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DGA Nominations Give Boost to ‘Imitation Game,’ ‘American Sniper’ (Analysis)

Tuesday’s DGA nominations are good news for Morten Tyldum, not so good for Ava DuVernay and David Fincher — though the exclusions don’t mean they don’t still have Oscar nomination possibilities.

With only five slots, some deserving folks didn’t make the cut. However, they shouldn’t give up hope: The nominees for the Directors Guild of America and Oscar have been identical only five times since 1970.

It’s an international race, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”) hailing from Mexico; Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) from Norway; two from Texas, Wes Anderson (“Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”); and one California native, Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”).

The omission of DuVernay wasn’t a surprise, since the 15,000 voters of the DGA were not sent screeners of “Selma” (though Academy members were). And many pundits predicted a nod for Fincher (“Gone Girl”). Possible dark horses included James Marsh, “The Theory of Everything”; Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”; Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”; Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”; and Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar.”

Eastwood and “Sniper” did not gather a lot of attention in critics voting, but the film, which launched Dec. 25, has gained momentum, with great box office and recognition from the Producers Guild, Writers Guild and three below-the-line guilds. Anderson and “Budapest” were even more popular with the guilds and won Sunday’s Golden Globe for best comedy.

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Linklater and Inarritu seemed like the only locks, based on results from other guilds, Golden Globes and, crucially, word of mouth.

In November, after “Selma” screened at AFI Fest, pundits began speculating that 2014 might make awards history, with DuVernay joining Angelina Jolie of “Unbroken” to mark the first time two women would be in the director contest. That didn’t happen. While DuVernay still is an Oscar possibility, “Unbroken” has had great box office but mixed critical reception, and Jolie’s inclusion in Oscar noms on Thursday is a longshot.

The DGA and Oscar have vastly different voting pools. The DGA has about 15,000 voters, including assistant directors and TV helmers. That compares to only 382 members in the Academy’s directors branch this year. In 2012, only two individuals (Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg) appeared on both DGA and Oscar lists; last year, four of the five made it (Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese; DGA-nominated Paul Greengrass in the fifth slot, while Oscar voted for Alexander Payne).

While there’s usually a discrepancy in the DGA and Oscar nominations, the winners are generally the same. The DGA winner has proceeded to win an Oscar in 58 out of the past 65 years.

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