When the Directors Guild of America announced its nominees last year, Oscar balloting had already closed and the DGA's slate — Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Tom Hooper — was widely expected to repeat when the Motion Picture Academy announced its selections.
OK, maybe not Hooper, since not every filmmaker would watch "Les Misérables" and appreciate all those swooping cameras and uncomfortably tight close-ups. But still, over the years, the academy's picks have matched the DGA's about 80% of the time. It has been about as reliable a precursor as you can find during awards season.
Then the Oscar nominations were announced and three of the DGA's picks — Affleck, Bigelow and Hooper — were not among them. All hell broke loose, pity parties were quickly arranged (handkerchiefs optional) and Affleck went on to win the DGA for "Argo" and the movie, in turn, wound up winning the Academy Award for best picture. (Ang Lee won the director Oscar for "Life of Pi.")
It was a weird year, unlikely to be repeated in the near future. The director who wins the Oscar in 2014 will almost certainly be among today's five DGA nominees — Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle") and Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street").
In fact, all five of the DGA's choices might repeat as academy nominees. It's possible that the academy's directors branch goes instead with Alexander Payne, a two-time nominee for his work behind the camera and a critical favorite for his masterful work on the poignant family story "Nebraska." Spike Jonze, nominated in 2000 for "Being John Malkovich," is another possibility for his acclaimed modern love story, "Her."
Their inclusion would probably come at the expense of Scorsese. Because the DGA's membership is big (nearly 15,000) and broad, its choices skew more toward brand names like Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, both of whom have been nominated 11 times. The academy's directors branch, meanwhile, has just 377 voters, and, as they demonstrated last year, are inclined to go with more offbeat, auteurist choices (Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke for "Amour," Benh Zeitlin of "Beasts of the Southern Wild").
Then again, Scorsese has won seven Oscar nominations for directing, most recently for "Hugo" two years ago. "The Wolf of Wall Street," which has generated controversy for its sex and drugs and attitude (thought by many to be glorifying the movie's moral reprobates) is being hailed by many as a punk-rock picture made by a 71-year-old director. Scorsese will win some love simply for artfully pushing the envelope. "Wolf" also has now earned nominations from the Producers Guild, Writers Guild and the DGA. It has its fans.
As does "American Hustle," which is now the only movie to sweep all four guilds. That distinction comes with a qualifier, since as a non-voting member of the WGA, "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter John Ridley wasn't eligible for a guild nomination. "Hustle," "12 Years" and "Gravity" head the list of films most likely to find across-the-board favor with the academy. And, unlike last year, that respect will extend to their directors as well.
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