Great leap for Lee

'Tiger' helmer's DGA win boosts Oscar odds

This article was corrected on March 13, 2001.

HOLLYWOOD — Oscar prospects for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” took a major leap forward Saturday night with Ang Lee tapped for the Directors Guild of America’s award for “outstanding directorial achievement in feature film.”

Lee’s Mandarin-language epic topped Cameron Crowe for “Almost Famous,” Ridley Scott for “Gladiator” and Steven Soderbergh, who with Francis Ford Coppola are the DGA’s only double nominees (Soderbergh with “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic”). Crowe, Lee and Scott were all second-time nominees.

Lee, on receiving the kudo from last year’s winner, Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), told the audience of 1,000 at the Century Plaza Hotel, “I don’t really believe in film competition but the acknowledgment is a great honor. My work is the result of the collective efforts of everyone working on the film. Let me thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Foreshadowing Oscar

The DGA honor has been a highly accurate indicator of Academy Award success, having failed to match the best director winner four times in 53 years.

Besides Lee’s nod, “Crouching Tiger” is up for nine other Oscars, including best picture and foreign language film, and has grossed more than $94 million domestically for Sony Classics.

Lee also won best director at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Golden Globe Awards.

DGA voting may also be an indicator that Soderberg’s chances of an Oscar victory may be hurt by having two noms. Emcee Carl Reiner joked after Julia Roberts presented Soderbergh with a nomination medallion that the helmer should take a different tack if he wants awards and not again make two great films in the same year.

“Make one great and one not so great,” Reiner said.

Soderbergh has refused to express a preference for either film and maintained a cheerful outlook, telling the crowd, “I hope all of you love your job as much as I do.”

Besides Lee and Soderbergh, the Oscar competition for best director includes Scott and Stephen Daldry for “Billy Elliot.”

Three for NBC

Peacock network led TV categories with victories in episodic drama and comedy along with musical variety. Thomas Schlamme won the drama award for the “Noel” episode of “The West Wing,” James Burrows won the comedy kudo for the ”Love in the Mid-Eighties” episode of ”Will & Grace” and Beth McCarthy Miller took musical variety for a “Saturday Night Live” episode with Val Kilmer and U2.

It was the third year in a row that Schlamme has taken a DGA trophy, following back-to-back victories in comedy for “Sports Night.” Burrows, who owns the DGA record for nominations with 16, won his fourth award to go with wins for “Cheers” in 1983 and 1990 and “Fraiser” in 1995.

ABC copped a pair of trophies in TV movies, where Jeff Bleckner took the award for TV movie with ABC’s “The Beach Boys: An American Family” and in daytime serials with Jill Mitwell for “One Life to Live.” It was the second DGA award for both helmers, with Blecker having won in 1983 for “Hill Street Blues” and Mitwell taking the daytime serials kudo in 1993 for “One Life to Live.”

Greg Beeman won the children’s program award for Disney Channel’s “Miracle in Lane 2” and Leslie Dektor took the commercials award, marking his second trophy after winning in 1992. Chuck Braverman copped top docu award for Discovery Channel’s “High School Boot Camp.”

The DGA also honored Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, with an Honorary Life Member award, and Robert Wise with the Presidents Award.

DGA prexy Jack Shea opened the two-hour program with a welcome speech that included a promise that the org will closely follow contract talks between companies and the Writers Guild of America along with upcoming negotiations for the Screen Actors Guild. He received a positive response and made no mention of the DGA’s disagreements with the WGA on creative rights issues.

“I would be remiss if I did not comment on … the Hollywood labor negotiations and the potential cessation of production this summer,” Shea said. “We will continue to do whatever we can to help advance constructive dialogue so that new contracts can be negotiated without a devastating shutdown.”

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