For the first time in the 68 year history of the Directors Guild of America Awards, no director has ever won back-to-back Best Director Awards. That all changed this past Saturday night, as Alejandro G. Iñárritu won Best Director for a Feature Film for his masterful work on The Revenant. The film won as much for the process and agonizing production, as for its pure emotional brilliance and our unacceptable effects on the environment, people and the animal kingdom that it displayed. This film lets us examine not only the survival of a man dead set on revenge for his family, but shows the devestation that is occurring to our environment every second of the day. Iñárritu surely deserves this and that is three years in a row that a Mexican-born director has taken home the DGA. Fantastic work from Mr. Iñárritu and it is wild to think that he delivered two amazing, uncompromising films in back-to-back years. Congratulations!
This year is unfolding quite differently from last year. Birdman went on to win Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars, but it had also won the PGA and SAG award for Best Ensemble Cast, as well as the DGA. It is a little more murky this year, as we now have The Revenant winning the DGA, Spotlight winning the SAG ensemble award, and The Big Short winning the PGA. The season is as wide open as it has ever been, and it is going to lead to a whole lot of excitement and suspense come Oscar night. We have a heated, three-way race.
As much of a fan and admirer I am of all of Iñárritu’s work, and this film in generally, I was pulling for George Miller to win. He showed what you can create with a story focused on testing our notions of gender politics and brilliantly having the women, not the men, be the saviors and heroes for humanity. He also built everything from the ground up and went old school with his sets and action pieces. Yes, he used some CGI, but what he created was unlike anything we have seen in a long time, especially in this CGI and marketing sellout world we live in now. You did not see any coke or airline advertisements in Mad Max: Fury Road. He is still not completely out of it in terms of winning the Oscar, but it is looking, especially after the DGA awards, that Iñárritu be will walking away with his second Best Director Oscar in a row. The only directors to have ever won two Best Director Oscars in a row are John Ford in 1941 for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and 1942 for How Green Was My Valley (1941); and Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1950 for A Letter for Three Wives (1949) and 1951 for All About Eve (1950). Can Iñárritu be the third director to pull off this impressive feat, or are they tired of him? By the looks of the monumental DGA win, I do not think they are and the director’s branch really appreciates everything he accomplished with The Revenant.
Since Adam McKay and The Big Short did win the PGA I still believe that film has a small chance at Best Director, and a better shot at winning Best Picture. The PGA winner matches up with Best Picture over 80% of the time, and since we do not have a clear frontrunner and the Oscars and the PGA use the preferential voting system with varying rounds of first, second, third, fourth and fifth place votes, that film still has a strong shot to win. The last time the PGA and Best Picture did not match was in 2007 when Little Miss Sunshine won the PGA, and The Departed won Best Picture. The same can be said of Spotlight, although the PGA winner has statistical a better shot at winning Best Picture than the SAG winner. The SAG Ensemble Cast award has only matched up with the Best Picture winner at the Oscars six times in the last ten years: Birdman in 2015; Argo in 2013; The King’s Speech in 2011; Slumdog Millionaire in 2009; No Country for Old Men in 2008; and Crash in 2006. Spotlight is much beloved and the actor’s branch is by far the largest voting body. Spotlight is in a really good place and if never hurts that Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams are both nominated in the supporting categories. Both of these films would be locks if either McKay or McCarthy would have won the DGA.
Last year, Birdman swept all the major guilds. It was an almost easy predictor since it had so much love throughout all of the voting branches. The last time there was a three-way split was two years ago when 12 Years a Slave & Gravity tied for the PGA, American Hustle won the SAG, and Gravity won the DGA. Well, since Gravity did tie for the PGA, it is not a full out three-way split. That year, Cuarón went on to win the Best Director at the Oscars and 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture. Since the guilds have been a heavy indicator of what film or director or writer, etc., could win at the Oscars, there are only three other times where there has been a three-way split between the PGA, SAG and DGA. In 2001, Gladiator won the PGA; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the DGA; and Traffic won SAG. In 2002, Moulin Rouge! won the PGA; A Beautiful Mind won the DGA; and Gosford Park won SAG. And, in 2005, The Aviator won the PGA; Million Dollar Baby won the DGA; and Sideways won SAG. In 2001, Gladiator won Best Picture and Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for Traffic. In 2002, A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture and Ron Howard won Best Director for that film. And, in 2005, Million Dollar Baby won Best Picture and Clint Eastwood won Best Director for that film. What will be the results this year?
I still believe it is a solid, three-way race, especially since the PGA matches up with Best Picture so often. But, the actors are a huge voting branch and since they gave their big SAG Ensemble award to Spotlight, I think it has inched ahead of The Big Short. Maybe that is more momentum, vibe and my instinct than stats. Then you look at the The Revenant, which has the most nominations with 12 and just won the DGA for Iñárritu. It has so much support from all of the guilds and the momentum is strong right now for that film, Iñárritu and for the sure lock Best Actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio. Yes, it does not have screenplay nod and the last film to win Best Picture without having a screenplay nod was Titanic, but history is meant to broken and changed.
The BAFTA’s are the only big awards reveal before the Oscars. Six out of the last seven years, the BAFTA Best Film winner has matched with the Oscars with the exception of last year when Boyhood won the BAFTA and Birdman won Best Picture. I will not be surprised if either Spotlight, The Big Short or The Revenant win Best Picture. I will not be surprised if George Miller comes out of nowhere and wins Best Director. The acting categories are somewhat settled with DiCaprio, Larson, Vikander, and most likely Stallone as our winners, but anything can happen in this type of year. The intrigue is so high right now and Oscar night will be one exciting, intense night for us all. Whoever has the momentum might win out over the stats. The race is on!!!