David Fincher is the director of "The Social Network." (Chris Pizzello / Associated…)
The odds of a woman repeating as best director at the Oscars again this year got a lot slimmer on Monday as the Directors Guild of America announced its nominees for outstanding achievement in a feature film. The DGA nominations, very often a bellwether for the Academy Awards' best director nominees, selected five men for its shortlist: Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan and David O. Russell.
In a groundbreaking move last year, the DGA nominated — and gave its award to — Kathryn Bigelow for the gritty Iraq war film "The Hurt Locker," a move followed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Oscar ceremony, making Bigelow the first woman to win that prize in either organization's history. Two films from female directors are considered contenders for this year's Oscar best picture race — Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right" and Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" — but neither woman has been seen as a front-runner in the director's category.
Other notable directors left off the DGA list include Joel and Ethan Coen, whose "True Grit" received glowing reviews and has taken in $110 million at the U.S. box office. The two won in 2008 for "No Country for Old Men" and went on to receive both best picture and director Oscars. Danny Boyle, whose "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the awards races in 2009, was also absent from the nominations for his hiker drama "127 Hours."
Fincher, 48, and "The Social Network" — the Aaron Sorkin-penned drama about the creation of Facebook — have been making an early sweep of the awards this season and the director is largely considered the favorite to win both at the DGA and at the Oscars. He's been honored by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.
"I am very grateful to the Directors Guild of America for recognizing 'The Social Network' and extremely proud of my collaborators for their hard work and talent," Fincher said in a statement. "I'm honored to be included in a group of filmmakers I so admire."
The nomination for Nolan, 40, for "Inception," is his third. He was previously nominated for 2008's "The Dark Knight" and 2001's "Memento." In a statement, Nolan said he was "thrilled" and called the nomination "an incredible honor."
It is a first DGA feature film nomination for Aronofsky, 41, for "Black Swan," a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet; Hooper, 38, for "The King's Speech," the story of King George VI's struggle to overcome his stutter; and Russell, 52, for "The Fighter," a boxing drama.
"I am really, really grateful," Russell said by phone from his flight to New York. "You have no idea how emotional I am. I cried," he said of receiving the news. "There are a lot of great filmmakers this year and it's very humbling to be included. I feel like our film and myself are underdogs, so I was moved." Fellow nominee Aronofsky was at one point set to direct "The Fighter."
Getting the nomination from his peers for "Black Swan," said Aronofsky, "means a lot. They are people who do the same thing I do and who understand what the daily grind is."
Hooper too was thrilled. "It was such a wonderful surprise; you can't take anything for granted," he said.
Still, there were those left feeling a little disappointed. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University and author of the annual "Celluloid Ceiling" report about women in entertainment, wasn't happy that the likes of Cholodenko and Granik failed to earn nominations, though she wasn't really surprised either.
"After Bigelow's very, very big year last year … a lot of people were writing about the 'Bigelow Effect' and would it boost the careers of women directors," Lauzen said. "I was anticipating that her visibility and win and great success would give her own career a boost, but not the careers of other women."
"The Hurt Locker," she added, was in the DGA's comfort zone. "It was a very testosterone-heavy kind of film. It was about war and men's relationship to violence." But Bigelow's win last year, and the strength and critical praise for Cholodenko and Granik's films, could go a long way toward boosting the perceptions of women who direct, Lauzen said.
Their absence from the DGA list doesn't mean the two have no chance at an Oscar nomination. While the two organizations aligned exactly in their nominations last year, they have in recent years differed on one or two nominees.
The winner will be named at the 63rd annual DGA Awards dinner on Jan. 29.