Here’s how strong these past few months have been for cinema. If you took the new movies of five top directors who didn’t make DGA’s list of nominees Tuesday—say, Spike Jonze, the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, J.C. Chandor and Lee Daniels—you’d have a list to rival pretty much any other DGA year. Heck, you could even go to a third group--Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, Jean-Marc Vallee and an assortment of others--and still have a darn fine list.
The snub is a time-honored tradition when it comes to directing prizes. Francis Ford Coppola lost the Oscar to Bob Fosse even though history has shown “The Godfather” to be a tad more worthy than “Cabaret.” Last year, Ben Affleck was nominated for a DGA honor (he’d go on to win), not nominated for an Oscar, and then rode the underdog thing all the way to the Best Picture podium.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a similar dynamic play out this year—someone on the DGA list will almost certainly be accepting the prize at the Dolby come March 2. (The smart money is on Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen or David O. Russell.) And there were, as pundits pointed out, few question marks on the DGA list as it worked out —Martin Scorsese and Paul Greengrass, the remaining nominees, were wild cards, but neither were exactly surprises.
Still, it’s hard not to feel a little unsatisfied by the DGA announcement. Rabid fans of “Her,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Nebraska” would certainly say that. So might fans of cinema generally.
Just think about your favorite movies this past year. Now see how many align with the DGA list? There are, it quickly becomes clear, far too many direcotorial achievements to limit the group to five.
That’s especially true given what’s been happening in other categories. Best Picture has of course expanded to as many as 10 slots, and the PGA already doubled its field in response. Screenwriters get 10 shots at both the Oscars and the WGAs. The Golden Globes nominates no fewer than 30 actors. Director is the only major category that has held the line.
In addition to the basic equity question, there’s this obvious logical wrinkle. Why are there 10 great movies but only five great people who made them?
Yes yes, some would say that so few directing slots gives the award added meaning, and that adding to it would amount to a kind of prize creep. Maybe so. But in a climate in which so many other cinema practitioners get their shot—and in a time of so many directorial achievements generally—does it make sense to keep nominees so artificially low? Asking people to anoint favorites across genres can already feel a little “silly,” as Woody Allen famously said of award season. But forcing them to choose between “Her” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” or “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Captain Phillips,” can feel kind of pointless.
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