James CameronThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picked the wrong year to double the number of Best Picture Oscar nominees. For weeks, it has been apparent that there are only five 2009 movies in contention, and perhaps as few as six that deserve to be. But the nominations announced today by the Directors Guild of America remove any lingering doubt about the Oscars race.

The DGA's nominees for Best Directorial Achievement in Feature Films for 2009 are the directors of the five movies that have dominated the Oscar conversation: James Cameron for 'Avatar,' 'Jason Reitman for 'Up in the Air,' Kathryn Bigelow for 'The Hurt Locker,' Quentin Tarantino for 'Inglourious Basterds,' and Lee Daniels for 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.' I had hoped that Clint Eastwood would take Lee Daniels' spot on the DGA ballot -- both films have powerful themes about racial issues, and Eastwood's 'Invictus' is a vastly more assured piece of work -- and he may yet do that on the Oscar ballot. James CameronThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picked the wrong year to double the number of Best Picture Oscar nominees. For weeks, it has been apparent that there are only five 2009 movies in contention, and perhaps as few as six that deserve to be. But the nominations announced today by the Directors Guild of America remove any lingering doubt about the Oscars race.

The DGA's nominees for Best Directorial Achievement in Feature Films for 2009 are the directors of the five movies that have dominated the Oscar conversation: James Cameron for 'Avatar,' 'Jason Reitman for 'Up in the Air,' Kathryn Bigelow for 'The Hurt Locker,' Quentin Tarantino for 'Inglourious Basterds,' and Lee Daniels for 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.' I had hoped that Clint Eastwood would take Lee Daniels' spot on the DGA ballot -- both films have powerful themes about racial issues, and Eastwood's 'Invictus' is a vastly more assured piece of work -- and he may yet do that on the Oscar ballot.

The DGA is a huge organization whose members include not only movie directors but also directors and assistant directors of all types of television shows, commercials, stage productions, plus location managers and various other technical crafts people. Film is not necessarily their first language, and a large percentage of them work out of New York, where 'Precious' has had its greatest impact.

But it won't make much difference if Eastwood were to displace Daniels on Oscar's Best Director ballot. Neither one is going to win. For Eastwood to snatch a third Best Director Oscar, he'd have to buck the toughest odds in the game. Only six times since the DGA introduced its award in 1949 has the eventual winner not gone on to win the Oscar, as well. And never has a director overcome a shutout on the DGA ballot to win the Academy Award.

In any case, it is now clear that 'Avatar,' 'Up in the Air,' 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Inglourious Basterds' are the only four movies you have to worry about for your office Oscar pool. The other six Best Picture nominees, whatever they turn out to be when Oscar nominations are announced Feb. 2, will be guaranteed good seats for their producers at the March 7 finale, but they won't have to prepare acceptance speeches "just in case."

The DGA is really the last significant barometer for the Oscars. We've already heard from the Screen Actors Guild, and on Monday, we'll hear from the Writers Guild. But the writers' nominations won't give us a clear picture of how even writers feel about the scripts from 2009. Because the authors of such should-be contenders as 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'An Education,' 'A Single Man,' and 'The Road' are not members of the guild, their work is ineligible.

Technically, the DGA also ignores the work of non-members, or of films not covered by guild agreements, except that it often ignores its own rule. It has now done that twice for non-member Tarantino, a previous DGA nominee for 'Pulp Fiction.'
CATEGORIES Oscars