DGA winner could get edge in tight Oscar race

JESSICA HERNDON AP Film Writer Published:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Stars like Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, who are presenting awards, arrived at the Directors Guild of America Awards Saturday night.

The awards could push Bullock's "Gravity," ''American Hustle" or "12 Years a Slave" into the Oscar forefront as the films have emerged in a close three-way tie over the past few weeks.

The tight race between Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell and Steve McQueen, "means that I am going to be sharing time with them quite a lot and that's fun!" said Cuaron on the carpet before the 66th Annual DGA awards, held tonight in Los Angeles. "It has been a great celebration with your peers."

Summing up the last few months, McQueen said awards season has been, "Intense, pleasurable, stimulating and riveting."

With all of the shows that lead up the Academy Awards, how do the DGA awards avoid being labeled another boring fete? "Well we have Jane Lynch as our host!" said Paris Barclay, the DGA's first African-American, openly gay president.

The DGA hands out awards for best director in TV and movie categories in Los Angeles on Saturday night in what customarily is a final calling for the film that wins the best picture and director Oscars.

Coming out of the recent flurry of Hollywood honors, Cuaron's space saga "Gravity," Russell's con caper "American Hustle" and McQueen's historical epic "12 Years a Slave" all remain in competitive positions as they head for the March 2 Academy Awards.

Yet the DGA could further complicate the race by choosing still-viable nominees Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips") or Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street") for its top honor -- outstanding directorial achievement in a feature film.

But so far, the outcomes in this year's Oscar derby make that unlikely.

The cast of "American Hustle" took home the award for outstanding performance at the SAG Awards last Saturday, just a week after it gained momentum from its best comedy win at the Golden Globes. Then last Sunday, the Producers Guild of America -- a usually reliable Oscar bellwether -- produced a tie between "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" for its top prize. Meanwhile, "American Hustle" and "Gravity" tied for a leading 10 Oscar nominations on Jan. 16, with "12 Years a Slave" close behind with nine. Each was nominated for best picture.

Other nominees for this year's best picture Oscar include "Captain Phillips," ''Dallas Buyers Club," ''Her," ''Nebraska," ''Philomena" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

In the 65-year history of the DGA awards, the winner has failed to also take home the best director Oscar only seven times. Ben Affleck won the guild award last year for "Argo" but was denied a best director nomination at the Oscars. However, like many DGA winners, "Argo" went on to win the best-picture prize at the Oscars.

The DGA and Oscar feature director contenders usually match up closely and this year is no exception, other than for Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," which received an Oscar bid, but was denied a DGA nod.

This year marks the first DGA nomination for McQueen and if he wins for "12 Years a Slave," he would become the first black director to earn the guild's feature film accolade.

"My parents told me that if you are going to be black you are going to have to be a little bit better, and Steve McQueen has shown that and has exceeded what so many filmmakers have tried to do, which is tell a story well," said Barclay before the show.

Cuaron and Greengrass are also first-time DGA nominees.

Other than the Writer's Guild Awards on Feb. 1, there are no major awards before the Oscars. Hollywood's high season goes quiet for a few weeks as several thousand members of the motion picture academy have the last word with their balloting.

Saturday night's untelevised DGA awards will be hosted by Jane Lynch. Presenters will include Bullock, Hanks, Affleck, Don Cheadle, Kerry Washington, Anna Kendrick, Steve Coogan and Bill Hader.

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Online: http://www.dga.org/awards/annual.aspx