By John H. Foote

In what now looks like raging quest for his second Academy Award, British director Sam Mendes won his second Best Director Award from the Directors Guild of America last night for his stunning World War I epic 1917.

In winning the award, Mendes bested Martin Scorsese for his crime epic, the melancholy The Irishman, at one point the hands down favourite, and Quentin Tarantino for his dazzling trip through the late sixties, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, who still has never won a Best Director prize from either the Academy or DGA. With the win, Mendes eases out in front of both filmmakers, but it is such a close year, we are not going to know anything until that envelope is opened Oscar night. This DGA award certainly bodes well for Mendes.

Widely considered the most coveted award a filmmaker can win, the DGA Award if often perfectly in line with the Academy’s choice for Best Director, although there have been notable differences through history. Bob Fosse went on to win the Oscar for Cabaret (1972) despite Francis Ford Coppola winning the DGA for The Godfather while Steven Spielberg famously won the DGA for The Color Purple (1985) while Sydney Pollack took the Oscar for Out of Africa (1985). Ron Howard deservedly won the DGA for his magnificent Apollo 13 (1995) but the Academy did not see fit to even nominate the director. Rob Marshall took the award in 2002 for his musical Chicago, but it was Roman Polanski, who cannot return to America, who won the Oscar for his Holocaust film, The Pianist. That said most of the time through history the DGA and Oscar lines up perfectly.

This was Martin Scorsese’s ninth nomination from the DGA, a run that began back in 1976 with Taxi Driver, and in November it looked like the brilliant director was a lock for both this and the Oscar. It just goes to show you, as William Goldman, the Oscar winning screen writer famously said of awards season, “Nobody knows anything.”

Mendes previously won both the DGA and Oscar for his film American Beauty exactly twenty years ago. He was robbed of nominations for his gangster epic Road to Perdition (2002) and Revolutionary Road (2008), and lately had directed two Bon films, a surprising move for the Oscar winner. Many awards experts felt his war epic had been released too late to be a real contender for major awards, but it has done very well.

Expect it to soar Oscar night.

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