Sunday, January 31, 2010

DGA Winner = New Oscar Front-runner?

The Director's Guild of America announced its winners on Saturday night, and the feature film winner made history. Kathryn Bigelow, director of the extraordinary The Hurt Locker, became the DGA's first ever female winner. Wonderful. Well-deserved.

But it comes with potential to alter the shape of this awards season. Going into the weekend, most would have predicted James Cameron, King of Everything and director of Avatar (Bigelow's ex-husband, by the way), would walk off with the DGA prize and thus be further cemented as the odds-on favorite to win Best Director at this year's Oscar ceremony. But now, with Bigelow winning DGA, the race becomes interesting once again.

Let's look at history. The DGA has been the most accurate Oscar predictor for decades. In the last 61 years, the DGA winner and Best Director Oscar winner have corresponded all but six times -- astounding accuracy no other awards entity can come close to matching. Further history would reveal that the best predictor of the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars is he who wins (or maybe, finally, she who wins) Best Director. The Best Director and Best Picture winners have corresponded all but 12 times in the last 60 years of Oscar ceremonies (the last three of which, it may or may not matter to note, have taken place in the past decade). Put the two stats together, and you might have the makings of a momentum surge in favor of The Hurt Locker.

It is still too early to make any huge leaps in judgment, or to deviate too far from the conventional wisdom -- that the highest grossing film of all-time, both domestic and worldwide (which Avatar will be well before Oscar night), would lose Best Picture to a low-budget indie war drama that was made for roughly $11 million, never played on more than 535 screens, and only managed to haul in a little over $12 million. But the momentum has shifted. In the next few weeks, we will see how the story changes. By how much will Avatar beat Titanic? Which film will manage the best media campaign? Will people further tire of Avatar Mania? Will Oscar voters value the power of a film or the power of a film's phenomenon? Will the true passion for The Hurt Locker be enough to push it to an eventual BP -- and BD -- win?

Thanks to the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild, the next month will be much more interesting than expected.

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