With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low.

Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with 13 noms by Mario Martone’s “Capri Revolution,” about early 20th-century proto-hippies, and by Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” (released late in Italy), and Paolo Sorrentino’s Berlusconi biopic “Loro,” both with 12 noms. Sorrentino however, unlike his colleagues, is not in the running for best picture or director.

Then comes Alice Rohrwacher’s pastoral fable on the ills of modernity “Happy as Lazzaro” and also police brutality drama “On My Skin” by newcomer Alessio Cremonini, both with nine noms and running in the main categories. Valeria Golino’s sibling bonding drama “Euphoria,” which is also running for both best picture and director, weighed in at seven.

The foreign film nod will go to Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” which was released by Netflix in Italian cinemas.

“What emerged this year was great auteur cinema,” says Piera Detassis, the nods’ new president and artistic director. “With all their limitations, the David Awards reflect what is happening in Italian cinema,” she adds, noting that “this year those were the Italian movies that travelled.”

Detassis and many others in the Italian industry are pleased to point out that for the first time ever two women directors, Rohrwacher and Golino, are in the running for the top nods. This is due at least in part to a radical structural overhaul (see Q&A interview).

The changes include a new prize for the Italian pic that scored the most box office admissions, won by Gabriele Muccino’s ensemble dramedy “There Is No Place Like Home,” which totalled 1.43 million tickets, marking a major comeback for the Italian director who made a splash in Hollywood with Will Smith-starrers “Pursuit of Happyness” and “Seven Pounds.” Muccino in a Facebook post made no bones about being miffed that he only scored three nominations, saying he felt snubbed by his colleagues.

Undoubtedly Muccino deserves recognition for luring Italians into theaters in a year when total ticket sales plunged below 90 million for the first time in a decade. The start of 2019 hasn’t been encouraging either, with a roughly 10% dip in January and February compared with the same period in 2018.

That’s why the Davids will be plugging a new joint effort called Moviement to lure more local moviegoers into theaters during the summer months when Italians traditionally hit the beach en masse. It’s an “important initiative supported by the government, in particular by Culture Ministry Undersecretary Lucia Borgonzoni,” says Detassis “and I’m glad to be part of it.”

“We have to try and change Italian moviegoing habits,” she adds. This is “an important goal for the Davids themselves, to integrate them even more within the industry.”