The HFPA seemed to go out of its way to spread the love in the director category this year, nominating two legends, a respected auteur, a French filmmaker currently riding the crest of the award-season wave and … George Clooney.
Wait: Clooney got nominated over Steven Spielberg and Stephen Daldry? By George, do you think celebrity has anything to do with the choices?
Clooney’s inclusion for his lead actor work in “The Descendants” had been considered a given. However, the “Ides of March” nods for motion picture drama and director caught some by surprise since the film hasn’t had much traction with critics groups or other awards precursors. But there is history on the HFPA side, as the org’s voters had previously nominated Clooney for his behind-the-camera work on his last film, 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
As one HFPA member put it: “Cynics might think otherwise, but it’s pretty simple. Voters like Clooney and believe his movie delivered.”
Clooney is joined in the category by Alexander Payne, who directed him in “The Descendants.” Payne, too, has a proven track record with the Globes, having been nominated twice for directing and winning twice for screenplay. Another favorite is “Hugo” helmer Martin Scorsese, whom the HFPA honored at last year’s ceremony with its Cecil B. DeMille award. Scorsese has taken the category twice in the past decade for “Gangs of New York” and “The Departed.”
The category’s final two slots come from well-regarded comedies with French connections — Gallic filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’ valentine to silent cinema, “The Artist,” and Woody Allen’s nostalgic “Midnight in Paris.” The nod reps Allen’s fifth nomination as a director, though he has never won the category.
Notably absent is Spielberg, a 10-time nominee and two-time winner as director. Spielberg’s equine epic “War Horse” found success in motion picture drama, but couldn’t pull off a daily-double for its director. (Spielberg is present among the animation nominees for “Tintin.”)
Daldry’s omission is also something of a surprise, since the British helmer had received nods for his previous two outings, “The Hours” and “The Reader.” Less of a shocker: Auteur Terrence Malick failing to make the cut for his impressionistic “The Tree of Life.” HFPA hasn’t nominated Malick since “Days of Heaven” in 1979.
And though their films showed up in the heavyweight drama category, the HFPA ignored Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”) and Tate Taylor (“The Help”). Taylor, helming his first studio film, has been receiving more run for his screenplay adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s popular novel. Miller’s “Moneyball” has also been winning more kudos on the writing side for its degree-of-difficulty adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2003 numbers-oriented bestseller.
Since the directing category typically draws more from the drama side than its comedic counterparts, neglecting to include Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”), Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) or Simon Curtis (“My Week With Marilyn”) didn’t raise any eyebrows among Globe watchers.
As for the absence of last year’s winner, David Fincher, who returns this year with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” one HFPA member offers a concise explanation: “We just liked the Swedish version better.”