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Eastwood, Scorsese Among Oscar Best Director Nominees


American cinema's top annual honors, the Academy Awards, are presented Sunday February 25 in a star-studded telecast from Hollywood. This year's crop of Oscar nominees is more global than ever before. Alan Silverman has a look at one category where that diversity is very apparent: the nominees for Best Achievement in Directing.

The Departed stars Jack Nicholson as a brutal Irish-American crime boss in Boston. The intense and violent gangster drama, adapted from the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, is familiar territory for director Martin Scorcese.

"A lot of my work on the film was intuitive, but I did understand the corruption of power [represented by] Jack Nicholson's character: his corruption of power and he is beyond God," Scorsese says. "He has all the money, all the drugs and everything, but is still not satisfied and ultimately sets himself up to be taken in by his sons."

The Departed is up for five Oscars including the top honor, Best Picture of the Year. It earns Scorcese the sixth Best Director nomination of his career; but, though he is widely considered one of the best modern American filmmakers, Scorcese has never won the Academy Award.

Clint Eastwood has won two Best Director Oscars - for his 1992 western Unforgiven and the 2005 boxing drama Million Dollar Baby. This year he is nominated for directing Best Picture nominee Letters From Iwo Jima.

"I am determined to serve and give my life for my country" are the words of General Kurabayashi, commander of Japanese military forces in the 1945 battle for Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest of World War II in the Pacific. It is the second of two films Eastwood made in 2006 about that event. The first, Flags of Our Fathers, based on a best-selling memoir, tells it from the American perspective.

"Partway into the research for the book and how to do it, I started getting interested in Lt. General Kurabayashi and I was wondering what kind of person he was to defend this island in a ferocious way, but also in a very clever way, by tunneling and putting everything underground ...hiding people and doing it very much different than most of the Japanese defenses were at that time," Eastwood explains.

A book of letters to home written by the Japanese general formed the basis of the story; and Eastwood chose to tell it using Japanese actors speaking their own language. He jokes that he 'used to be an American filmmaker, but now he's a Japanese director too.'

Japanese, Spanish, Arabic and English are all used in the drama Babel, which earns Mexican-born Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu his first Best Director nomination.

Inarritu spans the globe - from Morocco to Southern California, Mexico to Japan - to tell the stories of people and events separated by great distances, but surprisingly linked.

"The Babel stories are never connected physically. They never see the faces of each other, but they are emotionally connected," Inarritu explains. "So my job was to find the right visual language to make those four stories that, apparently, should not have any connection, have some language that gets this puzzle together and can form a whole. That was the experiment."

Inarritu's nod in the Best Director category is one of seven nominations for Babel including Best Picture of the year.

Dramatizing true events of recent British history earns a second career nomination for English director Stephen Frears. The Queen recreates the week in 1997 when Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash and Queen Elizabeth II seemed unable to connect with the sense of loss sweeping through her nation.

Frears says he did not seek or expect permission from Buckingham Palace to make The Queen.

"The idea of making a film is quite an impertinent idea," says Frears. "You wouldn't want to go there and make the case out, really. In fact, I think the film does make the case out. I don't think they would have believed us if we had turned up."

The Queen, which stars Best Actress contender Helen Mirren in the title role, is also a Best Picture nominee.

Another English director, Paul Greengrass, earns his first Oscar nomination for the dramatization of a recent and painful chapter of American history. United 93 chronicles the flight of the fourth plane hijacked on September 11, 2001 - the one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field after the passengers attempted to retake the plane from their Al Qaida captors.

Greengrass knew he was tackling a subject that triggers powerful emotions.

"This was a worthwhile film, a necessary film, a painful and difficult film, but ultimately and very inspiring film because we shared the vision that somehow, as societies, we have to go back to 9/11 and try to make sense of it. Let's try and relive this event in order to see what it can tell us today," explains Greengrass.

United 93's Paul Greengrass is the only one of this year's Best Director nominees whose film is not also in the running for Best Picture. Winners of the 79th Annual Oscars, selected by members of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are revealed in the global telecast on Sunday February 25.

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