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Directors Guild Nominations Have an Eclectic Flavor

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Films that pushed the director’s craft and had moviegoers talking were nominated Monday for outstanding directorial achievement by the Directors Guild of America.

Whether it was a chilling ghost story, a supernatural death row tale or a surreal comedy about the quest for 15 minutes of fame, the nominated films were an eclectic mix of the traditional and the avant-garde.

Grabbing the nominations were the directors of “The Sixth Sense” (M. Night Shyamalan); “The Green Mile” (Frank Darabont); “Being John Malkovich” (Spike Jonze); “American Beauty” (Sam Mendes), the Golden Globe-winning dark satire set in American suburbia; and “The Insider” (Michael Mann), a dramatization of the true story of a tobacco industry whistle-blower and the ensuing editing of a “60 Minutes” news report.

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The winner will be announced March 11 at the Century Plaza Hotel during the 52nd annual DGA Awards dinner.

Not only were some of the selections virtually ignored by the nation’s film critics in earlier tallies, but the majority of this year’s nominees were also newcomers to the DGA Awards. Four of the nominees, in fact, are 40 years old or younger. Two had never directed a feature-length movie before--Jonze and Mendes.

Notably absent from Monday’s nominations were such veteran directors as Anthony Minghella for “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Norman Jewison for “The Hurricane” and Mike Leigh for “Topsy-Turvy.”

Darabont, who directed Tom Hanks in the three-hour prison drama “The Green Mile,” was the only previous nominee in this category. He was nominated five years ago for “The Shawshank Redemption,” another prison drama, which, like his current film, was based on a Stephen King story.

“My head is spinning and I’m walking on cloud nine,” Darabont said shortly after being told of his nomination. “I am going to have to get medicated or something.”

Until the DGA Award nomination, Darabont had been shut out by the critics and the Golden Globes for his film. “They didn’t nominate ‘Shawshank’ either, and that went on to get seven Academy Award nominations,” says Darabont. “So, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

Darabont believes audiences have embraced the film--it has brought in more than $100 million already--for the same reason he responded to King’s story.

“It’s such an emotional journey and, as a story, it is such a full meal,” he explained.

Jonze, who cut his teeth on commercials and music videos, was nominated for “Being John Malkovich,” a technically audacious black comedy about a down-and-out puppeteer who discovers a mysterious portal that leads inside the brain of actor John Malkovich. A critics’ favorite, the film explores the desperate need for fame in some people and its sometimes dire consequences on personal relationships.

“I feel pretty amazed because it is the DGA and it’s voted on by other directors,” Jonze said in a statement Monday, adding, “It is quite an honor.”

Michael Mann, who received the DGA Award 20 years ago for the TV movie “The Jericho Mile,” this year picked up his first feature nomination for “The Insider.”

A well-known action director of such movies as “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Manhunter” and “Heat,” Mann said “The Insider” pushed him as a director.

“The attraction to me, the challenge of this picture, was the absence of physical action and to try and make the intense thriller that we knew occurred inside the lives of the real people be manifested on the screen without physical action,” Mann said. “So for me as a director, I chose to do this picture almost precisely because the intensity had to come from the situational drama and the psychology and the performance and the language.”

Mann also hopes that the DGA nomination will give “The Insider” a second chance at finding an audience, because the film has performed poorly at the box office since its release in the fall.

“It didn’t open,” he admits. “But it would be great if this resulted--I’m not counting on it--in it having a second shot.”

Freshman filmmaker Mendes was nominated for “American Beauty,” which Sunday night won three Golden Globes, including one for Mendes’ direction. An acclaimed stage director, Mendes won a Tony two years ago for “Cabaret.”

Based on a screenplay by Alan Ball, “American Beauty” takes a darkly comedic look at the American Dream as a man’s midlife crisis causes him and his world to self-destruct. Despite the movie’s downbeat nature, “American Beauty” became a critics’ darling and one of the surprise hits of the fall.

At 29, Shyamalan is the youngest DGA nominee this year. His box-office blockbuster “The Sixth Sense,” starring Bruce Willis and 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment, was one of the big surprises of 1999. The film was second only to George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace” in domestic box office (more than $275 million so far), and its eerie story with a kicker ending caused many moviegoers to gather around water coolers to discuss the plot.

Born in India but raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Shyamalan got his first Super-8 movie camera at age 8 and began to model his career on his idol, Steven Spielberg. It was Spielberg who announced the nominations Monday morning at DGA headquarters on Sunset Boulevard.


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