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DGA Awards vs. Academy Awards: Foreign, Small, Controversial Movies Have Better Luck at the Oscars

Maria Schneider, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in ParisThe DGA Awards vs. the Academy Awards: Usually But Not Always a Match. [Photo: Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris.]

Since 1970, when the DGA instituted the five-nominee limit, a mere ten directors of (at least mostly) non-English-language films have received DGA nods: Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1976), Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, 1982), Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander, 1983), Lasse Hallström (My Life As a Dog, 1987), Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, 1990), Michael Radford (Il Postino / The Postman, 1995), Robert Benigni (Life Is Beautiful, 1998), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, 2000), Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 2009).

The above list can be expanded to twelve if you include Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango in Paris, which has a sizable amount of English dialogue, and Michel Hazanavicius' French-made but Hollywood-set The Artist.

During that same period (excepting 2011, as Oscar nominations will be announced only later this month), 21 directors of non-English-language films received Academy Award nominations. (Twenty-two if you include Bertolucci and his Last Tango.)

Additionally, directors of English-language -- but non-American -- films tend to be better liked by Academy members as well. Paul Greengrass (United 93, UK), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Canada), Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty, UK), Ken Russell (Women in Love, UK), Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father, UK/Ireland), John Boorman (Hope and Glory, UK), Chris Noonan (Babe, Australia), Peter Yates (The Dresser, UK), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet, UK), David Lean (Summertime, UK), Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Brazil), and Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, UK), among others, were left out of the DGA shortlists but went on to receive Academy Award nominations.

Cult or "niche" faves like John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence, 1974), David Lynch (Blue Velvet in 1986, Mulholland Dr. in 2001), Robert Altman (Short Cuts in 1993, Gosford Park in 2001), and Woody Allen (Interiors in 1978, Broadway Danny Rose in 1984, Bullets Over Broadway in 1994) are also better liked by the Academy's Directors Branch (all of the aforementioned movies were nominated) than by the Directors Guild (none of the aforementioned movies was nominated).

The same can be said about controversial box office disappointments or modest performers like The Last Temptation of Christ (an Oscar nod for Martin Scorsese in 1988), The People vs. Larry Flynt (Milos Forman in 1996), Vera Drake (Mike Leigh in 2004), and The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008), none of which was to be found in the DGA's list of nominees.

On the other hand, DGA members are big fans of Steven Spielberg, who has garnered 10 nominations (versus six Best Director Oscar nods), including three wins (versus two Oscar wins).

That said, there have been a few instances when DGA members went for a less commercial name while the Academy's Director's branch opted for the big box office guy. The most egregious example is probably the Academy's 1971 Best Director nod for Norman Jewison for his blockbuster musical Fiddler on the Roof, while the DGA nominated Robert Mulligan for his small-scale, coming-of-age romantic drama Summer of '42.

In an even stranger twist, Directors Branch fave Woody Allen (six nominations, including one win) was somehow left out of the 1979 Oscar shortlist even though he did receive a DGA nod for Manhattan -- regarded as one of his greatest films.

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