What DGA Noms Mean for Best Director Oscar Race (Analysis)

Les Miserable BTS Photo - H 2012

Les Miserable BTS Photo - H 2012

The Directors Guild of America, the oldest and largest union of film and television directors, announced its five nominees Tuesday for the 65th DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Picture. Four are past DGA and Oscar winners -- Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) -- and the fifth has never been nominated by either organization for his work as a director but is a famous actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter, Ben Affleck (Argo).

The DGA historically has been the single best predictor of the nominees for and winners of the best director Oscar (the DGA and Academy tend to agree on four of five nominees each year, and their 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).

For weeks now, most knowledgeable pundits have agreed that three DGA slots were secure: Affleck, whose third directorial effort has been nearly universally acclaimed and is one of the year's most popular films; Bigelow, who is now the first woman to score more than one DGA nomination, three years after she was up for The Hurt Locker and won over her ex-husband James Cameron (Avatar); and Spielberg, upon whom the DGA has bestowed a record 11 nominations and three wins, plus a lifetime achievement award. Lee, a revered veteran who already had three DGA noms under his belt before he ventured into 3D this year for the first time, to widespread acclaim, also looked like a pretty safe bet.

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But the fifth spot was harder to predict.

In the end, it went to Hooper, who won this category two years ago for The King's Speech, over the likes of Silver Linings Playbook's David O. Russell (a nominee two years ago for The Fighter), Django Unchained's Quentin Tarantino (who has received two DGA noms, including one for the similarly violent Inglourious Basterds three years ago), Michael Haneke's Amour (directors of foreign-language films have been nominated sporadically), The Master's Paul Thomas Anderson (DGA-nominated five years ago for There Will Be Blood) and Moonrise Kingdom's Wes Anderson (who never has received DGA recognition).

Hooper is only the second director to receive a DGA nomination for a musical in the past decade -- the other was Bill Condon for Dreamgirls (2007), who was subsequently denied an Oscar nom -- and he might have edged out his competition because of the DGA's demographics. The majority of the DGA's roughly 13,500 members primarily work in TV, the medium in which Hooper first made his name with the acclaimed miniseries Prime Suspect (2003), Elizabeth I (2005), Longford (2006) and John Adams (2008). Indeed, the DGA nominated him four years ago for best direction of a TV movie for John Adams.

This is not to say that Hooper won't also receive a best director Oscar nomination. But because DGA and Academy almost always differ on at least one nominee and have been in complete agreement only twice in the past 12 years -- in 2005 and 2009 -- he might be vulnerable.

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Within industry circles, much attention was paid Tuesday to the snubs of Russell and Tarantino, both of whose films are being distributed by The Weinstein Co. A TWC spokeswoman reached by The Hollywood Reporter, explained that Tarantino's snub might have to do with the fact that screeners of Django were not sent to DGA members because, due to the film's late completion date and the need to implement special piracy protection on them, they would not have arrived until close to the end of voting.

As for the snub of Russell, whose film was sent out on screeners, the TWC spokeswoman suggested that great direction is not always easily apparent. Likening Silver Linings to Annie Hall (1977) and Ordinary People (1980), she said: "Sometimes character-centric films, which don't have big fireworks, are so sublime that they appear to have directed themselves. By all other indications, including a number of audience awards, there is to be a lot of love and respect for David and Silver Linings from audiences inside and outside of the industry."

She added, "Today is not a great day for independent cinema."