Cementing his status as an Oscar frontrunner, “Roma” director Alfonso Cuarón took home the top honor at the Directors Guild of America Awards, held Saturday night at the Hollywood & Highland Center’s Ray Dolby Ballroom.
At the end of his bilingual acceptance speech, Cuarón turned to his longtime friend Guillermo del Toro, who won this same award last year for “The Shape of Water,” and presented it to him this year.
“I cannot do anything in this film life without Guillermo del Toro,” Cuarón said, thanking him in Spanish.
He won the top helming honors over Bradley Cooper for “A Star Is Born,” Peter Farrelly for “Green Book,” Spike Lee for “BlacKkKlansman” and Adam McKay for “Vice.”
Cuarón previously won the award in 2014 for “Gravity.”
Cuarón, Lee and McKay are all in contention for the directing Oscar later this month, along with Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”) and Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”). Consider the DGA honor a good omen. Since the guild started giving awards in 1949, only seven directors have failed to win the academy award after triumphing at the DGA awards.
Still, McKay was one feature helmer who did not go home empty-handed. On the TV side, he won for the pilot episode of HBO’s “Succession,” beating out directors of “Ozark,” “Homeland,” “The Americans” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the drama series category. In the comedy field, “Barry” director and star Bill Hader came out on top for the HBO series over helmers of “Atlanta” and “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.”
In an evening that was not short on political commentary, feature nominee Lee stood out by invoking history. “1989 was ‘Do the Right Thing.’ 2019 was ‘BlacKkKlansman,’” he said. “1619, my ancestors were stolen from Africa and landed in Jamestown, 400 years ago. I get my power from the ancestors ... because no matter what trials or tribulations I go through, it’s nothing compared to what my ancestors did.”
In other film awards, “Three Identical Strangers” director Tim Wardle took home the documentary honor for the hit film, which missed out on an Oscar nomination last month, and “Eighth Grade” helmer Bo Burnham won the award for best first-time feature film director. Among Burnham’s competitors was “A Star Is Born” actor-director Cooper, who lost in both of his categories.
While presenting the filmmaking debut award, last year’s winner Jordan Peele joked with an unassailable deadpan, “This award really is the nicest way to say, ‘Not the best director.’ That shouldn’t take anything away from the achievement.”
Additional TV honors went to “Escape at Dannemora” director Ben Stiller (limited series or TV movie), “Saturday Night Live” veteran Don Roy King (variety programming), the Grammy Awards’ Louis J. Horvitz (variety specials), “Sesame Street” helmer Jack Jameson (children’s programming), “The Final Table” director Russell Norman (reality programming) and frequent feature helmer Spike Jonze (commercials).
FX received the guild’s diversity award for the efforts enacted across its slate to achieve gender parity in the director’s chair. Said network CEO John Landgraf onstage, “Real change is possible. You just have to do it.”
Christian Bale, Quincy Jones, John David Washington, Topher Grace, Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Octavia Spencer, Tony Hale, Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Sarah Paulson, Jon Favreau, Constance Wu, Dennis Haysbert and Dolores Huerta were among others attending the annual event, which this year featured the distribution of wristbands in support of the Women’s Steering Committee’s #5050byNOW initiative.
“Americans” duo Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys said they were happy to be in a room with so many “good friends and potential employers,” but Brian Tyree Henry had an interesting way of declaring his feelings on the night. “My ass has never been so clenched in my life. I’m so nervous,” he told the room of directors. “Thank you for all of your work.”
The lifetime achievement award in television went to Don Mischer. Career achievement awards went to Mimi Deaton, an associate director who received the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, and Kathleen McGill, a unit production manager who received the Frank Capra Achievement Award. Though the latter suffered a fall while walking up to the podium, she was greeted by a standing ovation. “I’m not nervous anymore, that’s for sure!” she laughed when she reached the stage.
The ceremony also took a moment to wish a quick recovery to “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who was recently a victim of a hate crime in Chicago.
A hilariously vulgar Aisha Tyler hosted the evening, kicking off with a monologue highlighting the importance of diversity. “This isn’t about quotas or charity, because this has never been a fair business,” Tyler said. “It’s about bringing unique points into the storytelling arena so we don’t keep making the same films over and over and over again.”