Underscoring Hollywood’s infusion of new blood in films last year, the five nominations for Directors Guild of America honors included two first-time helmers and one freshman contender.
The DGA named Frank Darabont (“The Green Mile”), Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”), Michael Mann (“The Insider”), Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) for their feature helming.
The nominations, announced Monday by last year’s DGA and Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, feature a trio of first-time contenders in Jonze, Mendes and Shyamalan.
Darabont was nominated in 1994 for “The Shawshank Redemption,” while Mann won the DGA honor in the telefilm category for “The Jericho Mile” in 1979.
Along with TV and documentary honors, the feature helming prizes will be announced at the org’s 52nd annual kudos dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
Mann missed the ceremony 20 years ago because he was working on his first feature, “Thief,” but promised to attend the upcoming event. “This nomination is a very important acknowledgment because we’re now really in the inner circle where it’s really about other directors,” he added.
Shyamalan said he was “totally shocked” by the selection, given the relative lack of recognition that “The Sixth Sense” has received so far during awards season. “The nomination was something I had never even thought about,” he added. “To be honored by my peers like this is certainly the greatest honor I’ve ever received. And I love the company I’m in.”
Darabont said the nomination was gratifying in the wake of some critics expressing disappointment with Warner Bros.’ “The Green Mile.” “I’m on cloud nine,” he added. “To get a nomination from one’s fellows is so nice. It’s the ultimate ‘Hey, you’ve done a good job.’ ”
Jonze released a statement saying, in part, “I feel extremely honored to be nominated for this award, which is given by other directors, especially in a year where there were so many great films.”
Mendes, who had never made a major feature before “American Beauty,” on Sunday night won the Golden Globe for helming.
He admitted the DGA announcement caught him off-guard. “It’s all new to me,” he added. “It’s incredibly gratifying because it’s from people who know what’s involved. This is much more about the craft than the Globes.”
The nominations, based on balloting of the DGA’s 11,000 members, represented a doubly pleasant surprise for Disney with “The Sixth Sense” and “The Insider,” along with giving a major boost to USA Films with its quirky “Being John Malkovich.”
This year’s field of possible nominees had been regarded as one of the most wide open in several years.
Monday’s announcement excluded more than a half-dozen possible candidates from the final ballot, including Anthony Minghella, who directed “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; Milos Forman, “Man on the Moon”; Norman Jewison, “The Hurricane”; David O. Russell, “Three Kings”; Mike Leigh, “Topsy-Turvy”; David Lynch, “The Straight Story”; Neil Jordan, “The End of the Affair”; and Paul Thomas Anderson, “Magnolia.”
Spielberg, who holds the DGA records for nominations with nine and victories with three, indicated he was impressed with the variety of sources for the selected films.
“This is a really good crop of nominees,” he said. “It’s a mix of independent films, mainstream films and independent films with mainstream studios. It’s a good healthy mix and a sign of our times, too.”
Spielberg, whose first DGA nomination came in 1976 for “Jaws,” told the audience at the press conference Monday that the DGA announcement provokes a good deal of suspense for likely candidates.
“What really happens is if you think you have a shot, you sit at home waiting for the phone to ring,” he recalled. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be nominated for the first time.”
Spielberg declined to identify a favorite among the nominees although he noted that Mann should have received a DGA nomination for 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” But the DreamWorks co-founder was clearly pleased that “American Beauty” continued to receive strong recognition during awards season, noting in response to a question that Sunday had been a “great night” for the studio and Mendes with Golden Globe victories for top drama, director and screenplay.
DGA prexy Jack Shea noted that the nominees represent a wide spectrum within the directorial world. “Each nominee has a distinct style and unique creative vision,” he said.
Shea pointed out that the nominations are particularly significant in signaling the winner of the Academy Awards for best director since the DGA and the Academy victors have differed only four times, the last in 1995 when Ron Howard won the DGA honor for “Apollo 13” after failing to receive an Oscar nom. Mel Gibson won for “Braveheart.”
The only other occasions when DGA’s winner has differed from the Academy’s were in 1968 when Anthony Harvey won the DGA honor for “The Lion in Winter” and Carol Reed won the Oscar for “Oliver!”; 1972, Francis Ford Coppola won the DGA for “The Godfather” and Bob Fosse won the Oscar for “Cabaret”; and 1985, Spielberg won the DGA kudos for “The Color Purple” and Sydney Pollack won the Oscar for “Out of Africa.”
The DGA nominations recognize the director’s entire team. A complete list follows:
- Frank Darabont, “The Green Mile”: unit production manager, L. Dean Jones Jr.; first assistant director, Alan B. Curtiss; second assistant directors, David Bernstein, Jonathan Watson; second second assistant director, Basti van der Woude; DGA trainee, Jodie Thomas.
- Spike Jonze, “Being John Malkovich”: unit production manager, Tim Clawson; first assistant director, Thomas Patrick Smith; second assistant director, Mark S. Constance; DGA trainee, Melinda Johnson.
- Michael Mann, “The Insider”: unit production managers, Stephen Lim, Arthur Schaefer Jr.; first assistant director, Michael Waxman; second assistant director, Julie Herrin; DGA trainee, Jodie Thomas.
- Sam Mendes, “American Beauty”: unit production manager, Cristen Carr Strubbe; first assistant directors, Tony Adler, Carey Dietrich; second assistant director, Rosemary Cremona; second second assistant director, Stephanie Kime.
- M. Night Shyamalan, “The Sixth Sense”: unit production manager, Sam Mercer; first assistant director, John Rusk; second assistant director, Scott Robertson; second second assistant director, Sonia Bhalla; DGA trainee, Michael Meador.