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Directors Guild Sets the Bar With Progressive Nominations

If it wasn’t already an issue, Natalie Portman certainly made it one at the Golden Globes: There are talented, award-worthy female directors in the Oscar hunt this year. You just have to nominate them.

While female-centric stories were certainly in the spotlight Sunday night, it was notable that there were no female filmmakers nominated for best director. This despite there being clear choices: Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Dee Rees (“Mudbound”), and Angelina Jolie (“First They Killed My Father”) are all worthy contenders this year.

The Directors Guild of America dodged this bullet Wednesday by nominating Gerwig, making it just the ninth time the group has recognized a woman. In this regard, the guild has a better record than the Academy’s directors branch, which has only nominated four women in the category to date (the last being Kathryn Bigelow, who made history with her win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010).

In the DGA ranks, Gerwig joins Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Randa Haines (“Children of a Lesser God”), Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and two-timer Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty” in addition to “The Hurt Locker”).

Meanwhile, the guild also righted another HFPA wrong: Nominating a filmmaker of color when there was at least one clearly deserving player. “Get Out” helmer Jordan Peele joins Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) as only the fourth black director to be recognized. The statistic that jumps out there is all four of them have come within the last decade.

Add Mexican helmer Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) to the list and you have a positively progressive batch of nominees. Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) rounded out the slate.

So the pressure is on the Academy to make as much of a splash. It’s worth remembering that the organization’s directors branch is a fraction of the DGA’s size, roughly 500 members compared to something like 18,000. Broadly popular films always have a leg up with the guild, while the Academy can sometimes eschew widely appealing favorites (like “The Martian” or “Les Miserables”) in favor of something on the fringe (like “Room” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild”). With that in mind, it’s not unlikely that one or even two of these names could fall off in favor of someone like Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) or Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name”).

Steven Spielberg was the most bold-faced name passed over this year, for “The Post.” But it’s become clear that, with a number of key guild and industry group misses, that his film hasn’t maintained a strong Oscar season foothold in general.

Peele also double-dipped in the DGA’s first-time filmmaker category, nominated alongside Geremy Jasper (“Patti Cake$”), William Oldroyd (“Lady Macbeth”), Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”) and Aaron Sorkin (“Molly’s Game”). “Lion” helmer Garth Davis was also nominated for both last year, only to be passed over by the Academy in favor of Mel Gibson (“Hacksaw Ridge”).

For now, the DGA has amassed a stellar, rather inarguable slate of filmmakers. It’s one of the guild’s best lineups in years, frankly, and one that has set the bar for the remainder of the season.

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