History lessons intrigue DGA

'Munich' scores its first guild nomination

See nominees

This article was updated at 7:12 p.m.

Opting for moderate-scale dramas from specialty divisions — and another pic from Steven Spielberg — the DGA awarded nominations to George Clooney for Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Paul Haggis for Lionsgate’s “Crash,” Ang Lee for Focus Features’ “Brokeback Mountain,” Bennett Miller for United Artists/Sony Classics’ “Capote” and Spielberg for Universal’s “Munich.”

It was Spielberg’s 10th DGA nom and Lee’s third. Clooney, Haggis and Miller are first-time nominees and each is a second-time feature director.

Thursday’s announcement, made by DGA fifth veep Betty Thomas at DGA headquarters in Hollywood, provided “Munich” its only nomination from the four Hollywood Guilds. Spielberg won DGA awards for “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List” and “The Color Purple.”

“Munich,” the only major studio release of the nominated films, moves into expanded release today at 1,485 playdates. “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Crash” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” have dominated guild nominations, each receiving mentions from the PGA, WGA and SAG.

Spielberg said his biggest directorial challenge on “Munich” stemmed from capturing the linguistic nuances of the script by Eric Roth and Tony Kushner.

“It’s a very complex and layered story, so one of the most important things is honoring the language on the page,” he told Daily Variety. “How it was translated by the actors was far more important than the camera position. The whole story’s about how the dialogue needs to be louder than the weaponry.”

Lee won the DGA award five years ago for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” “I have that award on display right here on my desk because my peers gave it to me,” he said.

Lee said he’d been surprised that “Brokeback” hadn’t generated more controversy over its gay cowboy love story and speculated the pic’s naturalistic feel had precluded that.

“I think there’s a modesty to it in that it doesn’t feel too directed,” he added. “That may be what the directors responded to.”

For Clooney, the announcement came a few hours after he’d received a SAG nom for his supporting work in “Syriana” and a day after he’d gotten a WGA nomination with Grant Heslov. Pic received a PGA nom, although Clooney is not eligible for that award.

For Haggis, it was the third nomination in two days, following Producers Guild and Writers Guild mentions on Wednesday.

“I did not even dare hope that I’d get a DGA nomination,” Haggis said. “I made my friend repeat it three times because I thought he was joking.”

Haggis, who suffered a heart attack during production, credited the “Crash” cast for his multiple kudos, adding, “I would say one word and they would make it come to life.”

Miller, whose previous film is a documentary, said the nom was completely unexpected. He speculated that the pic’s portrayal of internal experience had helped it gather support among his peers.

“It’s a film that aims to communicate on many levels, and I think directors respond strongly to that,” he added.

Some of the overlooked candidates this year were James Mangold for “Walk the Line,” Terrence Malick for “The New World,” Ron Howard for “Cinderella Man,” David Cronenberg for “A History of Violence,” Woody Allen for “Match Point,” Peter Jackson for “King Kong,” Rob Marshall for “Memoirs of a Geisha” and Fernando Meirelles for “The Constant Gardener.”

The DGA, with 12,800 members, has been a reliable barometer of Oscar sentiment. The DGA winner and the Oscar winner for director have matched in 51 of the last 57 years, including last year, when Clint Eastwood won both trophies for “Million Dollar Baby.”

The DGA last diverged from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2003, when it selected Marshall for “Chicago” and the Oscar went to Roman Polanski for “The Pianist,” and in 2001, when Lee won the DGA award and Steven Soderbergh took the Oscar for “Traffic.” The DGA also differed from the Academy in 1985, when Spielberg won the DGA trophy for “The Color Purple” and Sydney Pollack took the Oscar for “Out of Africa.”

The five DGA nominations hardly ever duplicate the five Oscar mentions for directing, with the most recent occurrence in 1998. Last year’s DGA noms went to Eastwood, Marc Forster for “Finding Neverland,” Taylor Hackford for “Ray,” Alexander Payne for “Sideways” and Martin Scorsese for “The Aviator”; the Academy, which has 376 members in its directors branch, nominated Eastwood, Hackford, Payne and Scorsese along with Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”

The DGA will announce its winners Jan. 28 at the Century Plaza. The feature film nominees will appear at a seminar that morning at guild headquarters.

And the nominees are…

George Clooney, Good Night, And Good Luck (Warner Independent Pictures)
Unit Production Manager: Barbara A. Hall
First Assistant Director: David Webb
Second Assistant Director: Melissa V. Barnes
Second Second Assistant Director: Richard Gonzales

Paul Haggis, Crash (Lions Gate Films)
Unit Production Manager: Betsy Danbury
First Assistant Director: Scott Cameron
Second Assistant Director: Simone Farber

Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features)
Unit Production Managers: Scott Ferguson, Tom Benz
First Assistant Directors: Michael Hausman, Pierre Tremblay
Second Assistant Director: Donald Murphy
Second Second Assistant Director: Brad Moerke

Bennett Miller, Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classcs)
Unit Production Managers: Ellen Rutter, Caroline Baron
First Assistant Directors: Ronaldo Nacionales, Richard O’Brien Moran
Second Assistant Director: Charles Crossin

Steven Spielberg, Munich (Universal Pictures)
Unit Production Manager: Ian Hickinbotham
First Assistant Director: Adam Somner
Second Assistant Director: Emma Horton
Second Second Assistant Director: Pierre Ellul

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