Helmers’ history notes

This year's contenders may set precedents

SLOW AND STEADY: Woody Allen, who has earned six Oscar nominations for directing (winning once, for 1977’s “Annie Hall”) could be poised to increase his tally — the most for any working director — to seven with “Match Point.” This would tie him with David Lean and Fred Zinnemann for the third-most helming noms in Acad history, behind William Wyler (12 noms) and Billy Wilder (8). Should Allen win for “Point,” he would set a new Oscar record for the longest gap between first and second helming wins (28 years), surpassing the 15-year span between Billy Wilder’s Oscars for 1945’s “The Lost Weekend” and 1960’s “The Apartment.”

HOT NOVICES: Bennett Miller (“Capote”), Joe Wright (“Pride & Prejudice”) and Tommy Lee Jones (“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”) are among those aiming to join the short list of Oscar’s first-time theatrical feature helmers. While several tyro helmers have received bids in recent years — including “Chicago” helmer Rob Marshall, a contender this year for “Memoirs of a Geisha” — only six have won for their debut pic: Delbert Mann (1955’s “Marty”), Jerome Robbins (1961’s “West Side Story,” which he co-helmed with Robert Wise), Robert Redford (1980’s “Ordinary People”), James L. Brooks (’83’s “Terms of Endearment”), Kevin Costner (1990’s “Dances With Wolves”) and Sam Mendes (1999’s “American Beauty”).

EASTERN STANDARD: If anyone has a chance to add a few new precedents to Academy Award history, it is Taiwanese-born Ang Lee. The “Brokeback Mountain” helmer could be the first filmmaker of Asian descent to receive a best director nom for an English-language film — the films of previous Asian helming Oscar nominees Akira Kurosawa (1985’s “Ran”) and Hiroshi Teshigahara (“Woman in the Dunes” in 1966) were in the directors’ native Japanese. If he is wins, Lee would be the first Asian helmer to win the directing Academy Award, as well as the first to win both a foreign-language statuette (for 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and a directing Oscar.

SELF-EMPLOYED: “Good Night, and Good Luck” helmer George Clooney could become one of the few actor-directors to earn a directing bid for a film in which he also plays a supporting character. (Roman Polanski played a small supporting role in 1974’s “Chinatown,” to cite a previous example). More frequently, actor-directors have earned bids for helming pics in which they have either had a lead role — as would be the case for potential nominee Tommy Lee Jones (“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”) — or none at all, as with past winner and current contender Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Cinderella Man”).

DUE SOUTH: No Latin American helmer has won a directing Oscar. In fact, aside from Fernando Meirelles, only one other helmer hailing from the region has ever been nominated — Hector Babenco, the Argentine-born, naturalized Brazilian who earned a bid for the English-language pic “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1985.

TRIPLE THREAT?: Steven Spielberg, who is seeking his sixth directing bid with “Munich,” could become only the fourth director in Oscar history to earn a third statuette in the category (his first two wins were for 1993’s “Schindler’s List” and ’98’s “Saving Private Ryan”). The past triple winners were William Wyler, Frank Capra and John Ford — who subsequently won a fourth directing Oscar, the current record.

THE WAITING: “The Squid and the Whale’s” Noah Baumbach and “Walk the Line’s” James Mangold this year could receive their first Oscar noms in the decade since feature debuts (1995’s “Kicking and Screaming” and “Heavy,” respectively). But that span is dwarfed by the 30 years that have elapsed since the debut of another of this year’s nominationless contenders, “A History of Violence” helmer David Cronenberg, whose breakout film was the 1975 parasitic horror pic “Shivers.”

LUCK BE A LADY: “The Producers'” Susan Stroman is looking to become only the second U.S.-born woman to earn an Oscar directing nomination, after 2003 nominee Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), and the first helmer overall to win a statuette for a musical since Bob Fosse (1972’s “Cabaret”).

BILINGUAL: Ang Lee and Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, who is a contender this year for “The Constant Gardener” and earned his first bid for Portuguese-language “City of God” two years ago, could become only the second and third helmers in Oscar annals to earn directing bids for both foreign- and English-language pics. Lasse Hallstrom was the first helmer to achieve this feat, following up his bid for Swedish pic “My Life as a Dog” in 1987 with a second for 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”

WRITE STUFF: “Syriana” helmer Stephen Gaghan has a chance at being the first helmer since Oliver Stone to earn a directing Oscar after receiving one for scribe work on another helmer’s pic. Gaghan earned his first trophy for the screenplay to Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” (2000); eight years before Stone won his first directing Oscar for “Platoon” (1986), he took home a writing trophy for for “Midnight Express,” helmed by Alan Parker.

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