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DGA WIN PUTS LEE IN OSCAR FRONT-RUNNING.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

``Brokeback Mountain'' director Ang Lee won the prestigious Directors Guild of America prize Saturday night, making him the clear favorite for the Academy Award as best director.

Lee said he wished the award show had stopped after all the nominations were announced.

``I think we're all winners. We're blessed that we're filmmakers. What a life,'' he said.

All five DGA feature-film nominees had a few things in common: all directed films dealing with political and social themes - homosexuality, racism, civil liberties and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and did so in a compressed period of time without big studio budgets.

< Before the DGA Awards ceremony at the Century Plaza Hotel, Lee, Steven Spielberg (``Munich''), George Clooney (``Good Night, and Good Luck''), Paul Haggis (``Crash'') and newcomer Bennett Miller (``Capote''), joined together Saturday morning for a lively panel discussion centering on what they went through to get their films made and how they put them together.

``There wasn't a lot of people encouraging us to make these films,'' said Clooney, who was alternately quick-witted and thoughtful during the packed event at the DGA Theater in West Hollywood. ``I'm honored to be sitting here with gentlemen who all stuck their necks out.''

Lee undertook ``Brokeback,'' a tragic love story between two male ranch hands, after directing his first big-budget major studio film, ``Hulk,'' which he described as ``going through my midlife crisis.''

Lee was ready to tackle something more intimate than bringing a comic book character to life.

``When I read it, I got choked up,'' Lee said. ``Gay ranch hands in Wyoming is as far from me as possible. Why did I cry? You just have to be humbled by the emotion. Let's ask the questions and respect the unknown. That's what life is.''

Lee said he wasn't prepared for the level of dedication shown by his cast, which was headed by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as the ranch hands and included Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway and Randy Quaid.

``It was magic, and I learned a lot from them,'' he said. ``Somehow, we really love each other. I feel I was very blessed to work with those actors, it was just lovely. I shared my life with them.''

Spielberg said he used Israeli and Palestinian actors during a shootout scene in ``Munich,'' which recreates the real-life murders of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics and the aftermath.

After filming a key battle scene, the director was unsure how the two groups of actors would react to each other, particularly with the Israeli- Palestinian conflict still unresolved.

``It was brutal because I didn't know what was going to happen after the first take,'' Spielberg said. ``After I yelled 'cut!,' the actors all dropped their guns and hugged each other and started sobbing. I was just unglued by this.''

Spielberg said it took him six years to make up his mind to direct the film, which he said aims to ask questions rather than take sides.

``(`Munich') dares not to solve any of the problems but instead it brings up painful, difficult questions,'' he said. ``To achieve a peace, we do ask people to look at things more from the center.''

Clooney joked that he made ``Good Night,'' about newsman Edward R. Murrow's efforts to expose Sen. Joseph McCarthy as a fearmonger, simply for the money.

``I thought a black and white movie starring David Strathairn was my ticket to big bucks,'' said Clooney, who co-wrote as well as directed the film.

Clooney said the best moment for him connected to the film was when he showed the movie to his father, veteran newsman Nick Clooney, at a private screening.

``I did it for my dad,'' Clooney said. ``He's the guy who sticks his neck out at all the times it's tough to stick your neck out.''

Miller said ``Capote,'' which stars his high school friend Philip Seymour Hoffman as the late author Truman Capote, ``is about our passions and how they intoxicate us. It's about someone who wants something so badly that he tramples on whoever he has to to get it.''

Hoffman has already garnered several acting prizes for his performance and is considered a shoo-in when Academy Award nominations are announced Tuesday.

But Miller said he wasn't always sure that things would turn out so well when Hoffman initially had trouble clicking in the role that covers the years Capote spent researching the best-seller ``In Cold Blood.''

``He was having a meltdown and I felt pretty powerless,'' said Miller, who felt great relief when Hoffman began fully inhabiting the role.

``Crash'' director Haggis, who also wrote the script for his movie, said he wanted the film to show ``the darker side of good people: I wanted to do a film about the contradictions that we all embody. We can be the villain and the hero in our own lives.''

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``Brokeback Mountain'' director Ang Lee won the Directors Guild of America's top prize Saturday night in a ceremony at the Century Plaza Hotel.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 29, 2006
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