You can’t talk about the director race without Steven Spielberg being a part of it, especially regarding the Directors Guild of America competition.
In the history of the DGA awards, only eight winners of the guild have failed to win the Academy Award, most recently Sam Mendes (“1917”), who lost to eventual Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”).
Spielberg, Ron Howard and Ben Affleck are the only winners not to receive an Oscar nom for director. This year, Spielberg, who won the Oscar prize twice for helming — “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) — finds himself in one of his most substantial positions yet for “The Fabelmans.” With three DGA wins and 12 nominations, Spielberg is both the most awarded and most nominated filmmaker in history, and a narrative has been forming for several years that it’s time to give him another, especially after he lost the Oscar for “Lincoln” (2012) to Ang Lee following the Affleck taking the DGA award.
It’s noteworthy that the DGA and Oscar lineup for director hasn’t matched since the introductory year of the best picture expansion, when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win each of those categories with “The Hurt Locker” (2009). Some snubs were true jaw-droppers in the past few years, including Martin McDonagh for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017). His campaign team is hopeful that won’t happen again with his dark comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which, after climbing the charts in recent weeks, increasingly looks to be a challenger to Spielberg’s drama in several races.
Women have won the DGA prize in the past two years with Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), taking the prize. In fact, 2020 marked the first time two women were recognized in the same year, as Emerald Fennell, for “Promising Young Woman,” scored a nom alongside Zhao. That’s a possibility again in 2022 with Sarah Polley’s drama “Women Talking” and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic “The Woman King.”
Prince-Bythewood would be the first Black woman nominated for a DGA award (and the Oscar, if selected for both). The only Black filmmakers ever nominated in DGA history were Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and Spike Lee (“BlacKk- Klansman”). None won.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu has earned deep respect among his peers, even if “Bardo” received mixed reviews at the fall festivals, but the film has a new cut and the backing of Netflix. Even if it comes up short in races such as international feature, Iñárritu could join the list of 12 directors, including David Lynch (“Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Last Temptation of Christ”), who were the sole Oscar nominees for those movies. Interestingly, all 12 received a DGA nom.
Iñárritu isn’t the only two-time DGA winner in the race: there’s also Ron Howard, with rescue drama “Thirteen Lives,” and Sam Mendes with period pic “Empire of Light” — both popular helmers in Hollywood. However, both face uphill climbs against some buzzier films in contention.
Comprising more than 19,000 members from across the globe, the Directors’ Guild voting group tends to favor more wide-rang- ing and populist choices. Still, I wouldn’t count out Todd Field, who returns to the big screen after 16 years with “Tár,” or Ruben Östlund, who could appeal to the European voting bloc with Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness.”
Anything can happen in a wide-open Oscar race such as the one this year.