Damien Chazelle Wins Directors Guild Award, ‘La La Land’ Closes in on Oscar Gold

“O.J.: Made in America” wins documentary award, while “Lion” wins for best first-time director

Damien Chazelle DGA
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Damien Chazelle has been named the best feature-film director of 2016 by the Directors Guild of America, a win that reinforces the front-runner status of his musical “La La Land” at the Oscars.

Chazelle was the clear favorite going into the DGA show, where he was competing against his fellow Oscar nominees Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), and against Garth Davis for “Lion.” (The fifth Oscar nomination went to Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge.”)

The DGA win makes Chazelle a prohibitive favorite to win the Oscar for Best Director and, by extension, keeps “La La Land” the frontrunner to win Best Picture.

Since 1950, only seven DGA winners have failed to also take home the Academy Award for directing, and three of those seven couldn’t win the Oscar because they weren’t nominated. The last time a mismatch happened was 2012, when Ben Affleck won the DGA Award for “Argo” but was not nominated for the Oscar, though his film won Best Picture. But the Oscars and DGA have agreed 12 of the last 13 years, and 59 of the last 66.

The win means that “La La Land” has won two of the three major guild awards, with only the Writers Guild yet to hand out its honors. Chazelle’s film also won the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards, the most reliable Best Picture indicator. Star Emma Stone won best-actress honors at the SAG Awards, but “La La Land” was not nominated in that guild’s de facto best-picture category, ensemble cast.

In other DGA Awards, Garth Davis won in the First-Time Feature Film Director category for “Lion,” which was hardly a surprise since he was the one nominee from that category to also be nominated in the feature film category.

He was competing against the directors of “The Edge of Seventeen,” “Deadpool” and “10 Cloverfield Land,” as well as against “The Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker, who was expected to have a strong awards-season presence until news surfaced about the rape charge he faced as a college student. Apart from the NAACP Image Awards, the DGA was the only major guild or awards body to nominate Parker or his film.

Ezra Edelman won the documentary award for his seven-and-a-half-hour “O.J.: Made in America.” (The choice of “The People v. O.J. Simpson” stars Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as presenters suggested that the DGA was making a pretty good guess about who was going to win.)

In the television categories, winners included Becky Martin for “Veep,” Miguel Sapochnik for “Game of Thrones,” Steven Zaillian for “The Night Of,” Don Roy King for “Saturday Night Live” and Glenn Weiss for the Tony Awards.

Derek Cianfrance, the indie film director whose films have included “Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “The Light Between Oceans,” won the Directors Guild Award for commercials.

Ridley Scott was given the guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award, while other honorary prizes went to Marie Cantin (Frank Capra Achievement Award), Thomas Schlamme (Robert B. Aldrich Service Award) and retiring DGA executive director Jay D. Roth (Presidents Award).

As usual with awards shows so far this season, the ceremony was studded with political comments, from DGA President Paris Barclay’s opening remarks to speeches from Damien Chazelle (who sent a shout-out to Iranian director Asghar Farhadi), Thomas Schlamme (who talked about his parents who fled the Nazis) and presenter Anna Chlumsky (who gave out the reality-TV award and read a note apologizing “for that guy from ‘The Apprentice’”).

“All art has a political dimension, whether the artist intends it or not,” said Chazelle in the press room following his win. “Art is something that does connect people and transcend borders.”

The winners:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Damien Chazell, “La La Land”

First-Time Feature Film Director: Garth Davis, “Lion”

Documentary: Ezra Edelman, “O.J.: Made in America”

Dramatic Series: Miguel Sapochnik, “Game of Thrones,” “The Battle of the Bastards”

Comedy Series: Becky Martin, “Veep,” “Inauguration”

Movie for Television or Miniseries: Steven Zaillian, “The Night Of,” “The Beach”

Variety/Talk/News/Sports-Regularly Scheduled Programming: Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live”

Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Special: Glenn Weiss, “The 70th Annual Tony Awards”

Reality Programs: J. Rupert Thompson, “American Grit,” “The Finale Over the Falls”

Children’s Programs: Tina Mabry, “An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win”

Commercials: Derek Cianfrance (RadicalMedia)
Chase, Nike Golf – Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Doubts, Powerade – Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Manifesto, Squarespace – Anomaly

Frank Capra Achievement Award: Marie Cantin
Robert B. Aldrich Service Award: Thomas Schlamme
Presidents Award: Jay D. Roth
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ridley Scott