After the wins for The Big Short at the PGA and Spotlight at SAG, all eyes are focused on the Directors Guild of America with laser intensity. The winner here could tip the balance in favor of one of those films and finally give us a solid Best Picture frontrunner (a mere three weeks before the Oscars), or keep the rat wheel spinning by awarding George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road or last year’s recipient, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, for The Revenant.
In the modern era of the expanded Best Picture race at the Oscars (back in 2009), the matchup of PGA and DGA has been almost seamless – the only caveat being that 2013 PGA tie between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) won the DGA and Best Director Oscar while 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture.
Only three times in history has the winner of the DGA not been nominated for the Best Director Oscar (Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple; Ron Howard, Apollo 13 and Ben Affleck, Argo). This year, Ridley Scott (The Martian) is the only one of the five nominees who could add to that group but that doesn’t seem too likely as his film didn’t win the PGA or SAG (it wasn’t even nominated) nor is it the Best Picture frontrunner (Argo had all of these things). He’s in 4th or 5th place here and it’s probably safe to call him out of this race.
So let’s look at the remaining four directors and their films and why there’s a case to be made for all of them. A cursory glance at my Build By Guild: How to Create a Best Picture Winner will help in detailing what guild wins each film has received.
1. Adam McKay, The Big Short. Flashy directing of a dramedy may not seem like a typical DGA winner but with the combination of the PGA win and the ACE Eddie win (for Comedy) it puts him in a very strong position, stronger than most people might like to think. He may be facing bigger, more epic films but that hasn’t stopped other directors of Best Picture frontrunners like Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) or Ben Affleck (Argo). The film is also a good-sized hit in its own right, having earned $61M to date. McKay is also BAFTA nominated for Best Director as is his film. Against him are a few things; his ‘serious film’ competition, Tom McCarthy, and those directors of those epic films. Also, zero critics wins for Best Picture or Best Director. Mad Max‘s George Miller comes into this race with the most Best Director critics wins of any nominee this year, it could mean it’s time to reward him. It’s also possible that The Big Short isn’t really the frontrunner after all. Word around the PGA awards was that it was a very, very close race. This could be the year that breaks the mold.
2. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant. Golden Globe winner for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama). BAFTA nominated in both categories. Most Oscar nominations of any film this year. That’s a lot coming into this race. 20th Century Fox, Iñárritu and star Leonardo DiCaprio have emphasized the level of difficulty of this shoot and that could be enough to produce the first back-to-back DGA winner ever. Against him: No one has ever won the DGA in back-to-back years. That’s a big hurdle to jump over. The Revenant lost the ACE Eddie (Drama) to Mad Max: Fury Road. The film didn’t win the PGA, crucial in this era and the PGA was where Birdman changed the game last year (that film was also nominated for the ACE Eddie in Comedy). Some early comparisons to 1995’s Braveheart are starting to fall by the wayside. That film won the ACE Eddie and the Writers Guild of America award; The Revenant has no WGA nomination nor does it have an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.
3. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller comes in with the most Best Director critics wins of the year with 17. He’s a respected director and Oscar winner (for Animated Feature – Happy Feet) who took on the difficult task of a series reboot which wound up being the best reviewed wide release of 2015. He took what was Ridley Scott’s ‘veteran director’ spot both in buzz and with an Oscar nomination. Against him: No PGA win, no Best Picture or Best Director nominations at BAFTA. That one is really tough. No one has won the DGA without those two nominations since BAFTA changed their voting structure in 2012.
4. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight. The early Best Picture frontrunner starting back at Telluride, the film has fizzled quite a bit as The Big Short and The Revenant came in and stole its thunder. But, with its recent SAG cast win and that it has the most Best Picture critics wins under its belt, McCarthy isn’t totally out of the running. Since there is no clear BP/BD split like with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, the DGA could go with McCarthy if they think Spotlight is winning Best Picture. Against him: No film has ever lost the PGA, then won the SAG, then won the DGA. No ACE Eddie nom, no BAFTA Best Director nomination. Those two are pretty hard to overcome but again, if any year, this year.
5. Ridley Scott, The Martian. Poor Ridley Scott. In October he seemed like a surefire winner on a comeback train with a veteran narrative to boot. The biggest hit of all Best Picture and DGA films but then the film stumbles at BAFTA by losing out on a Best Picture nomination (although Scott scored there) and then the reverse happens at the Oscars; a Best Picture nomination and Scott is snubbed in Best Director. The film also has an ACE Eddie nom (but lost to Mad Max). Scott’s window of opportunity here is slimmer than Matt Damon’s chances of leaving Mars was. Against him: All of that.
Here’s a handy-dandy chart of the DGA and Oscar matchup of Best Director from 2000-2015 with some added facts about back-to-back DGA winners and a poll to vote for who you think is winning.
Confirmed presenters for the DGA Awards include (in alphabetical order):
- Christian Bale
- Paris Barclay*
- Angela Bassett
- Abigail Breslin
- Steve Carell
- James Corden
- Bryan Cranston
- Matt Damon
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Ryan Gosling
- Kathy Griffin
- Tom Hooper*
- Nicole Kidman
- Regina King
- Jennifer Jason Leigh
- Rachel McAdams
- Vince Misiano
- Nate Parker
- Jeff Probst
- Liev Schreiber
- Steven Spielberg*
- Lily Tomlin
* Previous DGA Award winner
The inaugural nominees for the new DGA Awards category Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film are:
- Fernando Coimbra (A Wolf at the Door)
- Joel Edgerton (The Gift)
- Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
- Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
- László Nemes (Son of Saul)
All five first-time feature film nominees are scheduled to attend.
Lifetime Achievement Award in Television Direction:
Also at this year’s DGA Awards celebration, legendary commercial director Joe Pytka will be honored with the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction, in honor of his groundbreaking career.
Special Service Awards:
Mary Rae Thewlis will receive the 2016 Frank Capra Achievement Award and Tom McDermott will receive the 2016 Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award.
Next Year’s DGA Awards – Date & Venue
The winners will be announced at the 68th Annual DGA Awards celebration on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza and hosted by Jane Lynch.
BMW is the Exclusive Automotive Sponsor of the 68th Annual DGA Awards.