Jackson, Howard get DGA nods

The Oscar race gets more complicated by the minute.

The Director Guild of America announced their nominees Tuesday for outstanding directorial achievement in feature films in 2001–and there are a few notable surprises.

Predictably, Ron Howard got a nod for his elegant A Beautiful Mind as did Peter Jackson for his spectacular Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Veteran Hollywood director Ridley Scott made the DGA cut for a second year in a row for his tense war drama Black Hawk Down, a film which has been heavily touted as Oscar bait, but hasn’t been on many critics lists so far. Scott was nominated for Gladiator last year but lost to Ang Lee, who won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Scott was also nominated by the DGA in 1991 for Thelma & Louise.)

Unexpectedly, however, two new faces entered the fray, making the race for Oscar gold even more muddled. Aussie director Baz Luhrmann received his first DGA nomination for the musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge and Christopher Nolan snagged his first for the time altering Memento.

Of course, this leaves a short list of directors who were surprisingly left out, most notably Robert Altman. The veteran director has already been honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press, the American Film Institute, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle for his work on the British dark comedy Gosford Park, but apparently was not an option for the DGA.

Other noted directors who were clearly omitted include David Lynch (Mulholland Drive), Todd Field (In the Bedroom), Steven Spielberg (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) and Michael Mann (Ali).

Although the winner of the prestigious DGA award is considered a barometer on who will win the Oscar, it’s not always foolproof. For example, DGA winner Lee lost the Oscar to Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) last year.

Howard won the award in 1995 for Apollo 13 but lost the Oscar to Mel Gibson (Braveheart) that same year. Howard, nonetheless, says he’s honored to receive his third DGA nomination.

“It’s exciting and gratifying because [A Beautiful Mind] is a challenging movie,” Howard told the Hollywood Reporter.

“We all felt Akiva [Goldsman’s] screenplay promised the possibility, if we did our work well and wisely, of transporting audiences into Nash’s mind. The directorial challenge was to find the cinematic expression of that. I was nervous as hell going into this film. I felt it offered a really unique opportunity to take a journey into a mind that could be personalized for audiences so that they could go on that journey with Nash instead of watching it from safe distance,” Howard explained.

Luhrmann was surprised by his nomination.

“Of all the acknowledgments the film has received, this is really great because directors know what the job is.

“Directing isn’t just moving traffic around. I feel very honored because other directors understand more than anyone else what it is to see the musical back where it once belonged, and they understand what it is to negotiate it through a dangerous system. I’ve gotten some of my most supportive reactions from other directors, who have been incredibly generous because they recognize this film is a blow for creative freedom,” Luhrmann gushed.

The 54th annual DGA Awards will be handed out March 9 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, Calif.