DGA Nominations Shake Up Oscar Race With Fincher Nom, Spielberg Snub (Analysis)

David Fincher Daniel Craig on set - H 2012
Sony Pictures

David Fincher Daniel Craig on set - H 2012

Earlier today, the Directors Guild of America announced the nominees for the 64th annual DGA Awards, which have historically been the single best predictor of the nominees for and winners of the best director Oscar (the DGA and Academy winners have differed only six times) and the best picture Oscar (the film directed by the DGA winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar on all but 13 occasions).

As was widely expected, Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) scored nominations. But, in something of a surprise, the final slot was claimed not by Steven Spielberg (War Horse) or Tate Taylor (The Help), both of whose films have been regarded as serious best picture Oscar threats, but rather by David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose end-of-the-year release has generated mixed feelings among audiences, critics, and guilds thus far.

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I sensed a bit of a bump in the road for War Horse, of late, as reflected in my most recent Oscar forecast, which was posted last night -- indeed, though the film was one of the Producers Guild of America's 10 nominees, it was also snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild (despite featuring a huge international cast that seemed like a strong option for the best ensemble category), the Writers Guild of America (despite the fact that many of its chief rivals in the adapted screenplay category had been deemed ineligible), and the Art Directors Guild (despite the fact that the film's production design, coordinated by Oscar winner Rick Carter, is one of its greatest strengths).

But, in terms of the DGA, I assumed that the beneficiary of a War Horse snub would be Taylor, not Fincher, since Taylor's film did nominations from all of the aforementioned groups, and because DGA members have demonstrated a willingness to recognize young and lesser-known directors when they genuinely like their films. Case-in-point: the nomination and win of Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) over none other than Fincher (The Social Network) just last year.

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So how does one explain Fincher's nomination this year for a film that has been much less at the forefront of the awards discussion than The Social Network was last year? My hunch is that the DGA's demographics worked in his favor, in the sense that the majority of the DGA's roughly 13,500 members primarily work not in film but in TV, the medium in which Fincher first made his name by shooting some extraordinary commercials and music videos. (Indeed, the DGA previously honored Fincher in 2004 with its prize for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials, and nominated him for it again in 2009.)

That being said, the DGA and Academy usually differ on at least one nominee (two years ago being a rare exception), so it's quite possible -- probable, even -- that the Academy will swap out Fincher in favor of Spielberg, Taylor, or even someone like Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), or Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). But it would be very shocking indeed if the best director Oscar winner proves not to be one one of today's five DGA nominees and/or the best picture Oscar winner proves not to be a film that was directed by one of them, as well.