This morning’s just-announced DGA Award nominations are good news for the major studios and bad news for Harvey Weinstein. With Ben Affleck for Warner Bros’ Argo, Kathryn Bigelow for Sony’s Zero Dark Thirty, Tom Hooper for Universal’s Les Miserables, Ang Lee for 20th Century Fox’s Life Of Pi and Steven Spielberg for Disney/Dreamworks Lincoln, it was a clean sweep for the majors — a continuing roaring comeback in Oscar contenders for the big boys who the past two years have watched The Weinstein Company take Best Picture (and top DGA) honors with small indies like The Artist and The King’s Speech. Clearly, even as their focus is on money-making blockbusters and popcorn entertainment, the majors are no longer sitting on the sidelines when it comes to the Oscars and seem fully invested in the process this year at least.
Related: DGA Award Nominations Announced
It’s highly unusual since the advent of the Miramax takeover of Oscar seasons the past quarter century to see no independent contender in a strong position. But, at least as far as the DGA is concerned, that’s the story here, along with the fact that four of the five nominees are past DGA- and Oscar-directing winners, with Affleck the only newcomer to the DGA club after directing only his third feature film (he is an Oscar winner for co-writing Good Will Hunting). Bigelow and Hooper both won in the last three years and have made a quick return to the golden circle. Spielberg, meanwhile, is the Big Kahuna of the DGA as he is a three-time winner (The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and now 11-time nominee as well as winner of the guild’s Life Achievement Award. Lee’s enormously impressive technical feat in bringing what was thought to be an unfilmable book, Life Of Pi, so successfully to the big screen is clearly something that appealed to the sensibility of directors, so his nomination was definitely expected. This will make for one of the tightest and most interesting directing races in years at the DGA.
Although it probably won’t make any of those omitted from today’s list feel any better about their chances of gaining an Oscar nomination, Spielberg actually won the DGA Award for Color Purple but was completely snubbed when it came time for even an Oscar nomination for that film. The two films that might have made the DGA list — David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, both from Weinstein (Sony also has a stake in Django since they are releasing internationally) — remain strong possibilities to take at least one of the slots in the much-smaller directors branch choices at Oscar nominations on Thursday, along with a possible wildcard choice of Michael Haneke for the Foreign Language entry Amour. But the DGA, more than any other guild, has the strongest correlation with Oscar nominees and winners so expect at least four of these five contenders to be on Oscar’s list too. Only six times since their inception in 1949 have DGA and Oscar not agreed in the final vote, so today’s list definitely puts these five films in the strongest position not only for an Oscar win for Directing but also for Picture as the winner of Director, in most cases, is also the Best Picture champ — with Crash being the most recent exception in 2004.
The good news for Weinstein is because of the earlier timetable the Oscar votes are already in and the DGA announcement (which usually comes as Oscar voting is still in progress) will not have any direct bearing or influence. Also it should be noted that this was the first year the DGA allowed DVD screeners to be sent to their membership and although it was sent to Academy members, Django Unchained was held back from a DGA mailing , the only major contender to do so. That might have hurt Tarantino’s chances here but the late Christmas Day release of the film made it difficult for the distributor to get those to the membership and I also understand there were piracy concerns on the film which has become a major boxoffice smash. The film did receive a PGA nod also without the benefit of screeners being sent to that Guild.
With the intense competition between so many genuine contenders it was inevitable that today’s all-important DGA nominations were bound to disappoint at least two of them and the same thing will happen with Oscar nominations. It seems a shame that with the new system where there can be ten nominees for Best Picture , there can still only be five for Best Director. It means that potentially five of those movies deemed good enough to be a best picture apparently directed themselves.