It’s old school versus new school for best director at the DGA Awards.
Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” is the culmination of more than 50 years of moviemaking. Then there’s the visionary whimsy of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the duo behind the sci-fi comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The veteran and the newcomers are the front-runners to win the top prize at the DGA ceremony, which take place on Feb. 18.
Which picture will prevail among the guild’s 19,000 members? One camp esteems a long and storied career; the other points to a cinematic future that will look different but be just as enjoyable.
The Daniels and Spielberg are joined in competition by three other dynamic directors — Todd Field (“Tár”), Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick”) and Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”). But pending a stunning upset, the latter aren’t expected to be serious challengers.
With their hyper-imaginative tale of a Chinese laundromat owner who sets off to save the multiverse, the Daniels have gained recognition from various awards groups. “Their film is the most awarded of the year,” says Mark Johnson, an editor for Awards Daily. “With the most Oscar nominations, you have to assume it’s near the top.”
One member of both the Academy and DGA says they’re “undecided” on who they’ll vote for, but are leaning toward the Daniels. “What you can’t say about that movie is it wasn’t directed,” the voter says. “There’s directing all over that film.”
However, the pair must overcome a couple of hurdles. The most significant is that directing teams seldom win DGA; only two duos — Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for “West Side Story” (1961) and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for “No Country for Old Men” (2007) — have achieved the feat.
Additionally, Hollywood has long adopted a “pay your dues” mentality. At 35 years old each, Kwan and Scheinert would be not only the youngest pair ever to win DGA (or the Oscars) but also the seventh-youngest director winners overall. Conservative voters may hesitate to reward the sophomore filmmakers, whose only other movie is the zany dead-body comedy “Swiss Army Man” (2016).
That creates an opening for Spielberg to capitalize on the industry narrative that he’s due for late-career recognition. With “The Fabelmans,” he depicts the origins of his love of celluloid while mapping out the deterioration of his parents’ marriage. The vulnerability on display has resonated with voters of all guilds. “Between what he did with ‘West Side Story’ and the personal effort on ‘Fabelmans,’ there’s a legacy value that’s been hard to ignore,” Johnson says. “And after 25 years, it’s time for him to win his third Oscar.”
At the DGA, Spielberg holds the record for the most nominations and wins, at 13 and three, respectively. It also helps that he has been working the circuit far more than he did for other recent films, such as “Lincoln” (2012) and “West Side Story” (2021). That visibility and track record boosts Universal’s hope of netting a win, which could lead to an Oscar moment.
Over its 75-year history, the DGA Awards has been the most reliable barometer for the Oscars’ best director prize. Only eight DGA winners have failed to walk away with the Academy Award, most recently Sam Mendes (“1917”), who lost to Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”) in 2020.
Despite his BAFTA snub, if Spielberg wins, the Oscar best picture would likely come along too — as was the case with “The Departed” (2006) and overdue director Martin Scorsese. Nonetheless, the DGAs will likely mark the moment the duo that brought us subtitled talking rocks solidify their front-runner status. My pick for the DGA is … the Daniels.
DGA Predictions (Film Categories)
- Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
- Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”)
- Todd Field (“Tár”)
- Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
- Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick”)
- Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”)
- Audrey Diwan (“Happening”)
- John Patton Ford (“Emily the Criminal”)
- Alice Diop (“Saint Omer”)
- Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (“Murina”)
- Matthew Heineman (“Retrograde”)
- Laura Poitras (“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”)
- Shaunak Sen (“All That Breathes”)
- Sara Dosa (“Fire of Love”)
- Daniel Roher (“Navalny”)
“Severance” (Apple TV+) — Ben Stiller, “The We We Are”
“The Bear” (FX) — Christopher Storer, “Review”
Movie for Television and Limited Series
“Station Eleven” (HBO) — Jeremy Podeswa, “Unbroken Circle”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO) — Paul Pennolino, “Afghanistan”
See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective. To see the ranked predictions for each category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.