Oscar History

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Director's Guild Big 5. Plus Trivia!

If you click on over to the Best Director page that we've had up for awhile, you'll see this Oscar prediction awaiting you.


It's the exact DGA nominee list for Best Director (just announced). This isn't The Film Experience blowing its own horn so much as the obvious: This is the shortlist. In order for anyone else to pull an Oscar nomination on January 25th for Achievement in Direction, they'll have to either: K.O. David O. Russell as he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee; cut those thespian marionette strings that Tom Hooper is gracefully pulling; sue David Fincher for capturing zeitgeist in a bottle before they could; break the legs of Darren Aronofsky's ballerinas; or invade Chris Nolan's Oscar dream. Before it even happens!


Any one of those things will be very difficult to do. I don't think it's going to happen so I'll leave these predictions as is. Though perhaps it's worth remembering that this is Nolan's 3rd DGA nomination (Memento, The Dark Knight and Inception) and so far he's been forgotten when Oscar nomination morning rolled around.


Granik, acclaimed since Sundance

There's always room for doubt. The DGA doesn't often line up 5/5 with the eventual Oscar list. In the past decade it's only happened twice (last year and 2005). Some will tell you that the Coen Bros have the spoiler momentum given True Grit's box office heat (it passed the $100 million mark, their first film to do so) but I'm almost with Nick who told us on the podcast that he could totally see Debra Granik happening for Winter's Bone. She's got two previous winners in her campaign corner (Scorsese and Bigelow) and though it might sound far-fetched, isn't the "spoiler" usually far fetched when it actually happens and not the expected sixth slotter? Or is this just because we remember those best? Mike Leigh wasn't the sixth slot "duh!" when he was nominated for Vera Drake to cite one instant-recall example. Neither was Fernando Meirelles when City of God shocked pundits.

The most surprising thing about the list is how uniform it is. There's only a 14 year age spread, two countries (UK/USA) and all five men are (possibly) still in the first act of their career with none of them having yet entered a double-digit filmography. Most of them have never been nominated either. What's more, Hooper aside, the other four all started in rough succession. Consider.

First Features

  • Fincher: Alien3 (1992)
  • Russell: Spanking the Monkey (1994)
  • Nolan: Following (1998)
  • Aronofsky: Pi (1998)

That's only a six year spread of Fresh (directorial) Meat.

MORE TRIVIA: Film Experience reader Yonatan reminds us that this is the first time the Globe Director nominees and the DGA nominees have matched completely since 1993. But even then, Oscar did not follow suit, dumping Andrew Davis of The Fugitive for Robert Altman's Short Cuts. I haven't had time to triple check this next bit but has it really been since 1977 when all three (Globes, DGA, Oscar) matched 5/5 in the Director category? That year the field was:

  • Woody Allen, Annie Hall
  • George Lucas, Star Wars
  • Herbert Ross, The Turning Point
  • Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters
  • Fred Zinneman, Julia

QUESTIONS: Does this strike you as the least diverse group in a long while (I'm not talking race but the points argued above)? Do you think one of them will fall by the wayside --as is the norm -- and for whom? Or do you expect to see all five celebrating their (mostly) first Oscar nominations on January 25th?

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Reader Comments (42)

The main argument against 127 Hours all season was that people are not seeing it. Not because they can't find it, but because they know it will be uncomfortable.

However, let's not forget that the Academy's Directors Branch rarely has anything to do with "the regular people". They're a small group and I assume they WILL see stuff that intrigues them. I haven't seen 127 Hours yet (probably this weekend), but I hear it's all about Franco and Danny Boyle.

And imagine that a director doesn't even need that many no. 1 votes. Most will have Fincher: the other ones will require crazy passion, like Aronofsky will get. And maybe Boyle, if he's the star of his film.

So let's not completely ignore 127 Hours here.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex in Movieland

alex good point.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I don't understand how this could be seen as the least diverse group in a long while actually. I think many if not most would agree that this may be the coolest bunch of auteurs we've seen in a single line-up in even longer a period of time. With at least 4 time-tested originals in a bunch the word "diverse" is exactly one i would choose to describe the group. Especially considering the fact that these are auteurs with such diverse areas of interest and unique styles.

Unless i misunderstood the question and it was in reference to the ethnic backgrounds and genders of the nominees I think this is about as diverse as we've seen in a very very long time. If it was in reference to the lack of social diversity then I would say this is probably the least socially diverse awards season in years in terms of the nominees of the major categories. All 20 of the actors will more than likely be white. But I also have to wonder why that would be of any significance? I understand the desire to seek out ethnic minorities and female directors with merit but considering the fact that this is a group of nominees who have been praised up and down and seem to be generally agreed on as worthy, wouldn't reaching for cultural diversity be senseless and ultimately useless affirmative action? Isn't that, in the end, sending the message that race and gender are in fact more important than artistic achievement? Isn't that counterproductive?

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

casey -- the question was not about gender and race . As stated i was talking about age ranges (it's basically a 40something party) and general time frames of career. There's no veterans, aside from Hooper no real newbies and yes, they're mostly all "cool" directors which is also a similarity not a difference ;)

January 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Ok then I did misunderstand the question :P

Yeah in those terms this group completely lacks diversity

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

it seems Aronofsky and Nolan are locker day after day...very glad for them...

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

This Oscar season seems very boring to me. I'm not saying that these guys are not deserving. I'm hoping for a big surprise come nomination morning. Oh how I long for a "Fernando Meirelles" type shocker.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCengiz

Cengiz -- i honestly think the Meirelles thing is the biggest shock of my entire lifetime with Oscar. NO ONE called that. He wasn't even discussed actually. Not even as "worthy longshot" discussions really -- since it was seen as belonging to the previous year by most pundits (even though through those quirks of eligibility it really wasn't)

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I think maybe Tom Hooper is still as vulnerable as many have thought all season. He's exactly the type who usually misses out with oscar. It's those Brit period pieces with very little discernable "direction" that get sandbagged here. Yes, many love his film, but how many will put his direction at #1? I think he and O'Russell could definitely fall out for Danny Boyle, The Coens, or Debra Granik. But it's not something I'd wanna put money on...

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Keller

I don't want to imagine the Oscar race without Tom Hooper getting nominated. That would be impossible & incredibly dull. It would mean handing over the Best Picture Oscar to The Social Network on January 25th, a month in advance! It would make it the most boring race ever.

I see it as: Fincher & Hooper locks.
Nolan has a good shot, but not completely sure.
Aronofsky would be easy to predict.

and Boyle, Russell, Coens fighting for one or two spots.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex in Movieland

The only person I see as a lock is David Fincher. – He’s been here before; beloved by actors Nathaniel doesn’t have a crush on; and has an unstoppable PG-13 morality tale.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I would love to see Granik nominated for Winter's Bone (which was excellently directed), but I think that if anyone is going to be nominated that wasn't nominated for the DGA, it will be the Coens.

PS, Not to be annoying, but Christopher Nolan was born in 1970, which makes him 40... not 48.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBK

OOPS BK -- That was a copy and paste problem. my bad. I shall fix.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I think Tom Hooper will leave his place for either:
Debra Granik or Mike Leight or The Cohen Brother's
Im rooting for Granik!

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Can't believe Russell is the oldest of the five.

If the Academy only matches 4/5, watch out for the Coens, Cholodenko and Weir.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

How is Cholodenko still a threat? The Kids Are All Right is kind of old news by now. It will get resurrected by a Golden Globe win that nobody will take seriously due to some "heavy" competition in that category - and even so, that's after the nomination ballots are done with.

Kids should be grateful for the 3 nominations it will get and really happy if it manages 4 in case Ruffalo makes it to the party.

Objectively, in the race for a BP nom it's outthere in the last 2, struggling alongside 127 Hours to stay in for the nomination. so, in my opinion, no chance for Direction.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex in Movieland

It's certainly the least diverse group that have been nominated in awhile, but it should be of note that it isn't the DGA or Globes' fault so much as Hollywood's near-sightedness when it comes to director talent. They love their men and in particular their young visionary American/British white men. And that should not take away from the talent of these fine directors--who certainly all deserve their nominations--but as I think everyone on this blog can agree, there were more than 5 or 6 notable directors who cropped up with exemplary work in 2010. I think that's the more infuriating part.....

Hopefully I articulated my thoughts appropriately, haha.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMattyD.

My two cents: Swap O. Russell with the Coens and you have your Oscar nominees for BD... It's odd that the Coen's weren't nominated here, but I'm extremely confident they'll be collecting another Oscar nomination. And I bump O. Russell due in part to the impression that his film's biggest strengths are in its performances (which I agree with but acknowledge that his hand was definitely responsible for it's lighter tone).

I still see Hooper as a weaker link the mix as well (compared to the clear authorship of Fincher, Nolan and Aronofsky), but I think his slot is largely solid due to the positive reaction of his film. (Though I think The Damned United is a much more interesting film myself.)

For me it's really just:
1) Fincher
2) Nolan
3) Aronofsky
4) Hooper
5) Coens
6) Russell
7) Boyle
Possible spoiler: Affleck

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Greenlee

Alex- I see what you're saying about Hooper being needed for an enjoyable and suspenseful awards season, but do we really doubt that there's still a battle raging for Best Picture? It just seems that the season is all wrapped up. 'Speech' doesn't seem to have the press that The Social Network, Black Swan, or even Blue Valentine have right now. True Grit has lots of box office success, but nobody is predicting its win. Everything else seems pretty quiet to me.

But I hope I'm wrong- I have seen everything freakishly early this year for the first time ever so maybe it's just my perspective and not the campaign which is so different this year.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

MattyD, I feel you... I made a similar comment on Sasha Stone's site about a month back. This is going to be one of the best line-ups for Best Director in years, but with the outside chance of Debra Granik getting a nod, it's going to be middle aged, white guys getting nominated these year whomever ends up with the final nominations.

After last year, which saw a woman win and a black (and gay) man nominated, it's a bit of a letdown in terms of diversity... but any of the nominated films in the category this year are terrific cinematic achievements and its more of an indicator that most woman and minority directors have a harder time getting funding, distribution and promotion for their films.

But considering that two films (Kids are All Right and Winter's Bone) directed by women are probably getting nominated for Best Picture, I think it's clear that Bigelow's win last year is slowly opening the door. I'm confident that with the right film, a woman will be nominated again in the next five years.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Greenlee

Cholodenko may still have a shot. The film may not have as high a profile as current releases but it is still being discussed (the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips picked it as the year's best film), and it is bolstered by terrific performances. My hunch is that Nolan is this generation's Spielberg---considered cool by young enthusiasts but still an Oscar bridesmaid, until he makes a film of a more "serious" theme. My guess is that Nolan may get bumped. This year's only real suspense, I'm afraid, is in the Best Actress race, and both Supporting categories. The rest has been telegraphed weeks ago.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTomS

I though 127 hours was a documentary stretched out with unnecessary directorly flourishes with a fine lead not award or nom worthy but ok for 90 mins.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermark

@Graham: Absolutely my thoughts. And with so many talented female directors getting name-recognition in the periphery of film circles, it's becoming much easier for women directors to find footing, albeit I'm sure still difficult for them to get films made.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMattyD.

Is it that it's an unusually uniform list of directors or does it only look that way because last year was so diverse? Also, if five straight white men happened to be the five best directors of the year, does that mean something fishy is going on? Lisa Chodenko, Debra Gank, or maybe even John Cameron Mitchell would be lovely spoiler nominations, but who else is there that isn't a straight white male with a film still very much in the discussion? Chodenko, Gank, and Mitchell don't have direction showcases as the films are all about characters interacting with characters. They aren't big flashy films and none of them are so established in this style of filmmaking the Academy can't ignore what they do.

Which is why I'm still convinced Mike Leigh will once again surprise in Best Director. When has he ever done a bad job in this big ensemble pictures? Never. Ever. And he's been doing them (and been nominated for them) for years.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOtherRobert

127 Hours? Not interested. Why? I know it won't scare me. How do I know? Nat's complaint is about overediting. E...di...ting... ev...er...y... ha...lf... se...co...nd... is... no...t... sc...ar...y.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I see that Casey wasn't alone. I guess any question about diversity will come down to gender and race. But I meant it more as artistic temperament, career status, career timing and age. They are all of the same generation of filmmakers and all (with the exception of Hooper) came up virtually together in the system. And they're all "visionaries" or at least definitely auteurs. :) which is why, though i said i didn't believe this list would be different in the end, that i'm now officialy worried.

the list seems TOO strong.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Isn't the idea that DGA matches up closer with Best Picture than Best Director at the Oscars? Of course, that was when they had five Picture nominees, but still.

"He's exactly the type who usually misses out with oscar."

Except he's not. Oh sure, Bruce Beresford can lay claim to legitimate grievance, but movies like "Billy Elliot", "Capote", "The Queen", "The Cidar House Rules", "Babe", "The Scent of Woman"... so many movies have snagged Director nominations despite not being particularly obvious choices. And then movies like "Atonement" and "Moulin Rouge" that feel obvious and missed out. And "The King's Speech" hardly seems like a "Chocolat" or "Finding Neverland", ya know? Feels like a stronger, weightier candidate, than those.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I also long for a Meirelles-style nomination, and remember it being one of the biggest upsets in the Oscar races (though, to be fair, The Secret of Kells last year was just about as big of an upset as Meirelles-there was not a single person predicting that nomination).

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

How is Tom Hooper still a lock? Atonement (which even won the Globe and was a frontrunner as well at one point) didn't get a Director nod. And Hooper is not more famous or more due than Joe Wright.

I can see a lot of things happening still... I am not so sure the Academy is ready to "forgive" Russell, but let's see what happens. :)

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Great Dane

Cholodenko is out. Sorry guys, but with such strong (and famous) contenders, how would any director (directors choose the nominees) think that The Kids Are All Right is among the best directed films of the year. And it's "boxoffice succes compared to its budget" argument doesn't apply. "Little Miss Sunshine" was a far bigger threat (won the PGA and a lot thought it could win Best Picture), and it didn't even get a Best Director nomination.

How would she sneak in over the Coens, Danny Boyle, Mike Leigh, Roman Polanski et al? Seriously? Even Ben Affleck would get nominated before her! This category has become too artistic for a film like Kids Are All Right to get nominated. When small films to get into Best Director, it's because they are 'arty' (like Lost in Translation). Small mainstream independent films don't have a chance in Best Director.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Great Dane

Now wouldn't it be wild if "Fight Club," "Requiem for a Dream," "Memento," "Flirting With Disaster," and "John Adams" were all nominated for Best Picture?

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthonyDC

I am so hoping the omission of the Cohen Bros. from the 5 nominees is a foreshadowing of the Oscar Noms... I love their movies, as a rule, but was less than entertained by True Grit.. For me the inclusion of The Fighter, one of my top 5 films this year, was a godsend ..
Also, the Hailee controversy continues, I know... but for my money, she nedd not be nominated in either BA or BSA category.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRick

I'm surprised that others are still surprised about Tom Hooper doing well. Did anyone see The King's Speech? It's not one of those anonymously-directed films, it actually boasts an individual look, with the claustrophobic framing of the palace contrasting with the wider, more breathable Logue space. The performances are strong, which is partly the great ensemble of actors, but you have to give *some* credit to Hooper for Geoffrey Rush toning it down. He's as much a lock as Fincher and Aronofsky.

IMO, if anyone here is in danger of getting bumped, it's Nolan, and probably in favor of Granik. The supporters of Winter's Bone are passionate ones. I do think that's a big if, though.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

I am late to this discussion, but, as I scrolled through the posts previous to mine, I caught quite a bit about how The Kids Are All Right is "kind of old news." While I must admittedly agree with this position, I'd like to complain for a sentence or two...

Everyone knows that most films released before July stand next to no chance come awards season. A movie that might be hot as hell one month cools off to somewhere around room temperature over the rest of the year. My concern - and yes, I know I've already exceeded my aforementioned "sentence or two" - is the Academy's (lack of?) objectivity. I could ask why Crash stuck around and eventually won Best Picture. Or I could ask why, in a world where such an occurrence as Crash winning the big prize can take place, do films like Zodiac and The Ghost Writer (for which fingers are crossed, but breath is not held) get so easily swept under the carpet. Instead of rambling on, I'll cut this tangent short.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevin D

Devin D -- i get disappointed by the "old news" thing and part of the problem is that the media feeds that and pundits do too. There are MANY examples of films that stuck around so it's not a matter of THE ACADEMY HAS NO MEMORY as much as it is 'why do people grow tired of some films and not of others?" OR "why do people need things to be super new and exciting?" because more often than not, we learn more about which films have rewatchability and which films have more to reveal and so on when we let them breathe a bit.

Walter -- i agree that The King's Speech is not anonymously directed. I think it's a good film -- surprisingly good actually considering what it is -- but i guess i just don't see it as one of the five best in very many ways at all. But yeah, i do think if anyone is vulnerable it's O.Russell (followed by Hooper & Nolan, roughly tied)

Rick -- Haillee snubbed would be SUCH A RELIEF because it was such a fine year for actresses and her being anywhere means that some amazing diva is snubbed. I prefer grand dames and divas and stars at the peak of their canonical beauty and so on to 14 year olds as a general rule but I also don't think she was very special in her film (and i h-a-t-e category fraud)

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Great post, Nathaniel. Most other awards sites simply list the DGA with some conventional wisdom about who'll get the Oscar nom, but you give us humor, biographies, trends, obscure but relevant trivia....all of which is to say that you continue to be the most entertaining film blogger around.

(Pardon the ass-kissing, I've been meaning to give you kudos for the new site since it went live... loving it!)

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

i do not pardon ass-kissing. I demand it continue in perpetuity ;) but seriously: thank you. i get discouraged when comments are thin (not on this post obvs) but sometimes.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I loved "The Fighter," so I'm rooting for it in best picture and David O. Russell in best director. Very glad he managed a DGA nod today. It's time for him to redeem himself somewhat, and he more than did that with "The Fighter." I think the Oscar line-up is going to match the DGAs five for five this year. Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Tom Hopper, and David O. Russell.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Redeem himself? How? What does he have to redeem himself over? His last director job was Huckabees. However, what he's got coming next will do one of two things: Destroy his career or lead to mainstream success. Indiana Jones fans feeling bummed about the last one could flock to David O. Russell's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Fincher (Zodiac) and Aronofsky (The Wrestler) have already entered Act 2. David O. Russell could be on the verge of it because of his next project (Uncharted: Drake's Fortune). I say Nolan's Act 2 starts on his first picture post Bat. Tom Hooper, though? He's still on Act 1. (Each act usually has 4-6 movies these days.)

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

volvagia -- Nitpicking! This depends on how long the careers are and whether you're working a 3 act or a 2 act structure. Or perhaps a 10 act structure if you're Methusaleh with a camera.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Since 1980 there have only been 4 years (2009, 2005, 1998, 1981) that the the Oscars have matched not to mention that as you stated there hasn't been a time since 1977 that the Globes, DGA, and Oscars have matched.

Even though this makes your director predictions seem super accurate for the precursors does that mean that its just less likely to be the final nomination list for the Oscars?

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt K.
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