Although the big winners at the 2023 Directors Guild of America Awards were Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (AKA Daniels), who took home the Theatrical Feature Film award for their imaginative sophomore effort “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the name on all the lips of just about every director that hit the stage at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday was Steven Spielberg.
His most personal film yet, “The Fabelmans,” had a long run as the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar, after it won the People’s Choice Award at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, and earned Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director. Still, coming out of more critics awards, A24’s multiversal dramedy directed by the Daniels has gotten a second wind nearly one year after the Michelle Yeoh vehicle premiered at SXSW. The pair is now the third director duo to ever win the award, and is favored to win the Oscar the Best Director, just as 17 out of 20 of the last DGA Award winners did (including Jane Campion last year).
With only an Original Screenplay nomination at the BAFTAs on Sunday, “The Fabelmans” will need to win the award for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild to show any signs of strength against the ascendant “Everything Everywhere All at Once” before final Oscars voting begins on March 2.
Because the DGA Awards have each Theatrical Feature Film nominee give an acceptance speech before announcing the winner at the end (which in this case led to four acceptance speeches for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” just as exasperated host Judd Apatow predicted), the first peer to invoke record 13-time DGA Award nominee Spielberg was Scheinert with a joking shoutout to him specifically as one of the “storytellers and filmmakers that inspired this movie, that we ripped off.”
“Top Gun: Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski took a more subtle approach. “When you see a great movie, on the big screen, it does something to you, something permanent. And I know this is true because I couldn’t tell you what I was doing exactly two weeks ago, but I do know what I was doing on Saturday, June 13 1981,” said the 48-year-old filmmaker at the beginning of his speech. The answer? Watching venomous snakes, lethal booby traps, and melting Nazis” in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” so “you can imagine how surreal it is to be nominated alongside Steven Spielberg.”
“TÁR” director Todd Field happened to mention the same film in his acceptance speech, saying he saw the first Indiana Jones adventure 350 times while working as a projectionist in high school, and later in his career was told by Spielberg himself that “the [award] that counts is a DGA.” Field ended his remarks by quoting “The Fabelmans” (“Movies are dreams you never forget…”) in front of Michelle Williams and the rest of the film’s cast, all seated with Spielberg front and center near the stage.
When it was “The Fabelmans” filmmaker’s turn to speak, after he listed his anxieties about making the film — from reactions like “Your mother cheated on your father and we hate her” to inquiries like “Who’s John Ford?” and “How come you didn’t direct Indy 5?” — Spielberg thanked his fellow nominees in return, singling out the Daniels. “That was the best bagel I ever ate by the way,” said Spielberg. “Thank you for that.”
It should be noted as well that he had “Dune” director Denis Villenueve introduce him. “‘The Fabelmans’ is the best movie ever made about the power of cinema. It’s a miracle,” said the Québécois filmmaker who was a nominee last year. “To say that I was deeply moved by this movie is an understatement. ‘The Fabelmans’ is a pure act of artistic generosity made by one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.”
In the final acceptance speech of the night, when they were announced as the winners of the Theatrical Feature Film award, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” co-director Kwan best summarized the camaraderie the nominees now feel among each other, even with the much-revered Spielberg. “The thing I’m going to take away from this season more than anything, more than the recognition that we get, is just your warmth, your curiosity, your enthusiasm,” said Kwan. “Every time we break bread or we get to share a stage with each other I leave so inspired. And it’s just a beautiful reminder that even the best filmmakers in this industry, even the legends in this industry, deep down are just kids who are excited to be making movies.”