years, the DGA (Directors Guild of America) Awards have been the most accurate predictor of what eventually gets nominated for Best Picture; since going three-for-five in 2001, they’ve at least nominated four of the five Academy finalists. And this morning, they announced their contenders for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for 2007:

Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
Joel & Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
Sean Penn – Into the Wild
Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

First off, I think this absolutely eliminates American Gangster and Ridley Scott for Picture/Director, as Scott is a three-time finalist and twice for films that were not nominated for Best Picture (Black Hawk Down and Thelma & Louise). As for Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton’s never been nominated in the past, so the fact that he couldn’t get in the race with his best-reviewed film since Ed Wood is probably not a good sign. And Atonement, the presumed frontrunner for most of the awards season, is finished after a tepid push from Focus Features.  Sidney Lumet was also figured to be in the running for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, but the support for that film withered weeks ago.

I do, however, think we’ll see one of the above nominees go missing when the AMPAS do their thing later this month; I’m just not sure if it’s Michael Clayton or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Certainly, one of these two will get bumped to make room for Juno. And based on nothing but a whim, I think it’ll be Michael Clayton.

I must say, though, that I’m surprised by Gilroy supplanting Scott; I thought he was a lock even though American Gangster is more respected than adored. Michael Clayton is gaining some momentum late in the race, but I just feel The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has the more fervent base; the people who love that movie really fucking love it. With one or two exceptions, I haven’t seen that kind of enthusiasm for Clayton.

The winner will be announced on January 26th.