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Did a Late Release Cost 'True Grit' a DGA -- and a Directing Oscar Nom?

“True Grit”
Wilson Webb/Paramount Pictures

"True Grit's momentum is hitting right now. If the DGA were voting now the Coens would be in," says pundit Sasha Stone. But the Directors Guild Awards snubbed them, and Lisa Cholodenko is in even bigger Oscar trouble.

The Coens' No Country for Old Men, released in late November 2007, had already racked up 13 big critics' group wins by the time of year, compared to True Grit's measly Critics Choice nom. It was released Dec. 22. DGA members got their ballots in November. Did Paramount blow it by waiting so long?

"They didn’t have a choice," says Joel Coen. "We barely made it as it is." "We were skeptical we could get it filmed on time," says Ethan Coen. "We said, ‘Maybe on Christmas Day.’“ "They’d originally wanted it around Thanksgiving," says Joel, "or at least having the option to do so."

"True Grit definitely came late to the gate in a crowded field," says Us Weekly critic Thelma Adams. "It may be that directors had settled on their favorites by the time Grit starting wowing at the box office." Talk about wow: it's made $110 million domestically in 19 days, more than No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, and The Hudsucker Proxy put together. 

The DGA noms have about an 80 percent chance of predicting Oscar directing noms, and you can bet the films of DGA noms David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofky, Tom Hooper and David O. Russell (who evidently isn't as disliked in Hollywood as his alleged difficult reputation suggests) will be among the 10 best picture noms.

"It's more common that the DGA and Oscar don't match than do match," says Stone. "The more likely scenario is that they won't match 5 for 5. Since 1990, they've only matched three times."

Perversely, the DGA snub controversy could actually help the Coens by upping their buzz. "It is advantageous," said Samuel Johnson, "[to] be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends." That's doubly true now that we've all got the attention span of houseflies.

"A snub is also great publicity," says Stone. "The idea of a snub could lead to a wise correction by the time the Oscar nominations arrive," says Adams. "When a film is doing as well at the box office as True Grit, and when the directors are as well known, respected and beloved as the Coens, it seems likely that they will also be nominated for Best Director and Best Writer." says Stone.

"Who will be pushed aside?" asks Adams. "Chris Nolan? Tom Hooper? David O. Russell? It's musical chairs."

One likely left standing will be the Coens' fellow DGA snubee Cholodenko, despite the prizes The Kids Are All Right is apt to win at the Globes this weekend. Anne Thompson notes that the 300 or so Academy directors -- about 300 mostly male "Steak Eaters" -- like women directors less than the DGA does. She predicts that, like nom'd writer/directors Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola in the past, Cholodenko and fellow DGA snubee Debra Granik may get Oscar noms for writing, not directing.

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