With DGA Win, 'The Artist' and Its Artist Look Virtually Unstoppable at Oscars (Analysis)

Michael Hazanavicius DGA Feature Film Award for The Artist
Courtesy of DGA

On Sunday night, Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white silent film The Artist might well lose all three SAG Awards for which it has been nominated -- best ensemble, best actor (Jean Dujardin), and best supporting actress (Berenice Bejo) -- but that won't matter as far as its best picture and best director Oscar hopes are concerned. Why? Because the film already all but locked up those two prizes on Saturday night when, at the 64th annual Directors Guild of America Awards, Hazanavicius won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film over the likes of Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

VIDEO: Michel Hazanavicius, the Artist Behind 'The Artist,' On the Great Crowd-Pleaser

The DGA Award, which is determined by the roughly 13,500 members of the directors' union (around 5,500 of whom live outside of the Los Angeles area), has predicted the best picture and best director Oscars far better than any other precursor awards. It was first handed out in 1948, and over the 63 completed awards seasons since...

(a) The DGA Award winner and the Academy Award winner for best director have corresponded on all but six occasions (meaning 90% of the time):

  • 1968 DGA honored Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter); AMPAS honored Carol Reed (Oliver!)
  • 1972 DGA honored Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather); AMPAS honored Bob Fosse (Cabaret)
  • 1985 DGA honored Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple); AMPAS honored Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa)
  • 1995 DGA honored Ron Howard (Apollo 13); AMPAS honored Mel Gibson (Braveheart)
  • 2000 DGA honored Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon); AMPAS honored Steven Soderbergh (Traffic)
  • 2002 DGA honored Rob Marshall (Chicago); AMPAS honored Roman Polanksi (The Pianist)


(b) The film directed by the DGA winner has gone on to be named best picture by the Academy on all but 13 occasions (meaning 79% of the time):

  • 1948 DGA honored A Letter to Three Wives; AMPAS honored Hamlet
  • 1951 DGA honored A Place in the Sun; AMPAS honored An American in Paris
  • 1952 DGA honored The Quiet Man; AMPAS honored The Greatest Show on Earth
  • 1956 DGA honored Giant; AMPAS honored Around the World in 80 Days
  • 1967 DGA honored The Graduate; AMPAS honored In the Heat of the Night
  • 1968 DGA honored The Lion in Winter; AMPAS honored Oliver!
  • 1981 DGA honored Reds; AMPAS honored Chariots of Fire
  • 1985 DGA honored The Color Purple; AMPAS honored Out of Africa
  • 1989 DGA honored Born on the Fourth of July; AMPAS honored Driving Miss Daisy
  • 1995 DGA honored Apollo 13; AMPAS honored Braveheart
  • 1998 DGA honored Saving Private Ryan; AMPAS honored Shakespeare in Love
  • 2000 DGA honored Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; AMPAS honored Gladiator
  • 2005 DGA honored Brokeback Mountain; AMPAS honored Crash

In any year those stats should give great pause to the teams behind any Oscar hopeful that did not win the DGA Award. This year, however, I think that the DGA's choice is extra significant, because its members apparently liked The Artist so much that they were willing to vote for its French director, whom most of them hadn't even heard of until just a few months ago (he had never before made a film in America or with major American actors prior to this one), over a selection of four of the greatest American filmmakers of all time.

Does the DGA win guarantee that both The Artist and Hazanavicius are both sure-things to win their respective Oscar categories? Of course not. Based on The Artist's consistently strong performance throughout this awards season -- it has already won the PGA Award, Critics' Choice Award for best picture, Golden Globe Award for best picture (musical or comedy), and New York Film Critics Circle Award for best picture, and also scored key noms from BAFTA, SAG, ACE, ADG, ASC, and CDG -- I think that it is a safer bet than Hazanavicius. Moreover, best picture/best director Oscar splits have occurred on 21 of 83 occasions (or roughly 25% of the time) -- on average, two or three times a decade -- but we haven't had one in six years, so we're certainly due for one.

But, even with that knowledge, it would probably be foolhardy to try to predict a best picture/best director Oscar split. Many tried to do just that last year, when they figured that the Academy would reverse the DGA's selection of Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) over David Fincher (The Social Network) in the best director Oscar category, if not in the best picture category. But, as they were reminded when Hooper repeated at the Oscars, the vast majority of the time one bets against the DGA at one's own peril.