Danny Boyle nabs top DGA Award

'Slumdog' helmer adds to awards season haul

The Little Movie That Could can do no wrong. Danny Boyle was handed the DGA Award for outstanding directorial achievement in feature film for "Slumdog Millionaire."

Boyle walked away with the honor Saturday night during the DGA's annual awards ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Gus Van Sant ("Milk"), Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight") and Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon"), who won the award in 1995 and 2001, also were nominated.

It was Boyle's first DGA nomination.

"If I can get here, you can get here," Boyle said from the podium, with the presenting Coen brothers behind him. "Dream hard."

It's been a miracle year for Boyle, the 52-year-old British director of "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting," "A Life Less Ordinary," "The Beach," "28 Days Later...," "Millions" and "Sunshine." He's already been named the year's best director by several critics groups and took the top director's prize at the Golden Globes.

"Slumdog" almost didn't make it into theaters when Warner Independent folded, until audiences at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals responded fervently to its heartwarming story of a Mumbai street orphan with a shot at 20 million rupees. Fox Searchlight subsequently picked up and distributed the film, which has now grossed more than $75 million worldwide and earned 10 Oscar nominations.

The DGA Award for feature film has traditionally been an excellent predictor of the Oscar race. Only six times since 1948, when the guild began giving out awards, has the DGA Award gone to a director who didn't then win the Oscar. Those awards will be handed out Feb. 22.

Recent winners of the DGA Award are Joel and Ethan Coen in 2007, for "No Country for Old Men"; Martin Scorsese in 2006, for "The Departed"; Ang Lee in 2005, for "Brokeback Mountain"; and Clint Eastwood in 2004, for "Million Dollar Baby."

A troupe of A-list presenters delivered the rest of the night's awards, including Sean Penn, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Michelle Monaghan and Claire Danes.

Ari Folman won the award for directorial achievement in documentary for "Waltz With Bashir," which is also up for an Oscar for best foreign-language film. And Jay Roach took home outstanding directorial achievement in movies for television/miniseries for the HBO movie "Recount," about the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Outstanding directorial achievement in a comedy series went to Paul Feig for the "Dinner Party" episode of NBC's "The Office," while the dramatic series award went to Dan Attias for the "Transitions" episode of HBO's "The Wire."

Amy Schatz won outstanding directorial achievement in children's programs for the HBO show "Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show," her third DGA win. Tony Croll took the award for directorial achievement in reality programs for the CW's "America's Next Top Model," his second DGA win.

Peter Thwaites won the award for directorial achievement in commercials, Larry Carpenter won for directorial achievement in daytime serials, and Brent (Bucky) Gunts won for directorial achievement in musical variety for NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Summer Games.

The most moving moment of the night came when DGA president Michael Apted presented film critic Roger Ebert with the Honorary Life Member Award for recognition of outstanding creative achievement or contribution to the guild or the profession of directing. Ebert, who recently lost the ability to speak because of thyroid cancer complications, received two standing ovations from those in attendance and a montage of praising clips from directors Steven Spielberg, Patty Jenkins, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood.

"Cinema is the art form I love above all others. It is the symphony, and you are the conductors," Ebert said through his wife, who spoke for him at the podium. Then he joked: "It is very brave for directors to give a critic an honorary membership."

The night has its share of laughter. Presenter Josh Brolin noted from the microphone that Joel Coen, his "No Country for Old Men" director, was the only one not clapping and proceeded to flip him an annoyed bird while Marisa Tomei stood alongside. (Following presenter Sean Penn then alluded to Brolin's apparent drunkenness.)

Frank Langella and Michael Sheen did an extended bit where they played out the exasperations of having "Frost/Nixon" director Howard make them go through 93 takes.

"Working with Ron Howard is like working with an amateur," Sheen joked.

And the cameraman put the wrong guy on the Jumbotrons behind presenter Jodie Foster as she talked glowingly about her "Panic Room" director, Fincher. When the camera finally swung around to Fincher himself, he covered his face with an embarrassed hand.

He had good reason. Brad Pitt spoke about his "Button" and "Fight Club" director via prerecorded video, then made sure to point out, "Let's face it: He's got a great ass. Go ahead, check it out when he stands up."

The guild handed out three other special awards. National vp Steven Soderbergh presented DGA assistant secretary/treasurer/associate director Scott Berger with the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award for recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the DGA.

DGA second vp/director William Brady received the Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service to the DGA and to its membership.

And DGA board member/unit production manager Kim Kurumada received the Frank
Capra Achievement Award in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the DGA.

Carl Reiner, who has hosted the awards show 21 times, had to step out as host at the last minute because of food poisoning. Jon Cryer, one of the stars of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and a DGA member, took over as master of ceremonies and during his funny opening monologue invited those in attendance to play along with a game he had concocted.

"Every time I or someone else at the podium says the word 'brilliant,' you have to take a drink," he said.

Unsurprisingly, almost every presenter and winner then made sure to use the word.

A complete list of winners is on the next page.

A complete list of winners follows:

Feature film
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Unit production manager: Sanjay Kumar
First assistant director: Raj Acharya
Second assistant director: Avani Batra
Second second assistant director: Sonia Nemawarkar

Movie for television/miniseries
Jay Roach, "Recount"
Unit production manager: Scott Ferguson
First assistant director: Michael Hausman
First assistant director/second assistant director: Peter Thorell
Second assistant director: Tudor Jones
Second second assistant director: Rob Dickerson Jr.

Dramatic series, night
Dan Attias, "The Wire -- Transitions"
Unit production manager: Nina Noble
First assistant director: Eric Henriquez
Second assistant director: Xanthus Valan
Second second assistant director: Tim Blockburger

Comedy series
Paul Feig, "The Office -- Dinner Party"
Unit production manager: Robert Rothbard
First assistant director: Kelly Cantley
Second assistant director: Jennie O'Keefe
Second second assistant director: Jasmine Alhambra
DGA trainee: Alicia Cho

Musical variety
Brent (Bucky) Gunts, "Opening Ceremony Beijing 2008 Olympic Summer Games"
Associate directors: Carol Larson, Brian Orentreich
Stage manager: Steve Hollander

Tony Croll, "America's Next Top Model -- 1002"
Associate director: John Downer

Daytime serials
Larry Carpenter, "One Life to Live --- Episode #10,281, "So You Think You Can Be Shane Morasco's Father?"
Associate directors: Teresa Anne Cicala, Paul Glass, Tracy Casper Lang
Stage managers: Alan Needleman, Keith Greer, Brendan Higgins,
Production associates: Kevin Brush, Beth Kravitz

Children's programs
Amy Schatz, "Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now) -- The Poetry Show"

Peter Thwaites, "Waterslide -- Barclaycard," "Light Show -- Guinness"

Ari Folman, "Waltz With Bashir"

Service and career achievement award recipients

Film dritic/author Roger Ebert -- DGA Honorary Life Member Award for recognition of outstanding creative achievement or contribution to the guild or the profession of directing

DGA second vp/director William M. Brady -- Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service to the DGA and to its membership

DGA board member/unit production manager Kim Kurumada -- Frank Capra Achievement Award, given to an assistant director or unit production manager in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the DGA

DGA assistant secretary-treasurer/associate director Scott Berger -- Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award for an associate director or stage manager in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the DGA