By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 22, 2003 04:58 PM
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The Oscar race grew even more intense on Tuesday as the directors of “Chicago,” “The Hours,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Pianist” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” were nominated for the Directors Guild of America’s top award.

The DGA honor for outstanding directorial achievement — which will be announced March 1 — is considered one of the most reliable barometers of the Oscar choice. Since 1949, only five of the group’s winners have not gone on to take the Academy Award.

Two of this year’s DGA nominees are first-timers: British stage director Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”) and American choreographer-director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”). On Sunday, both of their efforts were named best picture at the Golden Globes, which, unlike the Oscars, has separate categories for dramas and musicals and/or comedies.

New Zealander Peter Jackson, who directed “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” received his second DGA nomination. His first was for 2001’s “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings.”

“Gangs of New York” director Martin Scorsese, who on Sunday won the Globe for directing the period epic, is a four-time bridesmaid at the DGA. His previous four nominations were for “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Raging Bull” (1980), “Goodfellas” (1990) and “The Age of Innocence” (1993), and his record for greatness alone may propel him to the podium come Oscar night. (“Gangs” received mixed reviews.)

Roman Polanski, the Polish-born director of “The Pianist,” which was last year’s Cannes Film Festival best picture, received his third DGA nomination — and his first since 1974, when he was nominated for “Chinatown.” His other nod was for 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Among those high-profile directors that the DGA overlooked this year were “Road to Perdition”‘s Sam Mendes (who won the DGA and Oscar for 1999’s “American Beauty”) and Todd Haynes, whose “Far from Heaven” intrigued many critics but was completely overlooked at the Golden Globes. Denzel Washington’s “Antwone Fisher” was not so much as even nominated for a Globe.