As he was leaving the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza ballroom tonight, Steve Golin, producer of dueling nominees Spotlight and The Revenant, said of the latter’s DGA victory for director Alejandro G. Inarritu, “Well, now I guess it is getting really interesting.” That’s an understatement as both his movies continue to stay alive in this most unpredictable Oscar season. With the DGA win added to its Golden Globe Drama victory, The Revenant leaves no doubt it is a major Best Picture contender. But the DGA has not given us a concrete answer with this choice, and they often do. The major guilds are really splitting this year, just as a lot of critics groups did. Just a week after SAG blessed Spotlight with its important Ensemble Cast prize, its momentum slowed Saturday night at DGA, just as The Big Short’s big ‘Mo also stalled when it lost last Saturday at SAG to Spotlight, which had been shocked the week before that by Short’s PGA triumph. With the Guilds so split it is hard to point to any indicator really telling us much except this remains a wide open race, one that might promise more surprises down the road as we move to the writers and cinematographers next weekend along with BAFTA. The British group will be closely watched next Sunday as they are another strong precursor award. Still they did manage to miss last year by choosing Boyhood over Birdman, while Birdman swept DGA, SAG and PGA (it wasn’t eligible at WGA) making it a near-certainty since guild memberships are filled with lots of Academy voters.
At any rate the pundit class has been waiting with baited breath to see what the DGA picked, since it is a normally predictive and reliable Guild who has a strong handle on who goes on to win the Best Director Oscar, with Best Picture usually following. Going into tonight we had the rare occurence of a possible win by all five nominees. Nothing was really a long shot here. By putting their lot in with The Revenant, they gave Inarritu a historic first-ever back-to-back DGA win, setting himself up to do the same later this month at the Oscars. Disagreeing only seven times with Oscar in their 68 year history, the DGA’s pick of Inarritu becomes, without question, the odds on Oscar favorite again. This would make him the first director to win back-to-back directing Oscars since Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1949 win with A Letter To Three Wives and 1950 with All About Eve, both Fox films like Revenant and last year’s Inarritu triumph Birdman (from Fox specialty division Searchlight). And here’s another interesting tidbit (I just love this stuff): The only other time a director has EVER won back-to-back Oscars before then was with John Ford’s twofer of The Grapes Of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley in 1940 and 1941, and both those films also came from, you guessed it, 20th Century Fox. This would be an astonishing achievement for the Pico Blvd lot. And should an Inarritu win spread to Best Picture – usually the case with director winners – it would be the first time ever for one director to also win back-to-back Best Picture awards (both Letter To Three Wives and Grapes Of Wrath lost Best Picture). A Revenant pic win would also mean three back-to-back-to-back Best Pictures for New Regency, along with Fox, another historic achievement. One company has had three Best Picture winners in a row but it has only happened twice in Oscar history. United Artists did it with One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Rocky and Annie Hall from 1975-77 and Dreamworks scored with American Beauty, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind in 1999, 2000 and 2001 thanks to studio partnerships on the latter two. Inarritu would also be the third Mexican-born director in a row to win – following himself and Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron – striking a real victory for diversity in one of Oscar’s major categories and perhaps lessening criticisms aimed at the Academy this year, at least temporarily.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Inarritu’s DGA win could mean he perhaps only gets Director at the Oscars and this becomes the third time in four years there is a split between Best Picture and Director. In that case social issue films like Spotlight or The Big Short could well break through to take the top honor along with their near-certain screenplay wins. But with its DGA and Globe wins , together with the fact that it also is leading the Oscar race with 12 nominations (another good indicator of Best Pic strength), The Revenant could be building runaway momentum just as Oscar ballots go out end of next week. Plus Inarritu did himself no harm with a heartfelt, funny, humble and tearful speech that won over just about everyone in the room. On the other hand it doesn’t have a screenplay nomination either at WGA or Oscars and in almost 70 years only Hamlet, The Sound Of Music and Titanic have pulled off Best Picture wins without at least a nomination from the writers branch. Spotlight, Big Short and Revenant all have a legitimate claim on Best Pic with some key victories so far. Some would add Mad Max: Fury Road as well, although it really could have used a George Miller DGA win to make that argument stronger. And if the vote is genuinely split between these films, could Room, also with key nominations of Picture, Director, Actress and Screenplay be poised to pull off an earth-shattering Best Picture stunner, much like Chariots Of Fire did in 1981 when bigger movies like Reds, On Golden Pond and Raiders Of The Lost Ark were siphoning off votes? That year there was also a split between Director, which Warren Beatty won at DGA and Oscars, and Picture where Chariots Of Fire snuck in. Some people were afraid to see Room and are just getting to it now. That could be a plus as its emotional impact would still be front-of-mind. Who knows?
In other words folks, it ain’t over ’til it’s over —- and it ain’t over. Keep your tux pressed. We’re going into extra innings.