In a move that will shock nobody, the Directors Guild of America named Alfonso Cuarón the winner of the prestigious DGA award for his tremendous direction of the space thriller Gravity. In the last 65 years, the winner of the DGA award has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar all but seven times* so this win increases Cuarón’s Oscar chances significantly.
While Cuarón may be sitting firmly in pole position, the big question now is whether Gravity itself can take the Best Picture prize – after all, it did win the PGA award (albeit in a tie with 12 Years a Slave). Only three films have won both the PGA and DGA and not gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars – Apollo 13 in 1995, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and Brokeback Mountain in 2005.
But this was before the PGA changed their voting system to a preferential ballot. The Academy also uses this preferential balloting system to award Best Picture therefore this year’s frontrunners (Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle) not only need to secure the majority of 1st place votes but they’ll also require plenty of 2nd, 3rd and 4th place votes to win.
Although awarding 12 Years a Slave Best Picture presents the Academy with the opportunity to reward a significantly “important” film, the allure of awarding Gravity, a major benchmark in cinema, might be a tad too strong to ignore. The film is expected to sweep the majority of the technical categories. It could win as many as seven Oscars. If I were a member voting for Gravity in so many categories, including Best Director, why not Best Picture too? It is, after all, the all-round stronger film. Some may say Gravity is weakened due to a lack of a screenplay nomination but that didn’t hurt Titanic or Braveheart, both which won Best Picture. Additionally, after Argo won Best Picture without a directing nomination last year, all bets are off.
Nevertheless, all eyes will now turn to the final show of the season before the Oscars – the BAFTAS – an organization with a strong membership overlap with the Academy. All three frontrunners are nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at that show which will take place on February 16. If Gravity wins Best Picture there, it’s all over. However, if 12 Years a Slave takes the prize, we might be in for back-to-back Best Picture/Best Director splits**.
*The seven filmmakers who won the DGA but lost the Best Director Oscar were:
- Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter) won the DGA but lost the Oscar to Carol Reed (Oliver!) in 1968.
- Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) won the DGA but lost the Oscar to Bob Fosse for (Cabaret) in 1972.
- Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple) won the DGA but was shockingly not nominated by the Academy in 1985. The Academy awarded Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) instead.
- Ron Howard (Apollo 13) won the DGA but, like Spielberg, was not nominated by the Academy in 1995. The Academy awarded Mel Gibson for Braveheart.
- Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) won the DGA but lost the Oscar to Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) in 2001.
- Rob Marshall (Chicago) won the DGA but lost the Oscar to Roman Polanski (The Pianist) in 2002.
- And most recently, Ben Affleck (Argo) won the DGA but wasn’t even nominated by the Academy last year. Ang Lee (Life of Pi) won the Oscar instead.
**Argo won Best Picture last year while Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi, due to Affleck’s non-nomination in the Best Director category.