Since the Oscars moved to as many as 10 best picture nominees, the most elite prize is, by many accounts, the one for top director. And the category's biggest clue is the Directors Guild of America shortlist of five nominees -- which, outside of an outlier year in 2013 when everything went haywire, has correctly prefigured at least four of five Oscar nominees dating to 2007.
On Tuesday the 15,0000-strong guild offered its list of the five best directed films of the last year. And it was, as with a number of things this season, full of surprises. Richard Linklater ("Boyhood") and Alejandro G. Inarritu ("Birdman") landed the expected nominations. But the rest of the list didn't quite go to form. Here are the surprises.
Morten Tyldum (in). "The Imitation Game," the first English language feature for Norwegian director Tyldum, has landed him in the list. Considered a bubble candidate -- in part because he's so little-known, in part because his movie shares some superficial similarities to James Marsh's "The Theory of Everything," potentially splitting the vote — Tyldum is now in. It's rare for a director to make the DGA cut with his first English-language movie -- this is a man whose most notable movie previously was a Scandinavian dark action comedy titled "Headhunters." It's rarer still when David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, longtime DGA favorites, have movies in the mix. Which brings us to:
David Fincher (out). Fincher is a perpetual DGA favorite. He landed on the list with his previous three movies. He even landed on the list even with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Yet despite strong reviews and a ton of box office, his "Gone Girl" didn't pass muster with many awards groups, and it didn't make the grade with the DGA. An Oscar nom is now a long shot too -- "Tattoo" got a DGA and didn't end up on the Oscar list, so it's hard to imagine "Gone Girl" getting an Academy nod.
Ava DuVernay (out). The "Selma" director has been a huge critical favorite, her movie landing on many lists and scoring a batch of Golden Globe nominations, including for director. DuVernay is also one of the most accessible of the directors, engaging directly with fans and reporters on social media. But when the DGA list came out Tuesday morning, she wasn't on it. Some pointed out that Paramount didn't send screeners to the group — the voting period ran Dec. 3 to Jan. 12 and the studio did not have screeners ready until the third week of December. Will she make the Oscars cut despite not landing on the DGA list?
The Oscar-voting directors have swapped in at least one choice of their own in seven of the last eight years (a much smaller voting body allows for that). Will DuVernay be the one? And whom does she knock out?