You know the drill: No guild is better at predicting the winner of the Best Picture Oscar than the Directors Guild of America. For Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, the group this year has thrown its weight behind David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk), and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), and history tells us at least three, most likely four, of these directors will hear their names called when Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday. We think it’ll be four this year, and before you accuse us of wishful thinking when we say Ron Howard will be the odd-man out, let us remind you how Opie was nominated for a DGA in 1986, for Cocoon, but failed to secure an Oscar nomination. Okay, so no one really expected an Oscar nomination to follow that curious DGA acknowledgement, but let us also remember how Opie followed in Steven Spielberg’s footsteps by winning the DGA award a decade later for Apollo 13 but again falling short of an Oscar nomination. Those were merciful snubs, and though AMPAS would finally shine a light on the man for A Beautiful Mind, we’d like to think enough Oscar voters have come around to the embarrassment of that award to refuse the man a chance at another victory lap. Yes, Frost/Nixon’s show-and-tell screenplay and smugness may be up the Academy’s alley, but I can’t be the only one who feels the film has the look of something shot on Michael Douglas’s ginormous Wall Street cellphone. The Academy’s director’s branch is known for giving at least one spot here to industry outsiders, assuming you feel folks like Pedro Almodóvar and Paul Greengrass qualify as such, and though Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) fits that criterion quite nicely, so does five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, a surprise Best Director entrant a few years back for Vera Drake and whose Happy-Go-Lucky may be his best work to date. The richness of Leigh’s philosophical inquiry has ironically and tellingly flown over the heads of persons stuck on Sally Hawkins’s performance, but there’s no doubting that the popularity of the film feels as passionate as a ribald flamenco dance—something you could never say about Howard’s frosty motion picture.
Should Be Nominated: Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), José Luis Guerín (In the City of Sylvia), Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky), and André Téchiné (The Witnesses)