With another major guild nomination following PGA and WGA recognition, this morning’s very significant DGA Awards nom for David Fincher’s direction of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the only mild surprise on a list that included expected nominees Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris, Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. The only December release of the five, Dragon Tattoo has had a slow build during awards season (just as it has had at the box office) and now appears to be reaching a crescendo. At one point things looked so bleak for serious awards prospects that Sony reportedly even began pulling back on some previously planned Oscar ad buys in various publications and sites. That has all changed now and the film has become a serious contender, earning Fincher his third DGA nom in four years following The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and last year’s The Social Network.
The biggest snub on today’s list has to be Steven Spielberg, who was overlooked for DreamWorks’ War Horse, an expected Oscar power player that may be slipping back in the pack a bit during the crucial stretch run. After all, Spielberg is a DGA favorite with 10 previous nominations (most recently in 2005 for Munich) and three competition wins — including The Color Purple, which didn’t even earn him a nomination for an Oscar. A large part of the voting block at the DGA are TV directors, and Spielberg with his long list of television projects keeps many of them employed. A past DGA winner as well for lifetime achievement, Spielberg’s omission is a crushing blow for any Oscar prospects from the much smaller directors branch.
No director not at least nominated for a DGA Award has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar, and only a handful of past DGA winners have failed to go on and grab the Oscar. The last time there was a discrepancy came in 2002, when Chicago’s Rob Marshall won the DGA Award but lost to The Pianist’s Roman Polanski at the Oscars.
Of course, the DGA doesn’t always match up 5 for 5 with Oscar, so there still could be hope for him or others bypassed today like Moneyball’s Bennett Miller, The Help’s Tate Taylor, The Tree Of Life’s Terrence Malick and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close’s Stephen Daldry. The latter two films have been completely overlooked now in each major guild contest — SAG, PGA, WGA and now DGA — so their Oscar chances in major categories have dimmed considerably. It should be noted that despite a DGA nomination for Malick’s 1998 war film The Thin Red Line, the same snub occurred from the other three guilds and the Golden Globes; but on Oscar nomination day, it went on to surprise everyone by earning seven nods including Best Picture and director. This year, there isn’t even a DGA nomination for him. Daldry, who has been Oscar nominated for every one of the three previous films he has made, actually only has one previous DGA nomination (for The Hours). But right now he’s looking like a real long shot to make it 4 for 4 this year, and Extremely Loud — which, like War Horse, was expected to be a major player — just can’t seem to ignite so far with industry voters.
Other than first-time nominee Hazanavicius, the rest of the pack are DGA veterans including Scorsese, who has been nominated almost as much as Spielberg with nine feature nods, and Allen, who has five now. Both are the only previous winners on the list, with Scorcese scoring in 2006 for The Departed and Allen in 1977 for Annie Hall. Payne was previously nominated for his last film, Sideways, in 2004. Fincher is the long shot among this bunch, but in a topsy turvy year like this there is no slam-dunk winner — though first timer Hazanavicius might be the prohibitive frontrunner at this point since The Artist seems to have the most momentum.
The nostalgia wave that has been so prevalent among top contenders this season (see HAMMOND: Tough Economic Times Make Nostalgic Films Hottest Bets For Oscar) continues with the DGA and its love for lighter period pieces like The Artist, Hugo and Midnight In Paris. But it is only the latter film, along with the more contemporary Descendants, that have earned all-important key nominations from the four big guilds (The Artist missed out on that distinction by being ineligible for a WGA Award). What direct impact, if any, the DGA’s nominations have on the Oscar race remains to be seen. But Academy ballots are still out and not due back until Friday at 5 PM. There is still time, brother.