The Directors Guild of America announced its nominees Thursday, and, as expected, the filmmakers behind the trio of the season's most-acclaimed movies — Damien Chazelle ("La La Land"), Barry Jenkins ("Moonlight") and Kenneth Lonergan ("Manchester by the Sea") — were among the five cited.
Joining them are Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") and, surprisingly, first-time director Garth Davis ("Lion").
And "Birth of a Nation" director Nate Parker returned to the awards conversation, earning a nomination in the DGA's first-time feature film director category.
Among the names the DGA left out: Mel Gibson ("Hacksaw Ridge"), Pablo Larrain ("Jackie"), Martin Scorsese ("Silence") and Denzel Washington ("Fences").
Davis' inclusion is great news for "Lion," the Weinstein Co.'s fact-based tear-jerker about an Indian man (Dev Patel) trying to find the family he lost as a boy. The movie didn't find much favor with critics but has connected better with audiences, finishing as the runner-up to "La La Land" for the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award.
Since the film academy expanded the best picture category for the Oscars in 2009, it has shunned a DGA nominee's movie just once, when voters snubbed David Fincher's 2011 sordid psychological thriller "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
So Davis' nomination likely means "Lion's" place at the best picture table is secure, which will boost the movie's commercial prospects. ("Lion" has grossed $10.5 million since its limited opening Thanksgiving weekend.)
The good news for Scorsese, David Mackenzie ("Hell or High Water") and others left off the DGA's list is that the academy hasn't completely matched the guild's director picks since 2010. In the last seven years, the DGA and Oscars have overlapped in that category 27 out of 35 times. Last year, the academy's directors branch voters subbed in Lenny Abrahamson ("Room") over DGA nominee Ridley Scott ("The Martian").
There's a distinct pattern for the annual differences too. In the last three years, the 16,000-plus DGA voters rewarded the helmers behind big, commercial movies ("The Martian," "American Sniper," "Captain Phillips") while the much smaller academy directors branch (473 active members this year) went for artier dramas ("Room," "Foxcatcher," "Nebraska").
And it wouldn't be an awards announcement without the inclusion of the subversive comic book movie "Deadpool." The film's director, Tim Miller, was among the five nominees for the DGA's first-time feature film director honor, joining Davis, Kelly Fremon Craig ("The Edge of Seventeen"), Parker and Dan Trachtenberg ("10 Cloverfield Lane").
Parker's inclusion is notable. After "The Birth of a Nation" premiered at Sundance in January, festival reporters immediately crowned it an Oscar front-runner. But its awards-season prospects diminished after new details emerged about Parker's 1999 rape case. The controversy surrounding Parker — and his seeming initial lack of empathy and understanding when addressing his past and the accusations — dwarfed the discussion surrounding the historical drama about Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion.
By nominating Parker, DGA voters swung the pendulum back to focusing on the film's merits and not Parker's past.
Winners will be announced at the 69th DGA Awards on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Hilton.