The maverick Titanic helmer and his stylish Confidential counterpart topped the no-shock list of nominations for the Directors Guild of America award. They will face off with James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets); Steven Spielberg (Amistad); and, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) for the coveted prize.
"The five nominees are truly representative of the best in motion picture directing," said DGA President Jack Shea. "Each may have a different style and work with different subjects, but all of them share the exceptional ability to create magical films."
Of all the flick accolades dished out between December and March, the DGA is considered the most accurate predictor of Oscar. Only four times in the past 50 years has the guild's pick failed to nab the Academy Award for Best Director. And the top director historically pilots the Best Film.
For the record, the four directors who won the DGA award but lost out at the Oscars were Anthony Harvey for 1968's The Lion in Winter (Carol Reed won the Academy Award for "Oliver!"); Francis Ford Coppola for 1972's The Godfather (Bob Fosse, Cabaret); Spielberg for The Color Purple in 1985 (Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa); and, in 1995, Ron Howard for Apollo 13 (Mel Gibson, Braveheart).
Who'll win this year? Vegas oddsmakers have Golden Globe-winner Cameron and critics' fave Hanson (both first-time DGA nominees) as even-money bets to take home the hardware come Academy Awards time, so they're obviously the ones to beat.
Three-time nominee Brooks is one of the best-liked helmers in Hollywood, but since he's won before--taking home the trophy (and the Oscar) for 1980's Terms of Endearment--his chances of repeating are slim. As are those of another rookie contender, indie vet Van Sant. Most believe that, come Oscar time, Good Will Hunting will only be competitive in the Best Original Screenplay category (for sizzling actor-writers and Golden Globe winners Matt Damon and Ben Affleck).
And while Spielberg chalks up his eighth nomination--tying him with Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann for most DGA nods--his Amistad has been dogged by critics and plagiarism charges. Plus, he's already won twice, for Color Purple and Schindler's List. (Other noms came for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Empire of the Sun).
The 50th anniversary DGA Awards (including the yet-to-be-announced TV and documentary nominees) will be presented March 7. Coppola will receive the guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award for career achievement.