LOS ANGELES, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The announcement Wednesday of this year's nominees for the Directors Guild of America's top feature film award adds to the growing prestige of "A Beautiful Mind" and gives the Oscar prospects of "Black Hawk Down" a big boost.
The DGA announcement also enhances the Oscar hopes of "Moulin Rouge," "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Memento."
The DGA nominated Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind"), Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"), Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge"), Christopher Nolan ("Memento") and Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down") for its feature film directing award -- installing them as frontrunners for the directing Oscar.
Since the guild established the award in 1949, the directing Oscar has gone to a DGA nominee every year. In all but five years, it has gone to the DGA winner.
The exceptions were 1968, when Anthony Harvey won the DGA award for "The Lion in Winter" while Carol Reed took the Oscar for "Oliver!"; 1972, when Francis Ford Coppola won the DGA award for "The Godfather" while the Oscar went to Bob Fosse for "Cabaret"; 1985, when the DGA honored Steven Spielberg for "The Color Purple" while the Academy went with Sydney Pollack for "Out of Africa"; 1995, when the guild award went to Howard for "Apollo 13" while the Oscar went to Mel Gibson for "Braveheart"; and last year, when Ang Lee won the DGA award for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" while Steven Soderbergh won the Oscar for directing "Traffic."
Howard's third DGA nomination -- he was previously recognized for "Cocoon" in 1985 as well as for "Apollo 13" -- adds another honor to the growing list of accolades for his movie about the schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash.
The picture won the Golden Globe for best drama and was named best picture by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. It is one of five nominees for the Producers Guild of America's Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award -- the PGA's top honor for best picture.
Howard told Daily Variety he thinks DGA members responded to "A Beautiful Mind" because they related to the challenges it posed for a filmmaker.
"Even though it's a cliché," said Howard, "the nomination is incredibly gratifying because it's your peers. For me, it was the most visually demanding because of trying to personalize John Forbes Nash's journey of the mind from genius to madness to recovery."
Howard was named best director by the BFCA and was nominated for a Golden Globe -- an honor that went to Robert Altman for "Gosford Park." Altman has also won the New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics awards for best director and had been regarded as a front-runner for a DGA nomination -- but his Oscar prospects seem to be a long shot now that he is out of the running for the DGA award.
Altman isn't the only high-profile director overlooked by the DGA.
Todd Field, who was named best director by the NBR for "In the Bedroom," was not nominated by the guild. Neither was David Lynch, who was named best director by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Boston Society of Film Critics and nominated for the Golden Globe and the AFI for "Mulholland Drive."
This is Scott's third DGA nomination. He was nominated in 1991 for "Thelma and Louise" and last year for "Gladiator."
Although it was not a factor at the Golden Globe Awards, "Black Hawk Down" has been gaining momentum in the Oscars race. The account of a U.S. military misadventure in Somalia in 1993 finished at No. 6 on the National Board of Review's list of the Top 10 movies of 2001, and was a best picture nominee at the first-ever American Film Institute's AFI Awards. It had five AFI nominations -- including best director for Scott -- but did not win any AFI Awards.
Scott is in Spain promoting "Black Hawk Down." He called the nomination "a great surprise" and speculated that his colleagues appreciated the complexities involved in telling a story that has conventionally been seen as a U.S. military disaster but is now being told as a tale of heroism and valor.
Jackson, Luhrmann and Nolan are all first-time DGA nominees.
Jackson -- who is in his native New Zealand, in post-production on the second "Rings" installment -- told Variety the key to his movie's success was its emphasis on emotion, not just spectacle.
"We tried to take the genre and give it a strong emotional element that came first and foremost rather than the special effects," he said. "I think that helped transcend the genre, because fantasy films are usually left out at awards time."
Luhrmann told Variety the DGA nomination was "by far the most meaningful" recognition he has yet received for his musical, set in Paris dance halls at the dawn of the 20th century.
"Directors truly know what directing is, that it's not just moving traffic around," he said. "They understand what a long journey it is, to carry out a notion and see it through."
Nolan has won a batch of awards -- from the NBR, the AFI, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society and the Boston Society of Film Critics -- for his catchy screenplay about a man trying to solve a murder while also struggling against constant short-term memory loss. As a director, however, his work had generally been overlooked during the awards season -- until the Directors Guild announcement.
The DGA will announce the winner on March 9.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce this year's Oscar nominations on Feb. 12, and will present the 74th Annual Academy Awards on March 24.