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Damien Chazelle’s DGA Victory Solidifies ‘La La Land’s’ Date With Oscar

You can count on one hand the number of filmmakers that have won the Directors Guild award for feature filmmaking, yet lost the best director Oscar when nominated: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”), Anthony Harvey (“The Lion in Winter”) and Robert Rossen* (“All the King’s Men”).

Ben Affleck (“Argo”), Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Color Purple”), meanwhile, share their own bizarre place in film awards history as guild winners that didn’t even secure a nomination from the Academy. But throughout the course of 68 years, 60 DGA winners have gone on to claim the Oscar.

So that’s some solid math in “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle’s favor. Already the youngest DGA winner in the category, he’s now poised to become the youngest best director Oscar winner as well.

Why is the DGA prize such a predictive precursor? Beats me. Maybe it has something to do with the DGA being a vast organization like the Academy, yielding similar, populist winners. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. Chazelle’s victory Saturday night only cemented what we already know, that his delightful modern movie musical has a date with destiny.

The wild card in the Oscar race this year is Mel Gibson, who picked up a nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge” from the Academy’s directors branch, while the guild opted for “Lion” helmer Garth Davis (who won the DGA’s first-time director honor). The other nominees overlapped with the Academy: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”).

There isn’t much else to break down here, though. It’s all pretty well lined up. And now that song is stuck in my head again…

*Joseph L. Manckiewicz won the Oscar for “A Letter to Three Wives” over Rossen, but because the first and second annual DGA Awards used a non-calendar year, Manckiewicz and Rossen won the DGA prize in back-to-back years.

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