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THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS | THE DIRECTOR

A new chance for `United 93'

January 24, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

IT ends badly -- everybody dies. It had to battle "World Trade Center," a heavily promoted Oliver Stone movie about the very same events. And it debuted in April, when Academy Award voters are contemplating Hawaiian vacations, not their Oscar ballots.

But even against those many obstacles, "United 93" was remembered in Tuesday's Oscar nominations, collecting one selection for editing and a surprise nomination for direction.

The movie is an intense, documentary-style dramatization of United Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field after an apparent passenger revolt against the hijackers.

When it appeared last spring, it sparked debate over whether the nation was ready for such a film.

"United 93" attracted strong reviews but did not fare particularly well at the box office, grossing $31.5 million. Universal Pictures, which financed and released the film, labored to keep the film fresh in Oscar voters' minds, spending millions in newspaper and television advertisements.

Clint Eastwood, nominated as director of "Letters From Iwo Jima," said: "A lot of the so-called experts -- of which there are none -- said it's the wrong time. Maybe they're right. Maybe 40 years from now it would have been better. But he told the story he wanted to, when he wanted to, and I applaud him for it."

He is writer-director Paul Greengrass, a British filmmaker who also made the hit "The Bourne Supremacy."

Greengrass said Tuesday that he focused on the events in near real time rather than establish main characters and distill the story through their experiences.

"It always seemed to me that if I was going to make a film about such an awesome and deeply wrenching, painful event, that what happened when and where is a good place to start," Greengrass said.

Fellow director George Miller, whose "Happy Feet" picked up a nomination for best animated film, said: "A lot of people were reluctant to see the movie, but when I did, I felt something transcendent."

scott.martelle@latimes.com

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