The nominations for this year's Directors Guild of America awards, announced Monday, threw an unexpected twist into the upcoming Oscar race.
There were the shoo-ins, of course: Golden Globe winner Robert Zemeckis, whose "Forrest Gump" worked its way into the national consciousness to become the fifth-highest grossing film of all time; maverick Quentin Tarantino, whose gritty and violent "Pulp Fiction" proved to be the critics' favorite; and the less obvious--if hardly startling--choice of Robert Redford, whose "Quiz Show" faltered commercially but walked off with the New York Film Critics best picture award.
The big surprise came with the nominations of Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption") and Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral"). The former is a first-timer who held out for the right to direct the prison drama screenplay he adapted from a Stephen King novella. And Newell, a British director who scored big with 1992's "Enchanted April," received considerably less media attention for the popular and profitable "Four Weddings" than did the film's charismatic star Hugh Grant, who just won the Golden Globe best actor award.
"I'm flabbergasted," said Darabont. "Though 'Shawshank' got nice mention, it never generated the heat some of the others did. This is another thing to impress my mom--and may even give impetus to talk about putting the picture back in theaters and trying to get the crowds in the door."
Like Darabont and Newell, Tarantino is a first-time DGA nominee--and only through the good graces of the guild. Though "Pulp Fiction" was disqualified from Writers Guild competition last week because the companies who produced it were not WGA signatories, DGA rules permit any film released in 1994 to compete--even if it is served up by a non-union director such as Tarantino.
Zemeckis received a 1988 DGA nomination for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," but ultimately lost out to Barry Levinson ("Rain Man"). Redford won a DGA award in 1980 for "Ordinary People" and edged out Martin Scorsese ("Raging Bull") in the Oscar race.
In its 46-year history, the winner of the Directors Guild of America award has gone on to win the best director Academy Award in all but three instances.
Also, the DGA nominations have been a virtual mirror image of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards, parting company on only six best director nominations out of 25 over the past five years. Though the match was exact in 1994, there is less unanimity this time around. Noticeably absent from the DGA list are Golden Globe nominees Ed Zwick ("Legends of the Fall") and wild card Oliver Stone ("Natural Born Killers"), who must still be considered viable Oscar contenders.
If one adopts Hollywood's increasingly vague definition of the term, three of the films nominated by the 10,000 voting members of the DGA are of the "independent" variety--turned out by production entities that are owned by, or have distribution deals with, a major studio. "Pulp Fiction" is a production of Miramax Films, which is owned by Disney; "Shawshank" was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting; and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" came out of Gramercy Pictures, a co-venture between Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Universal Pictures.
According to DGA President Gene Reynolds, the nominations are reflective of a year in which independent offerings held their own in the movie marketplace.
"There's been a metamorphosis in Hollywood--a breakdown of the old system," he says. "Though the major studios are still dominant, there's a much greater percentage of independent product being released with great impact."
For some studios, the nominations were something of a "good news/bad news" scenario. Though Columbia must be pleased with the Darabont nod, Gillian Armstrong was once again overlooked for the studio's critically acclaimed "Little Women." And if the nomination of Redford triggered smiles at Disney, the studio suffered a possible setback in its push to secure an Academy Award best picture nomination for "The Lion King" since the film's directors, Roger Allers and Robert Minkoff, did not receive a DGA nod. Of some consolation, however, is the fact that three years ago "Beauty and the Beast" garnered an Oscar nomination without one. The winner will be announced at the 47th annual DGA Awards banquet held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 11.