Even though it’s probably a safe bet to say that Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA) will win his 2nd Best Director Oscar, there is a lot of potential for the nominations to give us a completely different lineup than we saw at the DGA or BAFTA. In fact, it’s historically most likely to happen.
This is a ride, so buckle up.
Since the Best Picture expansion in 2009, the DGA and Oscar’s Best Director have lined up only once – that first year. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), James Cameron (Avatar), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and Lee Daniels (Precious) took their DGA noms all the way to Oscar with Bigelow becoming the first woman to ever win either. That year, BAFTA opted for Lone Scherfig (An Education) and Neill Blomkamp (District 9) – both helmers of eventual Best Picture Oscar nominees – over Reitman and Daniels, whose films were also BP-nominated in the lineup of 10.
BAFTA has never aligned 5/5 with the Oscars since that expansion with most years going 3/5. Some years, like 2011 and 2017, only had two crossover. 2013 was really close with DGA and BAFTA both matching until Oscar pulled the rug out from Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) and instead opted for Alexander Payne (Nebraska).
Check out the exhaustively compiled list (by amazing AW forum member predatorxxi) of BAFTA/DGA and Oscar Best Director hits and misses. You’ll notice something at the end of every year from 2010 on – each year has seen one director hit neither and then show up at the Oscars. Who will it be this year? I have my thoughts on that.
Right now, we have DGA and BAFTA overlapping with three names: Alfonso Cuarón, Bradley Cooper and Spike Lee. DGA opted for Peter Farrelly and Adam McKay while BAFTA went more international with Yorgos Lanthimos and Pawel Pawlikowski. Based on previous years, it’s more likely that Oscar will align with DGA meaning Farrelly or McKay stand a better chance than Lanthimos or Pawlikowski. With BAFTA’s history, one or both of them are in a bit of trouble since, as mentioned above, BAFTA has only ever gone 4/5 once since 2009. Lanthimos helms a film that is likely to have a large nomination total on Tuesday and is a potential winner in a few categories. Pawlikowski is being predicted by some heavy hitter pundits like Kris Tapley, Scott Feinberg and Pete Hammond. Some think that Cold War is knocking on Best Picture’s door, and it very well could be. His directing win at Cannes could be a clincher but it seems the film is only really good for Foreign Language Film and Cinematography. If Joanna Kulig was somehow a bigger presence in the Best Actress conversation (the way that Emmanuelle Riva was for Amour and Haneke) then I’d lean in on that more but I could be wrong.
Out of 45 Director nominees, DGA has matched up 35 times, only missing 10. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of those Oscar-only nominees.
- 7 were previous nominees in this category (Coens, Terrence Malick, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Bennett Miller, Mel Gibson, Paul Thomas Anderson)
- 2 of them were previous winners (Gibson for Braveheart, the Coens for No Country for Old Men)
- 4 of the movies played – and won awards – at Cannes (The Tree of Life, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Nebraska, Foxcatcher)
- 6 had films that earned PGA nominations (True Grit, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Nebraska, Foxcatcher, Hacksaw Ridge)
- 9 of the movies also earned at least one acting nomination (The Tree of Life is the sole exception)
From a critical standpoint, let’s look at where those nominees and their films landed on Metacritic and how they fared with top tier critics awards (LAFCA, NSFC, NYFCC).
Metacritic score of 90 or above
Phantom Thread (90 – Music at LAFCA; Screenplay at NYFCC)
85 or above
Beasts of the Southern Wild (86 – Supporting Actor and Music at LAFCA)
Nebraska (86 – Best Actor at LAFCA)
Room (86 – None)
The Tree of Life (85 – Director, Supporting Actress and Cinematography at LAFCA; Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Cinematography at NSFC; Best Actor, Supporting Actress and Cinematography at NYFCC)
80 or above
Silver Linings Playbook (81 – Best Actress at LAFCA)
Foxcatcher (81 – None)
True Grit (80 – Cinematography at NSFC)
Hacksaw Ridge (71 – None)
I posit this: Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) will be joined by one of the other DGA and/or BAFTA nominees and either Damien Chazelle (First Man) or Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) and here’s why:
Those wildcard nominees favor US-grown talent. Six of the eight were US-born with the exceptions being Gibson from Australia and Abrahamson from Ireland. The Best Director Oscar lineup since 2009 often finds a spot for two non-US directors and only once had three: 2015 when George Miller, Lenny Abrahamson and eventual winner Alejandro G. Iñarritu made it in. While it may be tempting to have a director lineup that includes Cuarón, Lanthimos and Pawlikowski it’s actually the least likely scenario.
That opens the door for a previous winner and a previous nominee, amazingly enough from the same year. As we all know, Chazelle won Best Director for La La Land (which also won Best Actress for Emma Stone) and Jenkins’ Moonlight took Best Picture (the film also earned Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali). Even though First Man earned stellar reviews it struggled at the box office, earning just $45M on a $60M budget. It rebounded a bit with guild and Critics’ Choice nominations and is right at the door of a Best Picture nomination as a result. If Beale Street Could Talk is slowly moving along, crossing $10M this weekend, and its screenplay is the Oscar frontrunner along with Regina King for Supporting Actress. An Oscar nomination surge would likely find it expanding once again and its hard to imagine two top-8 wins without the director responsible nominated. Having both Lee and Jenkins in would also make Academy history as the first time two black directors were nominated in the same year. Is a Best Picture nomination for either entirely dependent? Since we do have the precedent of Bennett Miller and Foxcatcher, no, it’s not. But, Miller, like Pawlikowski, was a Cannes Best Director winner going in.
Early in the season, both Chazelle and Jenkins seemed like easy calls. Very few of us didn’t have the pair returning to battle each other once again on the very same stage with the follow-ups to their previous Oscar winners. But as the season went on the tides turned and other films, other directors, took over the conversation and made off with those high-profile nominations.
Now let’s check out the Metacritic scores and critics’ wins for their films.
First Man (84 – none)
If Beale Street Could Talk (87 – Supporting Actress and Music at LAFCA; Supporting Actress at NSFC and NYFCC)
That positions Jenkins a bit better than Chazelle purely on those terms and the closest comparisons for each might be Gibson for Chazelle and Zeitlin or Malick for Jenkins.
A possibility that could find itself transpiring would be Pawlikowski and his Cannes win (and BAFTA nom) busting in on two of those DGA nominees (most likely Farrelly or McKay) and joining Chazelle or Jenkins. That would fall in line with a handful of previous DGA to BAFTA to Oscar lineups in the last decade. If Pawlikowski and Cuarón both make it, it will only be the second time ever that two directors are nominated for foreign language films, after Lina Wertmuller and Ingmar Bergman in 1976. It’s also completely in line with the Academy to have a lineup with three Americans (Cooper and Lee, plus Chazelle, Jenkins, McKay or Farrelly) and then Cuarón and either Lanthimos or Pawlikowski. Green Book‘s PGA win on Saturday night could be an undeniable bellwether to Tuesday morning that would heavily favor Farrelly and stop any of them in their tracks.
After Martin McDonagh’s snub last year for Three Billboards (one I predicted, but not that it would be PTA taking his place), we know the Academy can take its own road and recent history shows us that it almost always does. Will the Academy save Damien Chazelle or Barry Jenkins? In a year that’s already been unseasonably wild, there’s even a scenario in which both make it in. I’m not sure I’d be bold enough to predict that but then, it happened in that crazy 2012 year and at this stage, I’m not counting anything out.