DGA Awards Could Predict Oscar Best Director Winner

After a tumultuous year marked by Hollywood labor strife and cutbacks at major studios, the Directors Guild of America will celebrate helmers, including Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan, at its 76th annual DGA Awards on Feb.10.

Gerwig and Nolan, the filmmakers behind last summer’s blockbusters “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” are nominated for the top trophy alongside Martin Scorsese for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Yorgos Lanthimos for “Poor Things” and Alexander Payne for “The Holdovers.” Directors for popular shows such as “Succession” and “The Bear” were among those nominated for DGA trophies this year. Awards will also be given to documentary film, variety show and commercial directors at the ceremony, which will again be hosted by Judd Apatow this year.

Unlike sister guilds the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the DGA renewed its contract with the AMPTP last year without going on strike. But its members were undeniably affected by the labor stoppage that upended Hollywood for much of 2023.

“It has been a tough year, and people have come to the other side of it,” says Beth McCarthy Miller, DGA Awards Chair. “I think everybody is really looking forward to being in a room together and celebrating each other’s good work and looking forward to the future.”

Considered an important precursor to the Oscars, the DGA Awards has historically been a reliable barometer for the Academy Awards’ best directing prize. Only eight DGA winners have failed to walk away with the little gold man, most recently Sam Mendes (“1917”), who lost to Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”) in 2020.

If Gerwig wins the DGA trophy for directing the critically praised blockbuster “Barbie,” she will automatically become the ninth DGA feature category winner without a companion Oscar trophy for directing the same movie since the Academy did not nominate her in that category.

Guild voters have shown a willingness to award their top trophy to female directors of late. The DGA’s voting body of 19,000 members awarded Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) with the feature film prize in two consecutive years before honoring Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for their work on “Everything Everywhere All at Once” last year.

“The DGA has made a huge effort in the past several years to really promote the idea of women and minorities and everyone getting a chance to work and show their talent,” says Miller.

While the union has taken steps to be more inclusive in recent years, a 2023 report from the DGA indicates parity still lags in film directing. The report found that women directed only 16% of the films released since 2018, while non-white directors accounted for just 17%. Meanwhile, the total number of DGA-covered theatrical releases fell from 292 in 2018 to 162 in 2022, which the union said has affected the opportunity for hiring diversity.

The good news is that four female directors have been nominated for the DGA’s Michael Apted Award for first-time theatrical feature film directors. Established in 2016, the award shines a spotlight on directorial talent that may be overlooked by the Hollywood establishment, recognizing smaller, more intimate films and a variety of genres.

Nominees in the category are Cord Jefferson for the literary satire “American Fiction,” Manuela Martelli for the political thriller “Chile ’76,” Noora Niasari for her semi-autobiographical “Shayda,” A.V. Rockwell for the New York City-set “A Thousand and One” and Celine Song for “Past Lives.”

This year’s four female nominees join the 11 women previously nominated for first-time director: Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”), Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”), Regina King (“One Night in Miami”), Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”), Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”), Mati Diop (“Atlantics”), Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”), Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”), Rebecca Hall (“Passing”), Tatiana Huezo (“Prayers for the Stolen”) and Emma Seligman (“Shiva Baby”).

“It’s important to include first-time directors because I think it’s an incredible feat to direct your first feature,” says Miller. “Sometimes you don’t get as much recognition because you are not necessarily a named or noted director. So, anytime we can shine a light on new talent, it’s a good thing.”

In its seven-year history, the first-feature award has helped newcomers get the boost needed to score an Oscar nomination in the best director category. Case in point: Jordan Peele, who took home the DGA first-feature award for “Get Out” in 2018 and was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for best directing. (Peele ultimately won the Oscar for best original screenplay for “Get Out.”)

In all, the Directors Guild of America will hand out 11 competitive prizes during the union’s annual kudofest. Most of the trophies will go to directors nominated for their work in television. DGA Awards TV categories include dramatic series; comedy series; movies for television and limited series; variety/talk/news/sports — regularly scheduled programming; variety/talk/news/sports — specials; reality program, as well as for children’s programs, commercials and documentary.

This year, voters made it clear just how much they enjoyed the fourth and final season of “Succession.” The show led the television nominations, taking four spots in the drama series category.

“It’s exciting that in their last year, they are being recognized so much, and not only at our awards but at all the other awards shows, too,” says Miller of the HBO show, which just won six Emmys at the delayed ceremony last month.

In the comedy category, “The Bear” and “Ted Lasso” each took two slots, while “Lessons in Chemistry” nabbed three of the five TV movie/limited nominations.

Meanwhile, two Oscar-nominated documentaries — “Bobi Wine: The People’s President” and “20 Days in Mariupol,” garnered nods in the documentary category.

Veteran TV director David Nutter, assistant director Janet Knudsen and stage manager Gary Natoli are the recipients of special honors. Nutter (“Game of Thrones,” “Band of Brothers”) will receive the kudofest’s lifetime achievement award for distinguished achievement in directing. Nutter is only the sixth director to receive the recognition, following James Burrows, Robert Butler, Joe Pytka, Don Mischer and Robert A. Fishman. Nutter has directed 24 pilots, and an unprecedented 21 have been picked up for series.

“To honor David in this special way was a no-brainer,” says Miller. “What he has brought to directing and to the television industry is incredible and certainly worth honoring.

Knutsen and Natoli, meanwhile, will be bestowed the Frank Capra Achievement Award and the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, respectively.

76th DGA Awards
WHEN: Feb. 10
WHERE: Beverly Hills
WEB: dga.org

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