Veterans take the helm

Past winners, 1st-time nominees up for DGA award

Two past winners and three first-timers were saluted in the Directors Guild of America list of nominees for 1997 feature film directing, announced on Monday.

James L. Brooks, for “As Good As It Gets”; James Cameron, “Titanic”; Curtis Hanson, “L.A. Confidential”; Steven Spielberg, “Amistad”; and Gus Van Sant, “Good Will Hunting,” were cited. As usual with the DGA, the nominations include assistant directors and unit production managers on each shoot.

“The five nominees are truly representative of the best in motion picture directing,” said DGA president Jack Shea. “Each may have a different style and work with different subjects, but all of them share the exceptional ability to create magical films.”

It was Spielberg’s eighth nomination (with two wins) and Brooks’ third (with one win). The other three are vet directors, but newcomers to the awards. There were few surprises in the list, as the five films and their directors have frequently been mentioned in critics prizes and by awards handicappers.

With eight noms, Spielberg is tied with Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann for the most DGA nominations in the feature category.

“A DGA nomination is an honor that is enormously gratifying,” Spielberg said in a statement released by his office at DreamWorks. “I’m particularly happy to be along for the ride this year with such terrific filmmakers as the two Jims, Curtis and Gus.”

The director’s first nod came in 1975 for “Jaws,” followed by “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” (1982), “The Color Purple” (1985), “Empire of the Sun” (1987) and “Schindler’s List” (1993). Spielberg won the DGA Award for “Purple” and “Schindler’s.”

Brooks won the DGA Award in 1983 for “Terms of Endearment” and was nominated in 1987 for “Broadcast News.”

“I’m just thrilled,” Brooks said Monday afternoon from his office at TriStar. “It’s great because the DGA does it in such a collegial way — they share it with the top DGA members on each project. This group was peculiarly unexpendable on this picture. It was a hard shoot and their spirit helped this picture so much. For everyone connected with it, the reception has been beyond our dreams. You’re ready for darkness and you get just dazzled by the sunlight.”

From New York, Van Sant said, “You’re always hoping the film will get as much attention as possible. But you never really know. It’s a fickle business. I’ve seen a lot of films you believe in not be received the way you thought they would be.”

Van Sant was disappointed in the reception accorded his “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” (1994), but said “Good Will Hunting” felt right from the start. “It was so well organized by Matt (Damon) and Ben (Affleck) that everything just fell into place,” he said, referring to the film’s scriptwriters, who also had lead roles in the film. “This is the most well-received film I’ve ever done.”

The helmer said he enjoyed working with Robin Williams so much that he is adapting a John Callaghan book, “He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” into a screenplay as a Williams vehicle for TriStar. The actor’s wife, Marsha Williams, would produce if the project comes about.

Cameron and Hanson could not be reached for comment Monday.

They and their three colleagues are expected to be joined at the 50th anniversary DGA awards ceremonies March 7 by nominees in documentary and television categories, soon to be announced. Also there will be Francis Ford Coppola, recipient of the Guild’s highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, for career achievement in motion picture directing.

Several helmers of high-profile pics who did not make it to the final DGA ballot include Mike Newell, who directed “Donnie Brasco”; Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black”; Jim Sheridan, “The Boxer”; Barry Levinson, “Wag the Dog”; Woody Allen, “Deconstructing Harry”; Martin Scorsese, “Kundun,” and Peter Cattaneo, “The Full Monty.”

The DGA Award has traditionally been a near-perfect barometer for the director Academy Award. Since the DGA Awards’ inception in 1949, there have been only four times when the guild winner did not go on to take home the Oscar. In 1968, Anthony Harvey won the DGA award for “The Lion in Winter” while Carol Reed took home the Oscar for “Oliver”; in 1972, it was, respectively, Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”) and Bob Fosse (“Cabaret”) in 1985, Steven Spielberg (“The Color Purple”) and Sydney Pollack (“Out of Africa”); and in 1995, Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”) and Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”).

A list of nominees follows.

JAMES L. BROOKS — “As Good As It Gets”: John Adam Jacobson, John D. Schofield, unit production managers; Aldric Porter, first assistant director; William M. Connor, second assistant director; Shari Hanger, second second assistant director; Hans Berggren, DGA trainee.

JAMES CAMERON — “Titanic”: Grant Hill, Anna Roth, Sharon Mann, Jon Landau, unit production managers; Josh McLaglen, first assistant director; Sebastian Silva, Kathleen “Bo” Bobak, second assistant directors.

CURTIS HANSON — “L.A. Confidential”: L. Dean Jones Jr., unit production manager; Linda Montanti, Drew Ann Rosenberg, first assistant di-rectors; Jim Goldthwait, second assistant director; Heather Kritzer, second second assistant director; Kevin Koster, DGA trainee.

STEVEN SPIELBERG — “Amistad”: Paul Deason, unit production manager; Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, first assistant director; Eric Jones, Sean Hobin, second assistant directors; Foongy Lee, DGA trainee.

GUS VAN SANT — “Good Will Hunting”: Christopher Goode, Brent O’Connor, unit production managers; Andrew Shea, first assistant director; Lisa Janowski, David Till, second assistant directors; Brian York, second second assistant director.

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