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« Sundance: Blind, a Playful Stunner From Norway | Main | Sundance Prize Winners »

Cuarón Takes DGA

In non-surprising awards news Alfonso Cuarón has won the Directors Guild of America prize for his long-in-the-making sci-fi epic Gravity. Though I've long been predicting him to win the Oscar, the Best Picture race still seems competitive. It's insane that 12 Years a Slave, a magnificent film and a historically significant drama in several ways, isn't steamrolling but it isn't. My guess is that even if Gravity sweeps the craft categories, Best Picture will be a nail biter down to the last envelope opening. The most famous 'dominated the Oscars but still lost Best Picture' year is, of course, 1972. Cabaret won 8 Oscars but The Godfather beat it in two of the top 8 categories Adapted Screenplay & the big kahuna Best Picture. The end result: they were both winners. Cabaret took home a lot of Oscars and has the impressive distinction of being the biggest winner among all Best Picture losers. (There are some who think that 2002 was heading toward a similar outcome had The Pianist had another month to gain momentum on Chicago) 

Will we see another split year? No predominantly black film has ever won Best Picture which is depressing and bad news for 12 Years a Slave but no sci-fi film has won either which isn't exactly points in Gravity's favor. 12 Years has to convince voters who are resisting it to see the picture (if you ask me, AMPAS voters who won't watch all the Best Picture nominees each year before voting really ought to have their memberships revoked) and it needs to find a second wind with the media who have a predictable way of turning on frontrunners each year. I fear a Brokeback Mountain situation where the less evolved voters just won't give a seminal work its due because of the subject matter. Am I too pessimistic?

Gravity has the potentially easier task in that it only needs to convince voters that it isn't lightweight and that it won't age poorly (I'm not convinced on the latter). And, since it hasn't truly been the frontrunner at any point, it doesn't have much backlash to conquer. I'm leaning toward predicting Gravity to just (nearly) sweep the whole thing.

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Reader Comments (21)

Not really surprising. McQueen will likely do the same thing in 20 years if he ever moves to more mainstream film making. While people do genuinely like Gravity, its not going to stand to time like 12 Years is. I hope Gravity doesn't win Picture, if it does it'll just increase 12 Years Longevity. Just like The Social Network and Hugo and plenty of other films going back far further (Raging Bull and Goodfellas stand out as examples) 12 Years will be the hindsight best film of 2013.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterQueermyntcritic

While I love all three and am still 100% in the Gravity camp, I have a feeling American Hustle is much stronger than people seem to assume since PGA. Any of the three could win. Before getting into the weeds, though, I have to remind myself that Cuaron is clearly winning Director. That's a bigger help to Gravity than any precursor, even the DGA. Still, BAFTA may be a key indicator of last minute momentum and really, last minute momentum may be the key.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Well, first of all, congratulations Mr. Cuarón. I think it needs to be said.

I don't love 12 Years a Slave as much as you do and I still think it has a big chance. The Academy loves to vote for films that "matter" (see also Dallas Buyers Club). The only problem with the movie is that we suffer too much and don't cry enough. Sorry, if I'm being too cynical.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I am not a huge fan of 12 Years either, but I think it's a product of a unique directorial vision. Moreover, McQueen marshaled extraordinary performances from nearly all his cast members. I'd definitely be satisfied if he and 12 Years took home the Oscar.

Here we are, for the second year in a row, ready to award the Best Director statue to a filmmaker who helmed a VFX-heavy movie. Two years isn't enough to detect a pattern, but at the same time, I don't want to see this category go the way of cinematography.

Lee's win was one thing - it wouldn't have been my choice, but he adapted an "unfilmable" book somewhat effectively. Cuaron, however, directed the worst of the 20 nominated performances (as well as Clooney's worst performance in years), and he chose to work with the weak script he and his son wrote rather than realizing he should outsource that part of the job. Gravity doesn't even seem like a "Cuaron film" to me; no one would know who made this if they weren't told first, and you couldn't say that about any of the other nominees' films. There's no strong authorial vision behind it.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Lee's win was really a special case. It would likely have went to Affleck if not for his still-not-very-explicable snub. Of course, if Affleck was nominated, maybe there wouldn't be that narrative and Lincoln or Silver Lining would have won both.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkin

I've decided to blame it on Bullock if Gravity will edge out 12 Years. People in the industry love her so much that they even gave Blind Side a BP nomination, and let's not forget that she was in Crash and Extremely Loud as well. Clooney's presence could help Gravity too, even though he was terrible in it and they needn't have cast him in the first place, since they already had a huge star (and a bigger box office draw) in the lead role.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Cuaron is an amazing director so I'm glad he's getting his due, but his work in Children of Men is a million times more impressive than the whole of Gravity. Steve McQueen deserves the gold.

And like Jan pointed, Sandy is responsible for some of the Oscar's worst mistakes. I'll never get over Crash winning best picture (it still makes me lol) and her best actress win, another joke. Don't get me wrong, I really like Sandra as a movie star but let's be real.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Gravity is my favourite film of the year, so I'm happy that it appears on course for the big win. The split people are still arguing over could happen (particularly since Cuaron's Best Director campaign seems to have genuinely taken on a life separate from his film's Picture chances; I can't remember the last time that happened, unless it was by necessity, like last year), but history argues against it. Gravity is at this point the heavy favourite in six categories (Director, Editing, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing), with a seventh on the bubble (Original Score). That's a potential seven-Oscar tally even without Picture, and I'm skeptical that it winning all those and not taking the top prize is at all likely.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

Gravity has the Sandra Bullock factor but 12 Years has Brad Pitt so I think they cancel each other out in that way

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I dunno. I loved "Gravity" and for me it definitely was the BP of the year in a year with a lot of good movies . Just the last shot of the movie and it would be enough. I hope it wins but I am skeptic because rewarding 12 Years A Slave is too good a chance to be passed up by AMPAS to shut up all its critics. Not that I would mind 12 Years winning, but I would rather reward "Fruitvale Station" , which was the better film imho and more in the zeitgeist of things.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

Going back to the central question in the article of the work 12YaS has to do to win over voters, I think part of the problem is the advance word of how "brutal" and "hard" it is to watch. I was put off by this and went into the screening expecting something on a par with a slasher film. Which it isn't. I see harsher brutality on television. The situations in 12YaS are horrible, brutal and horrendous to think about. The actual, physical violence exhibited on screen is nowhere near what you see in most run of the mill summer blockbusters or any one of the crime procedurals shown during prime time. Are the AMPAS voters so sheltered that they will be turned off by this?

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Nathaniel, the first thing that occurred to me in the fall when I considered 12 Years a Slave and the Best Picture race was Brokeback Mountain, sad to say.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I am completely pro "Gravity." I hope it takes BP. A win would be a huge breakthrough for Sci-Fi. I tire of critics who "like " Sandra but blame her for past Oscar wins either by her influencing a win or her own actual win for "The Blind Side." Many actors (such as Clooney and Pitt) influence voters. Sandra is a force and her work in "Gravity" was the heart of the film. She worked in complete isolation. The role was incredibly physical as well. I would love to see her win the Best Actress Oscar, or tie with Cate because she was good too. "Gravity" is truly something new. Part art house film. Part survival story. Part blockbuster. a real boundary pusher in film making technique. "Gravity" gives us a reason to go to a theater to truly enjoy it. A reason to go to the movies in a way 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle simply do not.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMN

Henry - I disagree. It's hard to watch as it should be. Patsey's whipping was unbearable for me. I almost left the theatre. McQueen never cuts and I respect his artistic decision because there's a purpose in that. Nothing to do with the violence you see in blockbusters and certain TV.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I wouldn't mind either winning picture or Cuaron or McQueen winning director. I find both of their visions and directorial eye incredibly interesting and unique. Either being rewarded a good thing for the industry.

I think both will age fine. I heavily favor 12 Years a Slave but acting like all CGI ages poorly is a bit much. Titanic and T2 still look great.

I get the laments over how the word of mouth for 12 Years a Slave was mishandled. Not just the 'brutality' constantly coming up (More than Schindler's List?) but also reviews like David Denby calling it a 'definitive film about slavery' when even McQueen called it a unique slave narrative in the realm of The Diary of Anne Frank.

But anyway, maybe the fact 2 October releases still being strong, top Best Picture contenders will lead studios to second-guess crowding December theaters.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

"A reason to go to the movies in a way 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle simply do not."

You have no idea how many people I know saw Gravity in 2D and the stories that Gravity was seen on screeners. It's 3D is astounding and so part of the experience I honestly feel bad for people who think those other avenues are their best choices.

And I don't know, the 'Roll, Jordan, Roll' section from beginning to end is something that I feel like was one of the most powerful things I have seen on the big screen last year. McQueen and Bobbitt knew how to film that and make the choices that made it a fitting big screen experience.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Picture: It's Gravity vs 12 Years a Slave vs American Hustle. Any of them 3 can win, I'd say they have almost exactly the same chances.

Director: Cuaron almost has it in the bag. Little chance that he can lose to Russell or McQueen,but always with the condition that the winner takes BP, too. Cuaron does not need to win BP to win Director.

Actress: I don't think Cate has it, at all. I think it's a Cate vs. Adams kitty fight for the final win, with Cate a bit advanced. Bullock can still win, if the Gravity sweep is total, even if it just looks like a longshot now.

Actor. I think Leo is taking this one, finally. McConaughey is close second, and Eijofor, Dern and Bale still have their shots, specially Dern, now that the Redford factor ain't around.

Supp. Actress: Lupita is winning this one. There's chance they are all over J-Law and give her back to back Oscars, too. But with 12 Years a Slave being in huge danger of becoming another "The Color Purple" affair... it also helps her, Oprah was snubbed. If there's a shocker this year on any cathegory, I would be betting it's Julia Roberts winning her second... I think she's third in the race and with a real chance, basically 'cause it's long enough since her win...

Supp. Actor: Leto. Game, set and match. There's slight chance they may go for Fassbender or Cooper, though. Hill and Abdi, still can shock but their chances are sooo tiny...

Right now I would predict: 12 Years a Slave - Cuaron - Blanchett - di Caprio - Nyong'o - Leto

But I am really tempted of saying American Hustle - David O. Russell - Adams - Dern - Lawrence - Cooper.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

I still think BAFTA will be the best indicator here. I think you're looking too much into Cuaron's DGA win. I do think it helps, especially since it won the PGA, but 12 Years also did and American Hustle is still going strong. I think what's going against Gravity is it's small and poorly written script. The film may be visually epic, but will Oscar voters really honor such a small story? I hope not, but the Academy makes mistakes a lot. But I do think we could have Gravity and 12 Years cancel each other out, making A.H the winner. If voters think 12 Years is too hard to watch and Gravity too Sci-Fi (And too underwritten), American Hustle will trimph because it's a movie I think voters will like overall much more then the other two. It's definitely not perfect, but on paper, it has a lot less problems with it's winning scenario then both 12 Years and Gravity have.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Gravity being sci-fi is a little bit of a misnomer. When Cuaron spoke, he cited a Steven Spielberg film, Duel, as an inspiration. To me it fits more of the horror genre. Very structural and by design about being chased by a 'monster' but based in a lot of possibility. It's a fictional story in space, but a survival story. Her is a better case for sci-fi than Gravity. I say this liking Gravity.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I'm pro 12 Years but definitely not anti Gravity. While I had my issues with Gravity, it was groundbreaking in many ways and absolutely thrilling. I would have no problem with any of the Big 3 winning actually.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I LOL when people bring up the physicality of Sandy's role to justify it being Oscar-worthy. I think she is competing against Jillian Michaels in that category?

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBD

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