As the winding journey towards the Academy Awards continues, critics societies and professional guilds are looking back at the year that was to honor the best of the best in film. This awards season has been fraught with some surprising—and not so surprising—twists. La La Land and Moonlight have steadily been at the top of everyone’s lists, winning award after award to set up a battle at this year’s Oscar ceremony.
It’s never easy to predict how awards season will play out. Sometimes, the nominations and eventual winners are obvious. Few have been surprised by the domination of La La Land and Moonlight, as both were pegged as the best of the best before they were even released. Still, every year movies tend to emerge as dark horses, unlikely nominees that make impressive runs at prestige awards and making waves along the way. That’s been the trend for much of the last year, and it’s one that continues with the announcements of the Director’s Guild Awards nominations.
The DGA has now announced its nominations for their Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2017 (h/t to Deadline). Topping the list were Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Garth Davis for Lion, and Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. The awards are set to be announced next month at a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton.
La La Land and Moonlight are most certainly the front runners for this award, continuing the months-long battle between the two wildly different films. Either film is certainly worthy of the award, with Chazelle deftly capturing the spirit of Golden Age musicals and Jenkins portraying a tender portrait of a life in three stages. Both are the kind of films that guilds, societies, and The Academy love to honor, so their inclusion here is par for the course.
Arrival, however, is something of a dark horse. Science fiction—even intelligent science fiction—has notoriously had a difficult time gaining widespread acceptance during awards season, with many critics and voters unfairly dismissing their efforts as, somehow, juvenile. Of course, anyone who saw Arrival could tell you that there was nothing juvenile about Villeneuve’s nuanced musings on communication and perception. It was hard to leave the theaters unimpressed with the effort, and it, too, is worthy of its acclaim.
With the rise of science fiction and other traditional geeky genres—like superheroes—in mainstream media, perhaps Arrival’s acceptance is a forebear of things to come. Deadpool, for instance, has made a few surprising waves during this year’s awards season, including at the DGA, with Tim Miller being nominated for a first time director award. Additionally, the Merc with a Mouth was honored with nominations by the Producers Guild and Writers Guild, setting the stage for a potential shot at Oscar contention.
It might be too soon to start getting hopeful. There were plenty of science fiction and superhero films that were snubbed—the lack of nominations for Captain America: Civil War and its directors Joe and Anthony Russo feels odd, especially considering Deadpool’s success—but this might be the proverbial trickle presaging the flood. The slate for 2017 is as heavy on sci-fi and superheroes as it’s ever been, so maybe now is the time for genre films to start making their marks.
That being said, even Arrival feels like an unlikely winner for the DGA, despite Villeneuve’s incomparable eye. No, this is the year of Moonlight and La La Land, and it doesn’t seem like this trend is going to die down now, or at the Oscars. Still, any year there are two hot contenders for an awards leads to a likelihood of splitting the votes and allowing for an underdog to sneak in. Arrival winning a DGA could be big news for the film come Oscar night, and even bigger for science fiction in general. We won’t know for sure until February 4, but we’ll keep you posted when we know.