James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow
There is a definite eX factor going into Saturday night's Director Guild of America awards in Los Angeles. Though five people have been nominated for the DGA's award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, only two of them -- James Cameron ('Avatar') and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow ('The Hurt Locker') -- appear to be in contention for it.

As an example of this assumption, my friend Tom O'Neil, who runs The Envelope awards website for the Los Angeles Times, polled more than two dozen Oscar experts/observers on who we thought would win the DGA, and all of the votes went to one or the other. The final tally: Bigelow 19, Cameron 8. (You can see the poll here).

The other nominees -- Quentin Tarantino ('Inglourious Basterds'), Jason Reitman ('Up in the Air') and Lee Daniels ('Precious') -- can be forgiven for blowing giant raspberries in the direction of that highly unscientific sample, but odds are they'd lose if they put a bet down on themselves. All indicators point to Cameron, the Golden Globe winner, and Bigelow, whose film just won the Producers Guild's big award. James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow
There is a definite eX factor going into Saturday night's Director Guild of America awards in Los Angeles. Though five people have been nominated for the DGA's award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, only two of them -- James Cameron ('Avatar') and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow ('The Hurt Locker') -- appear to be in contention for it.

As an example of this assumption, my friend Tom O'Neil, who runs The Envelope awards website for the Los Angeles Times, polled more than two dozen Oscar experts/observers on who we thought would win the DGA, and all of the votes went to one or the other. The final tally: Bigelow 19, Cameron 8. (You can see the poll here).

The other nominees -- Quentin Tarantino ('Inglourious Basterds'), Jason Reitman ('Up in the Air') and Lee Daniels ('Precious') -- can be forgiven for blowing giant raspberries in the direction of that highly unscientific sample, but odds are they'd lose if they put a bet down on themselves. All indicators point to Cameron, the Golden Globe winner, and Bigelow, whose film just won the Producers Guild's big award.

One wonders if their differing tastes in movies was one of the issues that ended their brief (1989-91) marriage. They both like action in their movies, but that's about it. Cameron makes big, expensive pictures that are heavily dependent on technological innovations for which he is often the chief innovator. And except for 'Titanic,' his 1998 multiple Oscar winner, his films (among them: two 'Terminators,' 'The Abyss' and 'Aliens') have had almost no relationship to reality.

Bigelow has taken some trips on the wild side herself, with a couple of supernatural thrillers ('Near Dark,' 'Strange Days'). But she worked with a relatively small canvas, choosing to focus more on characters than special effects, and 'The Hurt Locker' is about as straightforward realism as you can get. It's a tight, tense thriller about an Army bomb detection squad in Iraq and it cost just $11 million to make.

'Avatar's' production budget would have covered the Louisiana Purchase, adjusted for inflation; and Cameron could probably buy French Guiana right now with his share of 'Avatar's' $1.8 billion-and-counting worldwide box office. Meanwhile, 'The Hurt Locker' is trying to make up in DVD sales what it failed to make in ticket sales. Its worldwide theatrical gross stands at a paltry $16.1 million.

But between Bigelow and Cameron, the former was by far the choice of movie critics. She received 18 best director awards from critics groups around the country, compared to Cameron's grand total of none. (The Golden Globe is presented by foreign entertainment writers, not critics.) Few critics would begrudge Cameron his financial windfall from 'Avatar,' but directing is a verb -- and when it comes to what a director does day-by-day on a movie, 'The Hurt Locker' shows the surest hand.

The DGA -- and its counterpart in the small writers' branch of the Academy -- has every reason to honor Bigelow, and no reason not to. A victory for her would be a first for both organizations. They have each nominated four women in the past, for the same four movies (Barbra Streisand for "The Prince of Tides,' Sofia Coppola for 'Lost in Translation,' Jane Campion for 'The Piano,' and Lina Wertmuller for 'Seven Beauties'), but no woman has won.

The voters in both groups have never had a better chance to end their dubious streaks. 'The Hurt Locker' doesn't figure to win the Oscar for Best Picture -- those movie people can't be expected to ignore a picture that promises to revolutionize and enrich their industry -- but no one will be able to accuse them of patronizing women by giving Bigelow the directing award. She deserves it; even Cameron has acknowledged that.

While we await the decision of the DGA, here are some fun facts about the history of its award:

Only six times since the first DGA award was given to Joseph Mankiewicz for the 1948 'A Letter to Three Wives' has the DGA winner failed to win the Oscar for Best Directing, as well.

--In 1968, Anthony Harvey won the DGA for 'The Lion in Winter,' but lost the Oscar to Carol Reed ('Oliver').
--In 1972, Francis Coppola won the DGA for 'The Godfather,' and the Oscar went to 'Cabaret's' Bob Fosse.
--In 1985, Steven Spielberg ('The Color Purple') won the DGA award after being left off the Oscar ballot for Best Director.
--In 1995, Ron Howard ('Apollo 13') duplicated Spielberg's feat of winning the DGA without receiving an Oscar nomination. '
--In 2000, Ang Lee won the DGA for 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' while the Oscar went to Steven Soderbergh for 'Traffic.'
--In 2002, Rob Marshall won the DGA for the musical 'Chicago' while Oscar voters honored Roman Polanksi for the Holocaust drama 'The Pianist.'

Only 11 of the movies directed by the DGA's 62 winners failed to win the Oscar for Best Picture:

--Though Joseph Mankiewicz paired an Oscar to the first DGA, his movie -- 'A Letter to Three Wives' -- lost the Best Picture Oscar to Robert Rossen's 'All the King's Men.'
--George Stevens won both directing honors for the 1951 'A Place in the Sun,' but saw the Best Picture Oscar go to Vincente Minnelli's 'An American in Paris,' even though Minnelli had not been nominated for Best Director.
--A year later, John Ford scored a DGA/Oscar double for his direction of 'The Quiet Man,' but Cecille B. DeMille's 'The Greatest Show on Earth' won the Best Picture Oscar. (DeMille's film was even the greatest show on the ballot.)
--In 1968, Anthony Harvey won both directing awards for 'The Lion in Winter,' but Carol Reed's 'Oliver' was the Oscar pick for Best Picture.
--Warren Beatty won the DGA award and directing Oscar for the 1981 'Reds,' but Hugh Hudson's 'Chariots of Fire' won the Best Picture Oscar.
--Spielberg's DGA award and Oscar snub for 'The Color Purple' paved the way for Sidney Pollack's 'Out of Africa' for the 1985 Best Picture Oscar.
--In 1989, Oliver Stone completed his second DGA/Oscar directing double for 'Platoon,' but could only watch when 'Driving Miss Daisy,' whose director Bruce Beresford had not been nominated for either a DGA or an Oscar, won the Big Prize.
--In 1995, DGA winner Ron Howard saw the Oscars for both Best Directing and Best Picture go to Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart.'
--Spielberg had another bad year in 1998 when, with DGA and Oscar directing awards in hand, he saw John Madden's 'Shakespeare in Love' beat 'Saving Private Ryan' out of a Best Picture Oscar.
--In 2000, the DGA winner Ang Lee lost the Oscar to 'Traffic's' Steven Soderbergh and both of them saw their movies lose to Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator.'
--Ang Lee came back in 2005 to win the DGA, plus the directing Oscar, for 'Brokeback Mountain,' but in a twist that could only be explained by a wave of homophobia among Academy voters, the Best Picture Oscar went to Paul Haggis' unremarkable 'Crash.'
CATEGORIES Oscars, Awards