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Surely coming as a surprise to precious few, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuarón has just won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) prize for theatrical motion pictures. He beat out fellow Oscar nominees Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street") and David O. Russell ("American Hustle"), as well as "Captain Phillips" helmer Paul Greengrass to land his first such honor from the guild.
The award comes nearly a week after "Gravity" shared the producers guild prize with "12 Years a Slave" in a historic tie that underscored how competitive this year's Oscar race truly is. With the DGA and PGA prizes, Cuarón's film is now the de facto frontrunner for the Academy's Best Picture award, but that view isn't universally held as many continue to predict a split between the Best Picture and Best Director prizes at the Oscars.
In Movie City News' most recently updated Gurus o' Gold collective, only two pundits — myself and our own Gregory Ellwood — have "Gravity" ear-marked for the big prize. All but one pundit, however, is betting on Cuarón to win Best Director. No one is likely to be moved, then, by tonight's news, and indeed, as I noted in my Off the Carpet column last week, a "Gravity" win tonight probably wasn't going to move the needle much anyway. Had Cuarón lost, well, then there would have been something to chew on.
A brief history of Best Picture/Best Director splits at the Oscars…
2012: "Argo"/Ang Lee — Ben Affleck was not nominated. A split was necessitated.
2005: "Crash"/Ang Lee — Obviously a close year with animus in the water toward "Brokeback Mountain." "Gravity" has no such baggage.
2002: "Chicago"/Roman Polanski — Clearly "The Pianist" was gaining steam given its other wins that night, but the musical was the broader play, and Rob Marshall, unlike Alfonso Cuarón, was fresh on the scene.
2000: "Gladiator"/Steven Soderbergh — Like "The Pianist," clearly "Traffic" was gaining ground in a race nearly as competitive as this year's (three different films split PGA, DGA and SAG honors). "Gladiator" was the broader play, and curiously enough, I don't even recall Ridley Scott being considered a serious contender for the Oscar win.
1998: "Shakespeare in Love"/Steven Spielberg — An advertising melee in phase two with Miramax spending buckets. Maybe we'll see something similar this year with Fox Searchlight and Warner Bros. throwing money around like Skittles.
1989: "Driving Miss Daisy"/Oliver Stone — Bruce Beresford was not nominated (nor for DGA). A split was necessitated.
That brings us to the beginning of the PGA Awards' existence and it seems fair to bookend it with the two films to win Best Picture in recent history without a corresponding Best Director nomination. So those two years don't compute. We're really looking at four times of consequence over a 24-year stretch. Rob Marshall, meanwhile, won the DGA prize in 2002.
So the only real points of consideration, if indeed "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" are to split the two top Academy honors, are "Crash," "Gladiator" and "Shakespeare in Love." And even that history is somewhat skewed, given the use of the preferential ballot today. The PGA/DGA combo has predicted the winner in each of the four years that voting scheme has been implemented. "Gravity" has both. "12 Years" has one.
With that glimpse at my scattered logic out of the way, there were a few other awards given out tonight that obviously should be mentioned. Jehane Noujaim won the documentary prize for Oscar nominee "The Square." The film also won the International Documentary Association award and is stiff competition in the Academy race (and also makes for an interesting companion to short documentary nominee "Karama Has No Walls"). TV awards, meanwhile, went to the series finales of "30 Rock" and "Breaking Bad," directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller and Vince Gilligan respectively.
And Steven Soderbergh ended up walking away with two prizes, one for directing the HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra," the other a surprise Robert B. Aldrich Award presentation by Paris Barclay, Michael Apted and Taylor Hackford. Lee Blaine, Vincent DeDario and Shonda Rhimes & Betsy Beers rounded out the honorary awards.
Check out the full list of DGA winners below and remember to keep track of the season via The Circuit.
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film
Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary
Jehane Noujaim, "The Square"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries
Steven Soderbergh, "Behind the Candelabra"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series
Vince Gilligan, "Breaking Bad" - "Felina"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series
Beth McCarthy-Miller, "30 Rock" - "Hogcock!/Last Lunch"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Regularly Scheduled Programming
Don Roy King, "Saturday Night Live with Host Justin Timberlake"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials
Glenn Weiss, "The 67th annual Tony Awards"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs
Neil P. DeGroot, "72 Hours" - "The Lost Coast"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs
Amy Schatz, "An Apology to Elephants"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials
Martin de Thurah, Epoch Films
"The Man Who Couldn't Slow Down," Hennessy VS - Droga5
"Human Race," Acura MDX 2014 - Mullen
Robert B. Aldrich Award
Frank Capra Achievement Award
Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award
Shonda Rhimes & Betsy Beers
Everything: Academy Awards
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