Alejandro G. Inarritu's 'Revenant' DGA Win
20th Century Fox/New Regency

Is it evidence the film was the one to beat all along?

The only thing Alejandro G. Inarritu really had going against him heading into this year’s Directors Guild of America awards ceremony was that he just won a year ago for “Birdman.” Apparently, that wasn’t enough.

The “Revenant” director became the first filmmaker to ever win back-to-back DGA honors for feature filmmaking Saturday night, and really, beyond the simple unlikely nature of that prospect, it’s difficult to call it a shock. After all, it’s not a hard sell to the guild’s 13,000 members that production on “The Revenant” was no walk in the park. That’s certainly been the overbearing linchpin of the film’s campaign these last several weeks, a narrative that is helping to propel Leonardo DiCaprio to his first Oscar. But moreover, voters in this group, they know very well what it takes to pull off a project like this. So they voted accordingly.

And now, the only thing presumably going against the film in the Oscar race is, again, the fact that “Birdman” is the reigning champ. It would be unlikely for a filmmaker to win back-to-back best picture Oscars because it’s never happened, while Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford are the only helmers to win back-to-back director honors from the Academy. But is “unlikely” enough to disavow?

“The Revenant” certainly has a lot of industry fans, particularly appealing to what Harvey Weinstein once dubbed the “steak eaters” of the Academy (i.e., regular working Joes). It obviously has support throughout the Academy’s various branches with a field-leading 12 Oscar nominations. So it seems pretty clear that little more than a statistic is keeping the punditry from calling it the one to beat (well, that and the somewhat scattered nature of industry kudos this season).

A DGA victory is difficult to argue with; only 14 times in 66 years has the winner not gone on to best picture glory. Here are those 14 films. Pull from the data what you will:

“Gravity” (2013)
“Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
“Apollo 13” (1995)
“Born on the Fourth of July” (1989)
“The Color Purple” (1985)
“Reds” (1981)
“The Lion in Winter” (1968)
“The Graduate” (1967)
“Giant” (1956)
“The Quiet Man” (1952)
“A Place in the Sun” (1951)
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1948)

All of that said, while the film may have just won over a very large organization, it’s worth noting it fell to “The Big Short” at the Producers Guild awards under the very same preferential balloting system the Academy will use to determine a best picture winner. The last time three different films won the PGA, DGA and SAG ensemble awards was when “The Aviator,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Sideways,” respectively, did it over a decade ago. DGA pointed the way that year, as it did in 2001 when it previously happened (“Moulin Rouge!”/”A Beautiful Mind”/”Gosford Park”). In yet another instance the year before that, however, PGA had it right (“Gladiator”/”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”/”Traffic”).

Let’s just keep it simple and say we have a bona fide sprint on our hands. Who is going to get there first? Ask me later…

Elsewhere in the evening, Matthew Heineman surprised presumed Oscar documentary feature frontrunner “Amy” by winning the DGA prize for “Cartel Land.” If there is a spoiler in the category, from what I can tell, “Cartel Land” is it. It never fails to come up quickly in conversations about the nominees.

Additionally, Alex Garland won in the inaugural first-time director category for “Ex Machina.” The A24 film picked up two Oscar nominations, for Garland’s original screenplay and visual effects.

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