Pete Hammond

Certainly with today’s announcement  of the all-important and often soothsaying Directors Guild nominations for feature film, there were no jaw-droppers on the list. David Fincher’s The Social Network, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, David O. Russell’s The Fighter, and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech have all figured prominently in every key guild contest so far, including SAG, WGA and PGA noms as well as leading nominations for Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards and others. The fifth nominee, Christopher Nolan for Inception, has also seen his film included in all of these precursors except SAG where the ensemble cast and individual actors were blanked. In addition, all of these films are attracting significant critical and box office success. Since he’s won the lions share of precursor awards so far, The Social Network’s Fincher would seem to be the frontrunner coming into the stretch. But this race is ripe for a surprise. As a producer of one of today’s other nominated films emailed me after the announcement, “I like spoilers. It makes it a lot of fun.”

Unlike other groups, the DGA does not allow studios and distributors to send DVD screeners to their membership which means voters have to get out to screenings or see the films in theatres — a factor that doesn’t favor small indie or foreign movies which sometimes sneak on to the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences list. Since the entire DGA membership (which numbers over 13,000) votes, results are largely determined by the huge number of TV directors, stage managers, ADs, etc rather than the comparatively small number of feature film directors who are also in the Guild and represented on the list of nominees. For the Oscars it will be just the 367 members of the Directors Branch determining the nominees so that disparity sometimes produces a surprise or two. But generally the two orgs have a strong track record of matching up.

That was the case last year when Kathryn Bigelow won both prizes over fellow DGA and Oscar nominees James Cameron, Jason Reitman, Lee Daniels, and Quentin Tarantino. In 2008 when, as is again the case this year, Fincher with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Nolan with The Dark Knight competed  for the top DGA honor,  the two groups had four of the five noms in common with Nolan nixed by the Acad in favor of The Reader’s Stephen Daldry. Danny Boyle, who won that year for Slumdog Millionaire, was considered a strong possibility for a DGA nod this year as well for 127 Hours but didn’t make the cut. Biggest surprise though of those left out in the cold was the exclusion of  Joel and Ethan Coen for the surging #1 box office hit True Grit whose chances of prevailing at the Oscars again as they did in 2007 with No Country For Old Men just dimmed a bit with this morning’s announcement. The Academy and the DGA have only differed 6 times since the guild started handing out their awards in 1949 and the winner of director usually matches Best Picture as has been the case for the last 4 years running.

This year though the films seem more evenly matched than ever which creates a strong possibility of a split between who wins the DGA and likely the Oscar for Best Director and what wins Best Picture. This last happened in 2005 when Brokeback Mountain’s Ang Lee took DGA and Oscar awards for Director, but Crash was the surprise winner for Best Picture. Even more intriguing was 2000 when Lee also won the DGA award for Crouching Tiger, Saving Dragon but lost the Best Director Oscar to Stephen Soderbergh for Traffic. Then Gladiator pulled off Best Picture.

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