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DGA combat-ready

War pix 'Life,' 'Line,' 'Ryan' join 'Tru,' 'Love'

The Second World War won big Monday when the Directors Guild of America announced its nominees for the 1998 outstanding directorial achievement in feature film.

Three of the five nominated directors had WWII as their films’ settings: Roberto Benigni for “Life Is Beautiful,” Terrence Malick for “The Thin Red Line” and Steven Spielberg for “Saving Private Ryan.”

The other two nominees were Peter Weir for “The Truman Show” and John Madden for “Shakespeare in Love.”

The announcement was made by last year’s DGA winner, James Cameron. During an informal post-announcement press conference, the “Titanic” helmer called the Guild “a body of filmmakers who know what it is to direct a movie” and said he “totally supports” the nominations. “There’s not a picture on that list that’s there by mistake.”

The slight surprise on the list was Benigni, who isn’t well known in America as a director, though he’s helmed “six and a half films,” in his words, which includes a co-directing credit with Massimo Troisi. It is possible Benigni gained his spot at the expense of Shekhar Kapur, who directed “Elizabeth,” and was widely believed to be a front-runner.

Cameron thought that one reason World War II-theme films came to the fore is “it’s taken people a long time to create a historical perspective” and that advances in film and technology make it possible for “themes that were dealt with in earlier films (to) be now done in a much more lucid way, as with the techniques Steven used in ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ for example — the fast kinetic cutting and sound. It can make history much more palpable than ever before.”

‘We are best pleased’

Spielberg told Daily Variety: “This is a great year for motion pictures … one of the best in my recent memory. I think it’s been one of the most eclectic years … and so many (of the films) are worthy of our nods.”

Benigni told Daily Variety as he left the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.: “They say artists are like children about getting gifts and prizes — I am like Pinocchio in the country of toys.”

Madden, in his finest Shakespearean English, said, “We are best pleased.”

In a statement sent from his Austin, Texas, home, Malick said: “I am both surprised and grateful to receive news of the Directors Guild nomination. I would like to thank the members of the Directors Guild for their consideration. In addition, I would also like to congratulate the other nominees on their fine achievements.”

Peter Weir could not be reached.

Academy vs. DGA

These nominations are especially significant since only four times (once a decade) has there been a difference between the DGA winner and the Academy’s directing Oscar.

This happened in 1968 when Anthony Harvey got the DGA nod for “The Lion in Winter” but Carol Reed took the Oscar for “Oliver!” In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola had “The Godfather,” but Oscar favored Bob Fosse and “Cabaret.”

Spielberg’s 1985 DGA for “The Color Purple” didn’t translate into an Oscar; it went to Sydney Pollack’s work on “Out of Africa.” And in 1995, the DGA shined upon Ron Howard for “Apollo 13,” but he failed to receive even an Oscar nomination. The statuette went to Mel Gibson for “Braveheart.”

And while the DGA nominations are an excellent indicator of Oscar nominations, it’s rare that all five DGA nominees are the same five as the Academy’s. One reason is that only 351 members of the Academy’s directors branch vote for Oscars nominations, as opposed to 11,000 voting DGA members (this includes TV and commercial helmers, unit production managers, assistant and associate directors, technical coordinators and stage managers) who vote on the Guild noms.

Spielberg’s ninth

Of historical significance is the fact that this is Spielberg’s ninth DGA nom, pushing him ahead of Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, who have eight each. The helmer said he was “wrestling” with this honor. “I can’t reconcile this,” Spielberg said. “I’ve made so few films compared to the hundreds of directors who inspired me.”

The DGA awards will be presented March 6 at the Century Plaza hotel.

The DGA recognizes both the director and his team. A complete list follows:

Roberto Benigni — “Life is Beautiful”; production manager, Attilio Viti; assistant director: Gianni Arduini

John Madden — “Shakespeare in Love”; unit production manager, Rachel Neale; first assistant director, Deborah Saban; second assistant director, Olivia Lloyd; second second assistant director, Tom Gabbutt

Terrence Malick — “The Thin Red Line”; unit production manager, Grant Hill; first assistant director, Skip Cosper; second assistant directors, Karen Estelle Collins, Simon Warnock; second second assistant director, Jennifer Leacey

Steven Spielberg — “Saving Private Ryan”; production manager, Mark Huffam; first assistant director, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan; second assistant director, Adam Goodman; second second assistant director, Karen Richards

Peter Weir — “The Truman Show”; unit production managers, Richard Luke Rothschild, Joseph P. Kane; first assistant director, Alan B. Curtiss; second assistant director, Jonathan Watson; second second assistant director, David Bernstein

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