Alejandro G. Inarritu’s ‘Revenant’ DGA Win Keeps Oscar Guessing Game Going

Alejandro G. Inarritu Best Director Oscar
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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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  1. steve barr says:

    Let me understand this . Innarritu won the DGA because The Revenant was a very hard film to shoot and may very well win the Oscar . Does anyone rember who won the DGA and the Oscar in 1979 .Robert Benton for Kramer vs Kramer . And who lost the DGA and the Oscar that year ? Francis Coppola for Apocalpse now . Since when did degree of difficulty become a reason to vote for a film .

  2. cadavra says:

    However, it should be noted that there have been producers who’ve won back-to-back Oscars, notably David O. Selznick (GWTW and REBECCA) and Walter Mirisch (THE APARTMENT and WEST SIDE STORY, though technically he was executive producer).

  3. My only issue with going over to Revenant is preferential ballot: not the PGA itself, but the fact that some people out there do not like it (just one example: it’s lower RT score compared to others). Is there a theory as to how it could win on a preferential ballot despite this?

    I suppose the obvious answer is: Birdman wasn’t exactly everyone’s favorite, it also had detractors, and still made it through.

    • Jacob says:

      But even Birdman has 92% on RT. Revenant has just 83%. Also, don’t forget that Scorsese and the Coen Bros. we’re wwwwaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy OVERDUE when they won for their dark and gritty films.

      The Hurt Locker had the relevance of its subject matter (The Iraq War) and more so Kathryn becoming the 1st woman to ever win a Best Director Oscar, while even beating her own ex-husband James Cameron for good measure! I really didn’t care for The Hurt Locker.

  4. Nikhil says:

    Scenario 1:
    Picture: The Big Short
    Director: AGI

    Scenario 2:
    Picture: Spotlight
    Director: AGI

    Scenario 3:
    Picture/ Director: The Revenant/ AGI

    Scenario 4:
    Picture: The Big Short
    Director: Miller

    Scenario 5:
    Picture: Spotlight
    Director: Miller

    Scenario 6:
    Picture/ Director: The Big Short/ McKay

    Scenario 7:
    Picture/ Director: Spotlight/ McCarthy

    Scenario 8:
    Picture/ Director: Mad Max: Fury Road/ Miller

    The Academy is too much of a wuss to go with scenario 8. I think the ‘Mc’s cancel each other out in the director category. They needed the DGA to have a chance. It’s between Miller and AGI. So any of the first 5 scenarios can happen. If we go with the stats scenario 1 is happening. I’m team Spotlight so I won’t predict 2 and 5 but secretly hope for one of them to materialize. That leaves us with 3, 4 and 1. Safer bet would be to go with 1 but ultimately, yeah. I don’t know s**t but I do love this race.

  5. John G. says:

    Probably worth noting that most of those 14 were years of director splits. Big Short and Spotlight are the kind of Best Picture winners that often get a split. And with their directors both likely to win for screenplay, we have a classic “spread the wealth” scenario on our hands.

    I still think that the lack of screenplay nomination is an enormous, possibly prohibitive, hurdle for Revenant. Ten screenplays get nominated every year – tough to be a Best Picture when you don’t have one of the ten best scripts. As important as editing, directing, and acting are, a movie lives and dies on its script.

    Wasn’t the last winner that missed a screenplay nomination also a DiCaprio disaster feature? Revenant is possible, but I think I’m still predicting Big Short.

  6. Manuel says:

    Actually in 2001 three different films also won the major guilds: Moulin Rouge (PGA), A Beautiful Mind (DGA) and Gosford Park (SAG).

  7. Jonathan says:

    John Ford won back-to-back in 40/41 for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley.”

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