The Oscar playing field was further opened up Monday when the Directors Guild of America announced a lineup of award nominees that included the Italian-language film "The Postman," which until now had been overlooked in year-end honors.
In addition to "Il Postino" director Michael Radford, the DGA nominees include Mike Figgis for "Leaving Las Vegas," Mel Gibson for "Braveheart," Ron Howard for "Apollo 13" and Ang Lee for "Sense and Sensibility."
As evidenced by these nominations, the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday and the various awards handed out by critics' organizations nationwide, there currently appears to be no obvious Oscar front-runner.
The DGA award is widely regarded in Hollywood as a predictor of who will win the Oscar for best director. Since 1949, the winner of the DGA award has failed to win the best director Oscar only three times.
The nomination of Radford, who is British, comes in the wake of Miramax Films' recent promotion of the Italian-made film as a contender for the best picture Oscar. It is not eligible for a foreign-language film Oscar because Italy didn't submit it in 1994 when it opened there. That omission is believed to be because of Radford's British citizenship. (In the history of the Oscars, no foreign-language film has ever won the best picture Oscar, though four have been nominated.)
Radford sees his nomination as bittersweet recognition of his film, a tender comedy that chronicles the unlikely friendship between exiled poet Pablo Neruda and a simple villager who delivers his mail. The film's Italian star, Massimo Troisi, died 12 hours after the film was completed.
"The shoot felt cursed and yet blessed because we just continued on and on, without giving up," Radford said. "There were many times when Massimo should have just given up. He was mortally ill. Because he could have had a cardiac arrest any moment I could only use him [on the set] an hour a day. We had emergency personnel standing by. It was made under the most appallingly difficult circumstances. My first question every morning was, 'Is he still alive?' And the worst of it was that [Troisi] was my very close friend."
"Sense and Sensibility," the only film to win two Golden Globes Sunday, was cited by the DGA as well.
"As a filmmaker it means a lot to me to be recognized by fellow directors," said the Taiwanese-born Lee. "I didn't know how to face my father 20 years ago when I told him I wanted to be a filmmaker. I have been saying that this movie, 'Sense and Sensibility,' is the first time I feel I have a job. This is the first time I've done a major-league film with a cast and crew of this caliber and with a major studio. To be nominated by the DGA further confirms that I've got a job."
Gibson, who won the Golden Globe Sunday night for best director, is up for the directors' guild award against Howard, who is currently directing him in "Ransom," a movie filming in New York and also starring Rene Russo, Gary Sinise and Delroy Lindo. Their competition for this award (as well as for a Golden Globe) has prompted much on-set high jinks and mock rivalry, Gibson said.
"We've been taking cheap shots at one another," Gibson joked. "But it's only good fun."
Gibson said that the two interrupted shooting "Ransom" and flew Saturday to Los Angeles for the Golden Globe ceremony, getting only a couple hours' sleep. Meanwhile, when they arrived back in New York to resume filming Monday morning, Gibson had enlarged a promotional photograph from "Braveheart" and put a message on it to Howard and his partner Brian Grazer: "Very happy to be in your company in three categories: Best picture, best director and best moonshot." He had enclosed with it a photo of a crowd of people mooning the camera.
"I think they were amused," Gibson said.
The DGA winner will be announced March 2.