Just when the Academy had made the awards race through the January phase pretty much irrelevant, the Guilds strike back and do something nutty to pique our interest again. Most of the prognosticators had basically resigned themselves that we were going to get seven, maybe even eight nominees for Best Picture this year after new Academy rules decided that ten was no longer a certainty. The Artist, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, Hugo and The Help would probably be your five nominees if the year was 2008. Add in War Horse and Moneyball with a potential Tree of Life wild card and you had a race that held more interest in precisely how many films would get nominated than what actually was. That may have changed on Monday as the Directors Guild finished up the very telling trifecta (along with the Writers & Producers Guilds) that has stirred things up.
PGA + WGA = BRIDESMAIDS?
Flashback a bit to last week when we just had the PGA & WGA nominations in. A total of 7 films this year received nods in both. Since 2001, 38-of-45 films having at least those two Guilds in their pocket went on to be nominated for Best Picture. That includes 11-of-13 films in the 10-Picture era. Of those 45, only 9 did not go on to complete the trifecta with the Directors' Guild, and of those nine only four got the chance at Best Pic -- three of which were just last year (127 Hours, True Grit, The Kids Are All Right). Though The Artist was disqualified from WGA contention, it did nothing to suggest that it was still not the frontrunner to win it all, even if the backlash campaign has begun courtesy of Kim Novak invoking the term "rape" to describe its brief use of Vertigo's signature theme.
Where everyone's head did perk up a bit is seeing Bridesmaids as one of the seven contenders for both. While also a boost for Moneyball's chances, most of us still were not taking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seriously. How could we with no guarantee of ten nominations? Then again, how could we do the same with Bridesmaids then? Maybe because part of us would love to see a great comedy actually nominated for Best Picture. Not a dramatic film with comedic undertones or a comedic film with dramatic overtones, but a true blue comedy. Up to its PGA & WGA nominations, Bridesmaids had received a Best Picture nod from the Golden Globes Comedy division, which is never a sure sign even if it is joined by The Artist and Midnight In Paris this year. It also received one of the five Screen Actors Guild ensemble awards. Also not a lock all by itself.
However, while it is interesting that Bridesmaids is following the same trajectory that 2010 Best Picture nominee The Kids Are All Right, did, it is more interesting when you look another statistic. Since 2003, 24 films have been nominated by the PGA, WGA and SAG ensemble. Every single one of them was nominated for Best Picture. This year, that translates to The Descendants, The Help, Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids.
IS THE TREE OF LIFE BURNED?
It is the question being asked by nervous critics and Malick worshippers across the country after his latest was shut out completely by PGA, WGA & DGA. Only the directors nominated him back in 1998 for The Thin Red Line and it was still good for a Top Five slot. While obviously hundreds of films are shut out every year by the three guilds, there is still an interesting pattern that has been set. In four of the last five years, at least one film has received a Best Picture chance without the support of those guilds - Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), Atonement (2007), The Reader (2008) and Winter's Bone (2010). In fact, The Tree of Life is following the pattern set by Debra Granik's film last year and still ranks on a list of ten nominees. If only we knew if there would be ten nominees.
WHAT DID THE DIRECTORS GUILD DO NOW?
You have waited long enough to find out. But those of you closely watching each and every nominee this year already know what they did, if not the full implications of it. While it was no surprise that Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo) or Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) got in, no one was seriously expecting David Fincher to make the cut for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Maybe if they had ten nominees. But they still only have five just like the Oscars. With the exception of The Artist, that puts Fincher's film amongst the other three as the four films to get nods across the board from PGA, WGA and DGA. How serious is that? Keeping with our ten-year model, 34-of-36 films since 2001 received a Best Picture nomination after that. There were four films in 2010 and four films in 2009 with that same match. All Best Picture nominees. Only The Dark Knight and The Diving Bell & The Butterfly got shafted.
Six of the last nine years, the Directors' Guild nominees were a perfect 5-for-5 in receiving a shot at Best Picture, including the increased odds of the past two years. Fincher taking the spot many believed was going to Steven Spielberg may not have completely hurt War Horse's chances for a nomination, but may have knocked him out of the race for good. Every one of the six nods for Best Director that Spielberg has received was preceded by a DGA nomination.
The Artist, Bridesmaids, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Those are the ten films in contention right now. Period. Write it down. Underline it. The Tree of Life has better odds than fellow shut-outs Drive and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The Ides of March does not have as much precursor support as War Horse, which is roughly in line with two other films since 2001 - Shrek and Walk The Line - the former a film under a Spielberg studio banner that stole the first Best Animated Feature Oscar away from Disney/Pixar and the latter a film many felt nudged out of the fifth Best Picture slot in 2005 by Munich. With War Horse potentially being shut out for Director, quite possibly for writing and most definitely for acting, you would have to go back to 2002 and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to find a Best Picture nominee without a nomination in any of those categories. And even that got a DGA nod for Peter Jackson.
If there were 10 nominees this year, you could all but ink them in. Though now the question must be asked: Is only seven or eight nominations just being pessimistic at this point? Here is the kicker, though, in relation to Fincher's nomination: In the modern awards era that we live in, where we look at all the guilds, big cities (NY, LA, Chicago) and TV award shows with questionable motives (BFCA & Golden Globes), no film has EVER received the PGA/WGA/DGA trifecta without getting a single nomination for Best Picture (or the SAG Ensemble) from any of the other majors. Never. Happened.
CURRENT BEST PICTURE RANKINGS
1. The Artist
2. The Descendants
3. Midnight in Paris
5. The Help
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
9. War Horse
10. The Tree of Life