Predicting the 2011 DGA nominees

Posted by · 11:43 am · January 5th, 2012

On Monday, the most important precursor announcement of them all drops: the Directors Guild of America offers up its list of nominees for excellence in directing.

Except it isn’t really about “excellence in directing” for this crowd. It really never has been. It’s a chance for the organization to speak up on its picks for the “Best Picture” of the year.

There have been happy aberrations along the way, like Cameron Crowe getting recognized for “Almost Famous” or Christopher Nolan getting a surprising tip of the hat for “Memento.” But while the group has dipped into “lone director” territory before (Mike Figgis, Ridley Scott), largely this has been about picking the five top films of the year, which often go on to be the eventual Best Picture nominees with the Academy. So the question is, why has the DGA’s announcement so often been a reliable indicator of where the Academy will go with Best Picture?

The reason is the DGA is one of the only voting bodies thinking in these terms with a vast membership. The Academy is verging on 6,000 members. The DGA sports over 11,000. The PGA is up there in numbers, too, but only as of late, following the absorption of the Associate Producers Guild and other moves to inflate the number of people who decide its nominees. (Would you believe it was once a tiny committee that decided?)

So, with that in mind, if there are five films you think this race would be whittled down to in a typical year, predicting those five directors isn’t a bad way to go. That’s what I’ve done below, but there are other possibilities.

Woody Allen, it seems to me, is a possible spoiler here. “Midnight in Paris” has done well with the industry thus far and has a strong wind in its sails. Also just on the outside of my bets is Bennett Miller, nominated in 2005 for “Capote” and a handsome choice this year for “Moneyball.”

Some may say Terrence Malick is a good bet, but I don’t feel confidant about that at all. It’s rare that a group this large will boil things down to something that has such a potent but marginalized core of passion. The Academy’s directors branch, which has less than 400 members, is typically more likely to stray outside of consensus and nominate someone like David Lynch, Mike Leigh or, indeed, Malick.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” showed up surprisingly in this week’s PGA announcement and again earlier today in the WGA nominations. But David Fincher riding residual respect from “The Social Network” to another DGA nod this year would be a surprise. Not that I’m counting it out.

A happy surprise, though, would be Nicolas Winding Refn, but in addition to the commentary above vis a vis Malick, we’re just not seeing that the industry is as welcoming of “Drive” as the critics have been. Ditto Tomas Alfredson and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”

And finally, Stephen Daldry seems to have taken a hike along with his film, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” which hasn’t gotten a foothold at all this season.

So with all that in mind, these are my predictions for this year’s DGA nominees:

Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”

Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”

Tate Taylor, “The Help”

Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Steven Spielberg, “War Horse”

Taylor may be the weak spot. But I think, again, this is where we see a vast organization boil things down to a consensus, and “The Help” is certainly part of the industry’s consensus this year.

Feel free to rattle off your own predictions in the comments section below.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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