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Alfonso Cuaron’s DGA Win: Y Tu Oscar Tambien? (Analysis)

As widely predicted, Alfonso Cuaron took home the top prize at Saturday’s Directors Guild Awards for Warner Bros.’ “Gravity,” making his Oscar chances seem even stronger as director. But the big question is whether this prize will translate into a best-picture advantage.

A lot can happen in the next few weeks and the applause in the DGA room at the Century Plaza seemed evenly split: All five directors got equally enthused reaction. Still one shouldn’t underestimate this win.

Of all the Oscar bellwethers, the DGA honors are the most reliable…except when they aren’t. The DGA and Oscar winners have varied only seven times in 65 years, which is a great track record. But four of those times have been in the last 19 years, so the variations are becoming a little more frequent. And the most recent split was last year.

Maybe the big surprise should not be the differences but the frequent matches, considering how diverse the voting groups are. The DGA counts 15,000 members, including assistant directors and plenty of folks who work in TV; the Academy has 6,028 voting members in multiple branches and very few are helmers (only 377 in the directing branch).

No matter what happens with Oscar,runners-up  Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese should be proud of the nomination. (Oscar also nominated four of the five, substituting Alexander Payne for Greengrass.)

How good are these people? It’s been a terrific year for films, and among the directors who didn’t score a nomination because the field is so crowded are Stephen Frears, Spike Jonze, Richard Linklater, Woody Allen, Jean-Marc Vallee, Peter Berg, Peter Jackson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Nicole Holofcener, Ron Howard, Ryan Coogler, Destin Cretton, Denis Villeneuve, Derek Cianfrance and Asghar Farhadi, to name a few.

For the record, the differences between DGA and Oscar have been, respectively, Anthony Harvey and Carol Reed in ’68; Francis Ford Coppola and Bob Fosse in ’72; Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack in ’85. That’s for the first 45 years of the DGA Award existence.

Since then, DGA and Oscar have split with Ron Howard and Mel Gibson in ’95; Ang Lee and Steven Soderbergh in 2000; Rob Marshall and Roman Polanski, 2002; and, last year, Ben Affleck (“Argo”) and Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”) for 2012. Spielberg, Howard and Affleck weren’t nominated for Oscars.

The feature category traditionally hogs the spotlight, but the DGA saluted 10 categories Saturday, and there were some stellar names in the other races: Bryan Cranston (nommed in two categories), Louis C.K., David Fincher, Stephen Frears, Vince Gilligan, David Mamet, Sarah Polley and Steven Soderbergh (who ended up taking home two awards). Beth McCarthy-Miller was the other double nominee and won for comedy series.

As for the documentary winner, Jehane Noujaim of “The Square,” she gave a rousing and well-received speech, but the Oscar signs are vaguer. The DGA has given out an award for docu direction 21 times previously, but only four of those winners later won an Oscar. So that isn’t necessarily promising — though three of those winners have been in the past four years.

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