George Roy Hill, The Sting George Roy Hill+
1972: Frances Coppola, The Godfather Bob Fosse, Cabaret (Godfather)
1971: William Friedkin, The French Connection William Friedkin, The French Connection+
1970: Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton Franklin J. Schaffner , Patton+
1969: John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy+
1968: Anthony Harvey, Lion in Winter Carol Reed, Oliver+
1967: Mike Nichols, The Graduate Mike Nichols, The Graduate (In Heat of the Night)
1966: Fred Zinneman, A Man for all Seasons Fred Zinneman, A Man for all Seasons+
1965: Robert Wise, The Sound of Music Robert Wise, the Sound of Music+
1964: George Cukor, My Fair Lady George Cukor, My Fair Lady+
1963: Tony Richardson, Tom Jones Tony Richardson, Tom Jones+
1962: David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia+
1961: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, West Side Story Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, West Side Story+
1960: Billy Wilder, The Apartment Billy Wilder, The Apartment+
1959: William Wyler, Ben Hur William Wyler, Ben Hur+
1958: Vincent Minnelli, Gigi Vincent Minnelli, Gigi+
1957: David Lean, Bridge on the River Kwai David Lean, Bridge on the River Kwai+
1956: George Stevens, Giant George Stevens, Giant (Around/World in 80 Days)
1955: Delbert Mann, Marty Delbert Mann, Marty+
1954: Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront+
1953: Fred Zinnemann, From here to Eternity Fred Zinnemann, From here to Eternity+
1952: John Ford, The Quiet Man John Ford, The Quiet Man (Greatest Show on Earth)
1951: George Stevens, A Place in the Sun George Stevens, A Place in the Sun (An American in Paris)
1950: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve+
1949: Robert Rossen, All the King’s Men Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives (All the King’s Men)
1948: Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives John Huston, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Hamlet)

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