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DGA Awards vs. Academy Awards: Not Always a Match

Ralph Fiennes in The Reader
Ralph Fiennes in Oscar nominee (but not DGA nominee) Stephen Daldry's The Reader

In 1948, the 12-year-old Directors Guild of America (DGA), then known as the Screen Directors Guild (SDG), began handing out annual achievement awards. Three Best Director Oscar winners – Frank Capra, John Ford, and Norman Taurog – alongside George Sidney, Delmer Daves, H. Bruce Humberstone, Irving Pichel, and, ex-officio, Guild president George Marshall took part in the initial Awards Committee in the selection of the Directors Guild Award honorees. The DGA Awards' first winner was Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives, a critically acclaimed comedy-drama that would earn Mankiewicz a Best Director Academy Award the following year.

Before 1970 (awards handed out in 1971), the Guild's list of finalists consisted of a variable number of directors, almost always more than five. From 1970 on, when the Directors Guild began restricting its list of motion picture nominees to five directors per year, a DGA nod has generally translated into an Academy Award nod.

There have been, however, quite a few exceptions to this rule. In fact, to date only five times have the DGA choices exactly matched the Academy's shortlist: 1977, 1981, 1998, 2005, and 2009. (A DGA win has mostly – though not invariably – translated into an Oscar win as well; see DGA/Academy mismatched winners.)

Generally speaking, non-Hollywood and less commercial films tend to fare better with the Directors Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) than with the Guild, partly because screeners aren't allowed to be sent to DGA members (foreign and small independent films would then be less readily available for viewing), but perhaps chiefly because of the DGA's huge membership.

For comparison's sake: the DGA boasts about 14,500 members while the Academy's considerably more elitist Directors Branch has 367 (in Jan. 2012). The Guild's membership includes motion picture and television directors, first and second assistant directors, unit production managers, technical coordinators, tape associate directors, stage managers, and production associates.

All things being equal, the larger the voting body the more mundane – or more mainstream, if you wish – are the choices. That also helps to explain why the likes of Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Atom Egoyan, Pietro Germi, Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Lina Wertmüller, Louis Malle, Michelangelo Antonioni, Gillo Pontecorvo, David Lynch, François Truffaut, Jan Troell, Fernando Meirelles, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Campion, Robert Altman, Costa-Gavras, Pedro Almodóvar, and Krzysztof Kieslowski have received Best Director Oscar nods without any of them ever coming out on top. After all, every Academy member – currently about 6,000 of them – is entitled to vote for the winner in each category.

Maria Schneider, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in ParisPhoto: 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.

A Letter to Three Wives Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern
Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, A Letter to Three Wives

Since pre-1970 Directors Guild Award finalists often consisted of more than five directors, it was impossible to get an exact match for the DGA's and the Academy's lists of nominees. In the list below, the years before 1970 include DGA finalists (DGA) who didn't receive an Academy Award nod and, if applicable, those Academy Award-nominated directors (AMPAS) not found in the – usually much lengthier – DGA list. The label “DGA/AMPAS” means the directors in question received nominations for both the DGA Award and the Academy Award.

The DGA Awards vs. Academy Awards list below goes from 1948 (the DGA Awards' first year) to 1952. Follow-up posts will cover the ensuing decades. The number in parentheses next to “DGA” indicates that year's number of DGA finalists if other than five.

It should be noted that for a number of years, the DGA/AMPAS eligibility periods didn't exactly match. As a result, movies eligible for the DGA Awards one year would be eligible for the Oscars the next – or vice-versa.

For instance, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became the first DGA Award winner – for the year 1948 – for the drama A Letter to Three Wives, an early 1949 release that would earn him the Best Director Oscar for that year (at the 1950 Academy Awards ceremony). Also, Carol Reed's The Third Man was shortlisted by the DGA in 1949, but its Oscar nomination came out in 1950. Additionally, Jose Ferrer won the 1950 Best Actor Oscar for Cyrano de Bergerac, which would earn director Michael Gordon a DGA Award nomination the following year.

I should also note that Directors Guild members could vote for the Best Director Academy Award nominations until 1956. Discrepancies in the DGA/AMPAS nominations during that period, such as Oscar but not DGA nominations for John Huston (The African Queen and Moulin Rouge) and David Lean (Summertime), could be related to eligibility rules (all three aforementioned titles, for instance, were either British or Anglo-American productions – though The Third Man was shortlisted by the DGA), screening availability (both Huston films were last-minute releases), or to different methods of tabulating votes. The Academy uses the notorious preferential voting system.

Source for the DGA nominations: IMDb.


DGA (04)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives*
Howard Hawks, Red River

John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Jean Negulesco, Johnny Belinda
Laurence Olivier, Hamlet

Anatole Litvak, The Snake Pit
Fred Zinnemann, The Search

* DGA Award eligibility extended into early 1949



DGA (04)
Mark Robson, Champion
Alfred L. Werker, Lost Boundaries
Carol Reed, The Third Man*

William A. Wellman, Battleground
Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol
William Wyler, The Heiress
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives (see 1948 DGA nominees)

Robert Rossen, All the King's Men

* DGA Award eligibility extended into early 1950



DGA (04)
Vincente Minnelli, Father's Little Dividend

Carol Reed, The Third Man (see 1949 DGA nominees)
George Cukor, Born Yesterday

John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve
Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd.



DGA (12)
Michael Gordon, Cyrano de Bergerac
Henry King, David and Bathsheba
Laszlo Benedek, Death of a Salesman
Anatole Litvak, Decision Before Dawn
Richard Thorpe, The Great Caruso
Mervyn LeRoy, Quo Vadis?
George Sidney, Show Boat
Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train

John Huston, The African Queen

George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire
Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris
William Wyler, Detective Story



DGA (18)
Vincente Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful
Howard Hawks, The Big Sky
Charles Vidor, Hans Christian Andersen
Michael Curtiz, I'll See You in My Dreams
Richard Thorpe, Ivanhoe
Charles Crichton, The Lavender Hill Mob
Hugo Fregonese, My Six Convicts
Albert Lewin, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
George Cukor, Pat and Mike
Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon
George Sidney, Scaramouche
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain
Henry King, The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Elia Kazan, Viva Zapata!

John Huston, Moulin Rouge

John Ford, The Quiet Man
Cecil B. DeMille, The Greatest Show on Earth
Fred Zinnemann, High Noon
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 5 Fingers

Summertime, Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi
Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi in Oscar nominee (but not DGA nominee) David Lean's Summertime


DGA (12)
Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Above and Beyond
Walter Lang, Call Me Madam
Daniel Mann, Come Back, Little Sheba
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Julius Caesar
Henry Koster, The Robe
Jean Negulesco, Titanic
George Sidney, Young Bess

George Stevens, Shane
Charles Walters, Lili
Billy Wilder, Stalag 17
William Wyler, Roman Holiday
Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity



DGA (16)
Edward Dmytryk, The Caine Mutiny
Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder
Robert Wise, Executive Suite
Anthony Mann, The Glenn Miller Story
Samuel Fuller, Hell and High Water
Henry King, King of Khyber Rifles
Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Knock on Wood
Don Siegel, Riot in Cell Block 11
Stanley Donen, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
George Cukor, A Star Is Born
Jean Negulesco, Three Coins in the Fountain

Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront
Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window
George Seaton, The Country Girl
William A. Wellman, The High and the Mighty
Billy Wilder, Sabrina



DGA (12)
Richard Brooks, Blackboard Jungle
Mark Robson, The Bridges of Toko-Ri
John Ford, The Long Gray Line
Charles Vidor, Love Me or Leave Me
Henry Koster, A Man Called Peter
John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, Mister Roberts
Daniel Mann, The Rose Tattoo
Billy Wilder, The Seven Year Itch

David Lean, Summertime

Delbert Mann, Marty
Elia Kazan, East of Eden
Joshua Logan, Picnic
John Sturges, Bad Day at Black Rock



DGA (18)
Robert Rossen, Alexander the Great
Joshua Logan, Bus Stop
Henry King, Carousel
George Sidney, The Eddy Duchin Story
Nunnally Johnson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
Alfred Hitchcock, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Roy Rowland, Meet Me in Las Vegas
John Huston, Moby Dick
John Ford, The Searchers
Robert Wise, Somebody Up There Likes Me
Daniel Mann, The Teahouse of the August Moon
Carol Reed, Trapeze
Alfred Hitchcock, The Trouble with Harry

George Stevens, Giant
Michael Anderson, Around the World in 80 Days
Walter Lang, The King and I
King Vidor, War and Peace
William Wyler, Friendly Persuasion



DGA (17)
Leo McCarey, An Affair to Remember
Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd
Robert Mulligan, Fear Strikes Out
Stanley Donen, Funny Face
Jose Ferrer, The Great Man
John Sturges, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Fred Zinnemann, A Hatful of Rain
John Huston, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
George Cukor, Les Girls
Billy Wilder, Love in the Afternoon
Anthony Mann, Men in War
Stanley Kramer, The Pride and the Passion

David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai
Joshua Logan, Sayonara
Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men
Mark Robson, Peyton Place
Billy Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution



DGA (14)
William Wyler, The Big Country
Richard Brooks, The Brothers Karamazov
Delmer Daves, Cowboy
George Abbott and Stanley Donen, Damn Yankees!
Martin Ritt, The Long, Hot Summer
George Seaton, Teacher's Pet
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo
Richard Fleischer, The Vikings
Edward Dmytryk, The Young Lions

Vincente Minnelli, Gigi
Richard Brooks, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Stanley Kramer, The Defiant Ones
Mark Robson, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Robert Wise, I Want to Live!



DGA (13)
Otto Preminger, Anatomy of a Murder
Richard Fleischer, Compulsion
Frank Capra, A Hole in the Head
John Ford, The Horse Soldiers
Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life
Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest
Leo McCarey, Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!
Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo
Charles Barton, The Shaggy Dog

Jack Clayton, Room at the Top

William Wyler, Ben-Hur
George Stevens, The Diary of Anne Frank
Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot
Fred Zinnemann, The Nun's Story

Photo: The Reader (The Weinstein Co.)

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1 Comment to DGA Awards vs. Academy Awards: Not Always a Match

  1. Geoff Talbot

    Elia Kazan has to be one of the great directors of all time. He really understood the science of acting unlike many of today's great directors who are effects heavy and story light.