When they were walking into the 66th Annual Directors Guild Awards tonight people were talking about a possible split year for the Oscars with one film winning Director and another Best Picture. And after the DGA crowned Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuaron as the year’s top director people were walking out saying the same thing. Cuaron was widely expected to win this thing. Gravity is a stand-alone directorial achievement second to none. Any other result would have been regarded as a major upset. A DGA win almost always means a corresponding Directing Oscar and a Directing Oscar almost always means a Best Picture win. Normally we would be wrapping up the race and putting a ribbon on it for Gravity, especially with the DGA coming right after its Producers Guild win a week ago (albeit a tie, but it was still significant). But this is a strange year and such a tight race between the three front-runners, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle that a few votes either way could potentially swing this thing. It’s not even inconceivable that a dark horse could come in in this kind of year. The Guilds so far have not clarified a whole lot. Hustle won the big Cast prize at SAG, Gravity and Slave split the PGA and now Gravity has won at DGA. Next week comes the Writers Guild Awards before a two week lull before the BAFTAs and mailing of Oscar ballots on Presidents Day weekend. But Slave (due to guild-ruled ineligibility) and Gravity aren’t nominated there leaving a good opportunity for Hustle to take back some of the glory – that is unless Her pulls off a win for Original Screenplay and deals a major setback for David O. Russell’s major contender.
Well, you get the idea about the “split year” thing. And after last year Academy voters may be empowered to look at the Directing and Picture categories separately after having the split forced on them when the directors branch failed to nominate eventual DGA winner Ben Affleck and the Oscar went to Life Of Pi’s Ang Lee while Argo took Best Pic. Lee’s film was looked at as a groundbreaking achievement in motion pictures, the same language we hear applied to Cuaron and his Gravity. With the DGA now added to his Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins, it’s highly likely he will easily take the Directing Oscar, but a corresponding Best Picture win for Warners’ worldwide smash is a big question mark – and the studio knows it. This is why Sue Kroll and her team have really ramped up their game and why you are seeing a plethora of new TV ads that really sock home in a big way the impact of this film. It has a major drawback as far as Oscar voters go and the studio knows it has to overcome the Science Fiction label. The genre never delivers Best Picture winners, but as Lord Of The Rings proved in the previously unrewarded fantasy genre there is a first time for everything. If ever the precedent could be broken it is this film and this year. But Slave feels more important and that could go a long way. And Slave, even with Saturday night’s loss, still seems like it is gaining momentum as a Best Picture winner. Reluctant voters are finally watching it from what I gather and that is helping the renewed momentum, not to mention that Steve McQueen has been making quite a few acceptance speeches on the awards circuit at PGA, Critics Choice and Golden Globes even if the wins were squeakers. They were still wins. And can Hustle sneak up in the middle and further cloud this race? This wide open Best Picture race. I thought the DGA’s final presenter Ben Affleck was only half-joking before he opened the envelope. “Wouldn’t it be funny if it were a tie?”
Some level of clarity has to come from somewhere but so far it’s not coming from the key guilds which are sending mixed signals. Saturday was a very good night for Gravity but there are five long weeks to go. One weary studio executive with awards banquet burnout asked, ” has there ever been a year where there is such a gap before the Oscars? It looks like everyone just decided to get everything out of the way and then stop for the Olympics”. This is where momentum counts for a lot. Whichever team can create it and keep it through the balloting will win.
As for the DGA show itself, this sucker was loooooong. But the speeches (read some of them here) were uniformly excellent, particularly those for the five Best Film Directors, not only the medallion recipients but also the presenters, notably Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips’ Paul Greengrass, Sandra Bullock, funny and sincere for Cuaron and a hilarious Rob Reiner presenting to Martin Scorsese for Wolf Of Wall Street (“I don’t know which was more unbelievable. That I could play Leonardo DiCaprio’s father or that Leo was jewish”). One highlight was the speech of the Best Documentary Directing winner (and an Oscar nominee too) Jehane Noujaim who won for The Square. The film about the three-year-old Egyptian revolution has still not passed the censors in her home country of Egypt but she said, thanks largely to online downloads and rampant pirating 750,000 Egyptians have seen it in the last couple of days. This may be the first time a winner has so openly endorsed the pirating of their own movie. Netflix and Participant are behind the Oscar nominated doc which is the first Egyptian film to be up for an Oscar , and the first from a female director.
Another happy, but shocked, winner was Breaking Bad’s super nice and humble Vince Gilligan who has been on some sort of victory tour of late for the acclaimed show’s last season. He told me before the DGA event started that he fully expected David Fincher or David Nutter to win. But BB is on a roll that started at the Emmys and keeps plowing through awards show after awards show. Executive Producer Mark Johnson quipped, “Tuesday we are up for the Crafts Services Awards. We had the best donuts.”
After the show ended around 11 PM I caught up with a happy Cuaron who said he just hoped his speeches (he gave two ) “made some sort of sense”. They did , even if Bullock amusingly kept kidding him about the language problems she had understanding what he was saying in her ear on set. “I am just really happy to get this from my peers. They do what I do so it means everything,” he told me. Kroll, producer David Heyman and Warners’ chief Kevin Tsujihara were there soaking up the victory (Warners’ second in a row at the DGA) with Cuaron who planned to head to Chateau Marmont for a further victory celebration. Cuaron had actually been the only one of the five directors to miss Saturday morning’s annual DGA nominees symposium. He was in Italy for his son’s birthday and landed at LAX at 1:30 PM just in time to rush and get ready for his big night. And you thought being an Oscar front runner was easy?