The Directors Guild of America made history Saturday night, giving the group’s top prize for feature-film directing to Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), the first woman of color to receive the award and only the second woman ever to win in the category, after Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”).
Zhao was considered the heavy favorite after a dominant awards-season run for her film that has also included top honors at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and Producers Guild Awards, and she will now enter Oscar night as the prohibitive front-runner, since the DGA winner has won the best-director Oscar 13 of the last 15 times.
A best-picture victory for “Nomadland” appears increasingly likely, too: Few films have gone on to take Oscar’s top prize without first winning at the DGA or PGA. Still, one of those curveballs came just last year, when “Parasite” won best picture without either of those trophies but after netting a high-profile win at the Screen Actors Guild.
That may provide a path forward for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which also pulled off a SAG victory last week. But though that film’s director, Aaron Sorkin, was nominated alongside Zhao for the DGA Award, he was snubbed for a directing nomination at the Oscars.
In her acceptance speech, Zhao offered fulsome praise for Sorkin — “I can feel my heart beating with yours when I watch your film,” she said — as well as for the other nominees, Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), and David Fincher (“Mank”).
And though he didn’t win, Fincher may have gotten the line of the night when he was asked to sum up his career: “Directing,” Fincher said, “is a bit like trying to paint a watercolor from four blocks away through a telescope, over a walkie-talkie, and 85 people are holding the brush.”
In other news at the virtual ceremony, the award for first-time feature-film directing went to Darius Marder for “Sound of Metal,” while the documentary prize went to Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw for “The Truffle Hunters,” which was snubbed by Oscar.
Here is the full list of winners:
Feature: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”
First-Time Feature: Darius Marder, “Sound of Metal”
Documentary: Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, “The Truffle Hunters”
Television Movies and Limited Series: Scott Frank, “The Queen’s Gambit”
Dramatic Series: Lesli Linka Glatter, “Homeland”
Comedy Series: Susanna Fogel, “The Flight Attendant”
Variety/Talk/News/Sports (Regularly Scheduled): Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live”
Variety/Talk/News/Sports (Specials): Thomas Schlamme, “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote”
Reality Programs: Joseph Guidry, “Full Bloom”
Commercials: Melina Matsoukas, “You Love Me” for Beats by Dr. Dre
Children’s Programs: Amy Schatz, “We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest”