Jackson's win brightens Oscar outlook

This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2004.

HOLLYWOOD — The third time was indeed the charm for Peter Jackson, as the New Zealander won the DGA Award as 2003’s top filmmaker for directing New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Jackson topped Sofia Coppola (Focus’ “Lost in Translation”), Clint Eastwood (Warner’s “Mystic River”), Gary Ross (Universal’s “Seabiscuit”) and Peter Weir (Fox’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”). He had been nominated for the first two “Rings” installments but lost to Rob Marshall for “Chicago” last year and Ron Howard for “A Beautiful Mind” two years ago.

The victory brightens the Oscar outlook for Jackson and “Return of the King,” which received 11 Academy noms, including picture and director. Momentum for the “Rings” finale has been building in recent weeks, as pic scooped Golden Globes for drama and director and a Producers Guild of America win.

Marshall presented the award to Jackson Saturday night at the 56th annual DGA Awards ceremonies, held before about 1,000 attendees at the Century Plaza.

The 42-year-old helmer, who shot the “Rings” trilogy with 274 days of principal photography during 1999 and 2000, had been the favorite to take the DGA award. In a relatively short acceptance speech and at the post-awards news conference, Jackson emphasized that the credit should be shared among cast, crew, New Line, New Zealand and the source material.

“We live in an age where people write books about nightmarish experiences on film sets, and I did not have one of those,” he told the audience. “I’m so proud to have spent this time working on a film that, thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, promotes the values of courage, friendship and faith.”

Jackson — the first person to direct three major feature films simultaneously — received an Oscar nomination two years ago for helming “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” but was excluded last year for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”

“What really matters most tonight is that it’s not really about me,” he said at the news conference. “The director is the person whose name gets written about the most, but for me, I just think of the whole experience as an incredible team effort.”

Oscar front-runner

The DGA victory solidifies Jackson’s status as a front-runner for the Feb. 29 Oscars, where he faces Coppola, Eastwood and Weir along with Fernando Meirelles for “City of God.” The DGA Awards have been reliable bellwethers of the Oscars, as the winners have been the same in both kudos events for 49 of the last 55 years.

But the DGA and Academy have split twice in the last three years. The directors opted for Marshall last year and Ang Lee for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2001, while the Oscar went to Roman Polanski for “The Pianist” last year and to Steven Soderbergh for “Traffic” in 2001.

“Return of the King” has grossed $351 million domestically and nearly $600 million overseas, making it the second highest worldwide performer of all time after “Titanic.”

The ceremonies also featured recognition of Mike Nichols with the DGA’s lifetime achievement award, along with a win for his direction of HBO’s TV movie “Angels in America.” Nichols, who was in London shooting “Closer,” sent videotaped greetings that evoked laughs when he closed by saying, “The only thing is — lifetime achievement — I hope I get to do a few more.”

Van Patten, Misiano win

Timothy M. Van Patten won TV comedy series kudos for the “Boy Interrupted” episode of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” topping two other “Sex” episodes, the “Goodbye” episode of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” and James Burrows’ record-setting 20th nom for an episode of “Will & Grace.”

Christopher Misiano won the drama series award for the “25” episode of NBC’s “The West Wing,” topping three segs of “Six Feet Under” and an episode of “24.”

David Mallet took the musical variety award for NBC’s “Cher: The Farewell Tour,” and Larry Carpenter won the daytime serials award for segment 8849 of ABC’s “One Life to Live,”

Kevin Lima won the children’s program trophy for ABC’s “Eloise at Christmastime” and David Fincher won the commercial award for “Groundbreakers” for Nikegridiron.com, “Speed Chain” for Nike and “Beauty for Sale” for Xelebri Phones.

‘My Architect’ top doc

The documentary award went to Nathaniel Kahn for HBO/Cinemax’s “My Architect,” which explores the work of his father, Louis Kahn. It topped “The Weather Underground,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” “The Fog of War” and “Bus 174.”

“My Architect,” released by New Yorker Films, is one of the five Oscar nominees in the docu category, along with “Balseros,” “Friedmans,” “Fog of War” and “Weather Underground.”

Reiner, hosting for the 19th straight year, thanked the DGA for the gig by noting he’s 81. “At my age, there’s something nice about having a place to go every year.”

Sean Penn and Laura Linney, in presenting a nomination medallion to Eastwood, evoked major laughs when Penn said he was disappointed by Linney’s failure to duplicate Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl stunt. “If anyone deserves a little nipple, it’s Clint Eastwood,” Penn said.

Praises director

Thesp, who was a no-show when he won a Golden Globe for “Mystic River,” added: “I just want to say that it’s great to be here, because it’s such a fortunate thing to be able to work for a director like Clint. He’s the man.”

All nine awards went to first-time winners. DGA awards are selected by voting among its 12,800 members, which include feature directors, TV helmers, associate directors, assistant directors, stage managers and unit production managers.

Previously announced honors included Larry Auerbach, honorary life member; Jeremy Kagan, the Robert B. Aldrich Award; Stephen Glanzrock, the Frank Capra Achievement Award; and Peery Forbis, the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award.

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