I was pleasantly surprised Tuesday to see the husband/wife tandem of Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Little Miss Sunshine, their debut feature film. This news bodes well for a possible Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards, even if they would likely fall prey in both contests to the juggernaut that is Martin Scorsese.
Two things strike me as interesting about this selection. First is the all-too-rare inclusion of a woman in contention; the DGA website didn't include a history of nominees, but a lengthy scan through the Internet Movie Database indicated the following women have been so honored.
2003: Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
1993: Jane Campion, The Piano
1991: Barbra Streisand, The Prince of Tides (no Oscar nom)
1986: Randa Haines, Children of a Lesser God (no Oscar nom)
1976: Lina Wertmüller, Seven Beauties
The second (and perhaps more significant) development is the appearance of the "and" or "&" in contention. That same search produced the following director pairs.
1978: Warren Beatty and Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait
1961: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, West Side Story (won DGA and Oscar)
1958: George Abbott and Stanley Donen, Damn Yankees! (no Oscar nom)
1954: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Knock on Wood (no Oscar nom)
1953: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Above and Beyond (no Oscar nom)
1952: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain (no Oscar nom)
For whatever reason, 1962's The Longest Day had four directors, and 1955's Mister Roberts had three directors, but like the first three teams listed above, they never worked together again. Melvin Frank and Norman Panama co-directed 7 films. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly went behind the camera for 3 films.
Co-directors don't exactly abound in Hollywood today, but they're more common and high-profile than you'd think: Andy and Larry Wachowski (Bound, the Matrix trilogy); Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell); Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Suture, Bee Season); Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor, 2007's The Nanny Diaries).
If the Dayton/Faris DGA nomination can be read as a sign of things to come, then it's entirely possible that the first woman to win an Oscar as Best Director will be part of a directing team. Equally interesting is the possibility that the added presence of female co-directors will open the door for solo female directors. I point to the Golden Satellite nominees for Best Director in 2003:
Niki Caro, Whale Rider
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
Clint Eastwood, Mystic River
Catherine Hardwicke, Thirteen
Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, American Splendor
Jim Sheridan, In America
7 directors, 4 female. Wouldn't it be great to see a more reputable organization create a lineup like this? Beats 5 dudes every year.
As a final note, the Directors Guild (and corresponding branch of the Academy) have always shown a refreshing lack of snobbery when it comes to former music video directors. Dayton & Faris are best known for the one-two punch of Smashing Pumpkins videos "1979" and "Tonight, Tonight." (For more of their work, go here.) Now they'll join the likes of Spike Jonze (from the Beastie Boys and Weezer to Being John Malkovich), Gus Van Sant (from David Bowie and the Chili Peppers to Good Will Hunting), and Lasse Hallström (ABBA to My Life as a Dog). Heck, even Martin Scorsese directed Michael Jackson's "Bad."