There may be some surprises in this year's Academy Award nominations, but there was nothing unexpected in the Directors Guild of America nominations for best movie director in 1984, announced Friday at the union's Hollywood headquarters.
Robert Benton ("Places in the Heart"), Milos Forman ("Amadeus"), Norman Jewison ("A Soldier's Story"), Roland Joffe ("The Killing Fields") and David Lean ("A Passage to India") are the five contenders for the award for outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, which will be given March 9 at simultaneous awards dinners here and in New York.
These directors are the favorites, and are expected to encore as the Oscar nominees Wednesday, when the Academy Award contenders are announced. Only twice in the 36-year history of the guild's annual award has that winner not gone on to claim the Oscar for best director.
The two exceptions: In 1972, Francis Coppola won the guild award for "The Godfather," but Bob Fosse won the Oscar for "Cabaret." In 1968, Anthony Harvey won the guild award for "The Lion in Winter," but Carol Reed won the Academy Award for "Oliver!"
The guild also announced Friday that director Billy Wilder will receive the D.W. Griffith Award, the guild's highest honor. It was instituted in 1968 and has since been given to Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Orson Welles, among others. Wilder's most celebrated films include "Sunset Boulevard," "The Apartment" and "Stalag 17."
In all probability, this year's guild nominees foreshadow not only the directorial Oscar nominations, but also those for best picture. The only suspense in Friday's announcement was whether Francis Coppola might be chosen for "The Cotton Club" and Alan Parker for "Birdy." Both directors have been nominated in the past. Neither would now seem to have much of a chance in the Oscar race, nor would the films they directed seem likely to turn up as best picture nominees.
Other directors considered potential nominees but who were passed over include John Huston for "Under the Volcano," Barry Levinson for "The Natural" and Robert Zemeckis for "Romancing the Stone."
Three of the five directors nominated have previously won the guild award, and subsequently, the Oscar: Benton in 1979 for "Kramer Vs. Kramer," Forman in 1975 for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and Lean, twice a winner, in 1957 for "Bridge on the River Kwai" and in 1962 for "Lawrence of Arabia." (He also was nominated in 1970 for "Ryan's Daughter.")
Jewison has been nominated for the guild award twice before, in 1966 for "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming" and in 1967 for "In the Heat of the Night." Joffe is a first-time director and nominee with "The Killing Fields," a fact that may actually work in his favor. Three of the last four guild (and Oscar) winners scored with their debut features: Robert Redford for "Ordinary People" in 1980, Warren Beatty for "Reds" in 1981 and James L. Brooks for "Terms of Endearment" last year.
None of the directors nominated this year was present at the press conference, with most either on distant locations or preparing their next films. The nominations were announced by guild President Gilbert Cates, joined by veteran directors George Sidney, Robert Wise, Mark Rydell, Arthur Hiller and Jackie Cooper.
Jewison, reached by phone in Switzerland where he is vacationing, said he was especially pleased by the guild nomination, considering the difficulty he had in getting "A Soldier's Story" made. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the murder of a black sergeant at a Southern Army base during World War II was turned down by several studios before Columbia Pictures agreed to finance and release it.
"A Soldier's Story" has recently been the subject of a dispute between Jewison and Columbia over the studio's plans to release it in segregated theaters in South Africa later this year.
"I told them I didn't want the film to play at all in South Africa if it was only going to be seen by white audiences," Jewison said Friday. "I think if everyone got together and cut off all the films from that country, you would have integrated theaters. Unfortunately, I don't have too much control over distribution."
Asked if he would still promote "Soldier's Story" in South Africa, Jewison responded emphatically, "No way! I won't go, nor will anybody from the cast go." Jewison added that he has informed Columbia that any money that accrues to him or his production company from the profits of the South African engagements will be donated to the United Negro College Fund.
Joffe was reached in New York, where he and "Killing Fields" producer David Puttnam are preparing "The Mission." The film is scheduled to begin filming April 15 in Colombia.
"It's a very distinguished group of people I'm associated with," Joffe said Friday. "I owe a lot to both David Lean and Milos Forman for what I learned from them about film making."
Nominees for best director for television and commercials will be revealed next week, and also announced in the March 9 ceremonies, to be held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills and the Plaza Hotel in New York.