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Eastwood, Scorsese Among Oscar Nominees for Best Director

  • Alan Silverman

Sunday February 27, Hollywood celebrates itself with the 77th annual Academy Awards for excellence in motion pictures. Alan Silverman has a look at the nominees for one of the most prestigious and most unpredictable categories at this year's Oscars - Best Director.

Eastwood adds yet another crusty character to his acting resume as the boxing trainer in Million Dollar Baby.

"He's a man who is searching for something," explains Eastwood, "and, through his reticence to build a relationship with this young lady as a fighter, he sort of finds himself as a man and finds his heart. He has a sort of rebirth of sorts.

In addition to a best lead actor nomination for his performance, Eastwood is up for best director - his third career nomination that category. He was nominated last year for Mystic River and won the Oscar for his 1992 western Unforgiven. In January he won the top honor from his peers in the Directors Guild of America for Million Dollar Baby - making Eastwood the front-runner for the directing Oscar. Only six times since 1949 has the DGA winner not gone on to take home the Academy Award.

One of America's most acclaimed filmmakers of the past three decades has never won the best director Oscar, but that could change with his entry this year: The Aviator, an epic biography of billionaire Howard Hughes and his early years in Hollywood.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a best actor nominee for his performance as Hughes in the film that earns Martin Scorsese the fifth best director nomination of his career.

"It would be wonderful to win, I think," Scorsese says. "It probably is better that I didn't win in the 1970s or mid-80s or something. My view on making films is somewhat different in a way and I think it's something that, maybe, I was not able to handle at the time. You really have to keep it in perspective."

The Aviator is up for 11 Oscars: the most nominations of any film this year.

Ray, the tuneful biography of American music legend Ray Charles, has six nominations including best director for Taylor Hackford.

"It took 15 years to get this film made and not because we couldn't come up with the concept for it," Hackford says. " It was pretty clear. [It was] Because I couldn't find the money. The Ray Charles career is astounding and it really goes and goes. I made a choice to tell 40 years of it, but I could have gone on for another 40. It wasn't just around the United States, it was internationally. How do you tell a story that big for $3.95? You just can't do it. I kept telling people and they'd say 'oh, it could be interesting if you could just make it for $10 million.' I said I wish I could, but I'm not going to choose one little moment in Ray Charles's life and say that's his life. That was the problem."

That kind of dedication could appeal to Academy voters, who are expected to pick Hackford's Ray star, Jamie Foxx as best actor.

The wine country of the central California coast is the setting for the mid-life crisis comedy Sideways.

Alexander Payne is nominated for both writing and directing Sideways, but he has mixed feelings about what it means.

"Any time in the arts when you single out 'the best' or 'this is better than other things,' I don't think that's very good," he says. "I think it's kind of pernicious. I also bear in mind, always, that the Oscars were drummed up in 1928 as a legitimacy seeking and money-making gimmick by studio heads ... and it remains that. It's a commodity. I remember my dad called me the morning we were nominated and said 'Alexander, I don't want this to go to your head.' I said 'Yes, Dad, but I want it to go to other people's heads' because it's a commodity that keeps your career going, especially if you're making movies that are not typical studio fare."

Sideways has five Oscar nominations.

'Not typical studio fare' certainly describes the work of English filmmaker Mike Leigh, who earns his second career best director nomination for the powerful drama Vera Drake.

Leigh rehearses for months with his actors, like best actress nominee Imelda Staunton, to create the nuanced performances.

"I hope that what I do is to work with actors in a way that respects them as fellow artists," Leigh says. "I hope that this is a kind of acting that rises above the normal function of an actor, which is to remember the lines and not fall over the furniture and hit the marks. This is about actors being artists and helping to bring into existence something that didn't previously exist over and above the performance itself."

Mike Leigh, Alexander Payne, Taylor Hackford, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood: one of them will take home the best director Oscar at the 77th annual Academy Awards.

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