As all Oscarologists know, the movie that wins best picture usually wins best director too, and the recipient of that prize is usually the same person who claims the top honor from the Directors Guild of America.
At this point in the derby, we don't have an obvious DGA front-runner. "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" has major Oscar buzz for best picture, but it's unlikely that DGA members will consider it a spectacular directorial achievement. Lee Daniels may be nominated for his impressive dramatic achievement on celluloid, yes, but guild members usually look for more production dazzle.
Given his high Cool Factor and the critical and commercial success ($120 million U.S.; $300 million worldwide) of "Inglourious Basterds," it's likely that Quentin Tarantino will nab a bid on Jan. 7. How can guild members resist voting for the Hollywood hipster — who's never won DGA — when rivals are likely to be refried beans like Clint Eastwood ("Invictus") and Peter Jackson ("The Lovely Bones")? Rob Marshall won DGA for "Chicago" (he lost the Oscar to Roman Polanski for "The Pianist"), but buzz for "Nine" seems to be quieting a bit. Jason Reitman wasn't nominated by DGA for "Juno," but he might finally prevail with a bid, maybe even a win, if "Up in the Air" gets serious best picture momentum. It will be nominated at the Oscars, but can it win? Hmmm. Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") might be nommed at DGA, but women rarely triumph at these ole boys' clubs.
Therefore, by process of elimination, it looks like Tarantino is the likely front-runner, which means "Inglourious Basterds" is probably ahead for the top Oscars too. DGA will have hiked influence over the Oscars this year since there's a major gap — five weeks — between the kudos this year. DGA will be bestowed Jan. 30, the Oscars on March 7. That's all the more time for the DGA victory to impact the Academy Awards, where "Basterds" will probably score at least seven or eight nominations: best picture, director, screenplay, supporting actor (Christoph Waltz), art direction, costumes, cinematography, maybe film editing. Read more about the strong shot "Basterds" has at the Oscars here.
My spies tell me that members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association really, really love "Basterds," so expect it to score lots of major Golden Globe nominations. If many late-2009 releases stumble in the best picture race, as I think they will, "Basterds" could even win best drama picture at the Globes. If that doesn't trigger its Oscar push, then DGA will. Sometimes films get overlooked by other, early kudos and get launched Oscar bound by the directors' guild. A notable example is "Midnight Cowboy."
Photo: Weinstein Co.