Boyle, Van Sant, Fincher nab nods

The Directors Guild of America has honored the helmers of five leading awards contenders by nominating Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”), Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) and Gus Van Sant (“Milk”).

Boyle is the lone DGA nom newbie of the group, with the remainder having been nommed for features or, in the case of Fincher, commercials.

Howard has won twice, for “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) and “Apollo 13″ (1995), and was also nominated for “Cocoon” (1985). Nolan and Van Sant each previously scored a single mention, for “Memento” (2001) and “Good Will Hunting” (1997), respectively.

Taylor Hackford unveiled the noms at guild headquarters Thursday morning, filling in for DGA topper Michael Apted, who was on set. Hackford saluted the diverse pics in the group, noting it was a “nice mix of small films and big films.”

He also found it heartening that the guild, which is composed of 14,000 members, recognized “Dark Knight” considering that it opened during the height of summer. “In an interesting way, Chris Nolan was unexpected because his film came out so early,” Hackford said.

Nolan was pleased by the nomination, which came one day after “The Dark Knight” picked up several kudos at the People’s Choice Awards, including favorite film.

“What’s really exciting for me is that it was such a different movie than ‘Memento,’ ” Nolan told Daily Variety, pointing out that the earlier pic was a small indie whereas “Dark Knight” was “a huge studio movie.”

Nolan said the awards attention devoted to the late Heath Ledger’s perf as the Joker “is a tremendous source of pride” for all who worked on the movie and makes him feel that he did his job as a director.

Boyle said he was “personally flattered to be amongst such prestigious company,” calling the recognition for “Slumdog Millionaire” a great privilege. “As we say over here, I’m chuffed to bits,” he said.

For Van Sant, the best part of the nomination was the fact that it came from his peers.

“One of the great honors is recognition from people who do the same job as you,” the “Milk” helmer said.

The DGA, which includes unit production managers and a.d.s in addition to helmers, tends to have a more populist voting record than some of its rival guilds. Its kudos have proven an accurate barometer of who will win the Academy Award. Fifty-four times out of 60, the DGA winner for feature film has gone on to win the Oscar for directing.

There are 375 voting members in the directors branch of the Acad out of a total membership of 5,810.

This year’s DGA award winners will be crowned Jan. 31 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.

And the nominees are:

Danny Boyle
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight Pictures & Warner Bros. Pictures)
Mr. Boyle’s Directorial Team:
Unit Production Manager: Sanjay Kumar
First Assistant Director: Raj Acharya
Second Assistant Director: Avani Batra
Second Second Assistant Director: Sonia Nemawarkar

David Fincher
“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” (Paramount Pictures & Warner Bros. Pictures)
Mr. Fincher’s Directorial Team:
Unit Production Manager: Daniel M. Stillman
First Assistant Director: Bob Wagner
Second Assistant Director: Allen Kupetsky
Second Second Assistant Directors: Pete Waterman, Stephen F. Lonano

Ron Howard
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal Pictures)
Mr. Howard’s Directorial Team:
Unit Production Manager: Kathleen McGill
First Assistant Director: William M. Connor
Second Assistant Director: Kristen Ploucha
Second Second Assistant Director: Scott R. Meyers

Christopher Nolan
“The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Mr. Nolan’s Directorial Team:
Unit Production Managers: Kevin De La Noy, Susan Towner, Jan Foster
First Assistant Director: Nilo Otero
Second Assistant Director: Brandon Lambdin
Additional Second Assistant Director: Jessica Franks
Second Second Assistant Director: Greg Pawlik
Location Manager: James R. McAllister

Gus Van Sant
“Milk” (Focus Features)
Mr. Van Sant’s Directorial Team:
Unit Production Manager: Barbara A. Hall
First Assistant Director: David Webb
Second Assistant Director: John R. Saunders
Second Second Assistant Director: Ian Calip
Additional Second Assistant Director: Cindy A. Taylor

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