Strangely, for a directors’ race that has been dominated by “Roma” helmer Alfonso Cuarón all season long, Saturday night’s Directors Guild Awards didn’t feel all that sewn up. There has been a sense that career respect for Spike Lee, not to mention legitimate love for “BlacKkKlansman,” could break him through as a spoiler. Meanwhile, “Green Book” maintains an army of admirers and a win for Peter Farrelly didn’t seem out of the question, particularly with a vast, often populist-leaning organization like the DGA.
In the end, but of course, it was Cuarón, for an achievement that has netted more than 30 critics’ prizes and a Golden Globe award. Regardless of “Roma’s” best picture fate, the 57-year-old Mexican filmmaker seems destined to claim his second directing Oscar in five years, after previously winning for “Gravity.”
Only six times in the DGA’s 70-year history has the guild’s winner lost the corresponding Oscar, and three of those instances — Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Ron Howard for “Apollo 13” and Steven Spielberg for “The Color Purple” — were owed to the Academy’s directors branch not even nominating the eventual DGA winner. (Bradley Cooper had a shot at joining that club this year, but alas, the guild couldn’t even be bothered to give him its first-time feature prize.)
Those are, and long have been, pretty solid stats. And the path to best picture victory always seemed to go through the DGA until not that long ago. That reality shifted a bit in the modern era of the Academy’s expanded best picture field. The best picture and director categories have been out of lockstep four of the last six years — including Ang Lee’s victory for “Life of Pi” the year Affleck was sidelined. But that recent history aside, the reason the DGA victor had always been a best picture bellwether is because the guild is, again, such a massive organization, much larger than the Academy, so you can sort of suss out how the chips will fall when polling broad numbers.
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All of that logic flies out the window with a best picture category that is now decided by a preferential ballot. So the race is by no means over. It feels like it’s going to be “Green Book” vs. “Roma” down to the wire, but we’re already at an interesting place where a different film has claimed each of the top guild prizes.
“Green Book” won at the Producers Guild Awards; “Black Panther” claimed SAG-AFTRA’s ensemble prize; “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The Favourite” won ACE Eddie Awards for film editing; and now, Cuarón and “Roma” take the DGA honor. The Writers Guild could scatter things all the more next week.
This is about as spread-out as a season can get, so get your popcorn ready. Like last year — and the year before that, and the year before that — we won’t really know the answer until the final envelope is opened on Oscar night.