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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 11:39 GMT
Directors harbour Oscar hopes
By entertainment correspondent Tom Brook
Two British directors, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan, have earned prestigious Directors Guild of America (DGA) nominations, gaining placement on a key shortlist in the annual Oscars race.
Only five times in the 53-year existence of the DGA has its choice of best feature film director not gone on to win the Oscar best director trophy.
Scott was nominated for his direction of the combat film Black Hawk Down, while Nolan received his nod for Memento, an inventive mystery thriller in which the narrative unfolds backwards.
The DGA traditionally names five nominees for its award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films.
The other directors this year included Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind, Peter Jackson for The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Baz Luhrmann for Moulin Rouge.
The DGA list was surprising for its omissions, most notably Robert Altman, who won a Golden Globe and various US critics awards for his British satire and murder-mystery Gosford Park.
Ron Howard, the only American to earn a DGA nomination, is now assumed to be the favourite to win the guild's best director award.
His film, A Beautiful Mind, which tells the story of real-life mathematician John Nash who battled schizophrenia and went on to win the Nobel Prize, has made a strong emotional connection with audiences in Hollywood.
It was the big winner at the Golden Globes, collecting four trophies including best drama picture as well as acting prizes for its two stars, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.
Howard has been nominated by the DGA twice before, and won in 1995 for Apollo 13, but he was one of the unlucky historic five who never went on to pick up an Oscar.
"Personally it would mean a lot to me because I am a fan of Oscar, and I haven't been nominated yet as a director. It would be an absolute thrill to be there on Oscar night as a directorial nominee," Howard admits.
The DGA nominations also represent good news for Australian director Baz Luhrmann who can now rest assured that Moulin Rouge won't necessarily lose out in the Oscar sweepstakes just because it's a musical.
The DGA and the academy have had a habit of shunning musical films in the past, generally considering them too lightweight.
Luhrmann, who's been praised for re-inventing the movie musical with Moulin Rouge, would definitely welcome any Oscar recognition that comes his way.
"If we get that far, even to be nominated is such an acknowledgement of that (musical) form," Luhrmann says.
New Zealand director Peter Jackson, whose The Lord of the Rings left the Golden Globes without winning a single trophy, must now realise with the DGA nominations he has potential in the Oscars' best director race.
But Jackson doesn't seem very interested in taking home any of those coveted gold trophies.
"It is the icing on the cake. Every day in New Zealand, people send us letters from all around the world saying how much they enjoyed the movie and I read every single one of them," Jackson says.
"That is the best, to feel that audiences are just simply being entertained by what you did. It is not really about awards."
Ridley Scott has also emerged as an Oscar contender, who may be helped by sympathetic academy voters who feel they owe him recognition.
Last year some felt Scott was overlooked when he failed to collect the best director trophy, even though his film Gladiator won the best picture Oscar.
Scott's war picture Black Hawk Down has received some strong praise for its grisly, but powerful, portrayal of US military heroics on display in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.
Its cast members certainly think Scott and the picture itself, which was completely shut out of the Golden Globes, deserves a best picture nomination.
Ewan McGregor, who plays a US soldier in the film, proclaims: "I would hope that it would be up for best picture.
"I do believe it's an incredibly well-made film, it's quite an extraordinarily well put together piece of film."
One of the more surprising inclusions on the DGA list was that of 31-year-old British born director Christopher Nolan for Memento.
His film, which boasts a strong performance by Guy Pearce, had won prizes at various critics groups.
But many had assumed that his picture was just too unconventional and cutting edge to win DGA endorsement. It's unlikely that the academy, with its staid membership, would actively embrace it.
First-time director Todd Field, the film-maker who made the family drama In The Bedroom, had been considered a likely DGA nominee. His chances of securing a best director Oscar nod now seem a little less likely.
The DGA nominations have done little to clarify what still remains a very muddled Oscars field, other than to suggest that Howard, Jackson and Luhrmann will all probably secure Academy Awards nominations.
The guessing will stop when these are announced on 12 February - and the winner of the DGA best feature film director is revealed at a Los Angeles ceremony on 9 March.
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