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Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese
Dave Allocca  /  AP
Jack Nicholson, left, and director Martin Scorsese arrive at the premiere of the film "The Departed" in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
updated 1/9/2007 8:04:59 PM ET 2007-01-10T01:04:59

The Oscar race sharpened considerably Tuesday as the Directors Guild of America named six nominees for its top award, including filmmakers Martin Scorsese for his crime thriller “The Departed” and Bill Condon for the musical “Dreamgirls.”

The quirky family comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” also emerged as a serious contender for the Oscars — the film industry’s highest honors — with its two newcomer directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, sharing a DGA nomination for a film once seen as a longshot.

“The fact that it has shown up here, where it was not expected, demonstrates enormous industry support for a film that we must now consider as a best-picture contender,” said awards pundit Tom O’Neil, columnist for the Web site Theenvelope.com.

Rounding out the roster of this year’s DGA nominees were British filmmaker Stephen Frears, for his royal family portrait “The Queen” and Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, for his globe-spanning drama “Babel.”

Noticeably absent from the list of DGA contenders was Clint Eastwood, whose Japanese-language World War II drama “Letters from Iwo Jima” has been a late-season critical favorite.

Dayton and Faris, two music-video auteurs whose first feature film centers on a dysfunctional family rushing across the country in a broken-down Volkswagen van to get their young, plucky daughter to a beauty contest, said they were in a “state of shock” over their nomination.

“We always told our cast that ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ was about not looking at life as a contest, but seeing it more as a dance. So I can say that we are really enjoying this dance,” Dayton told Reuters.

The winner of the 59th annual DGA Awards, considered a strong bellwether for the Oscars, will be announced on Feb. 3.

Thanks largely to overlapping voting membership between the DGA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the winner of the DGA feature film award has gone on to win the best-director Oscar 52 out of the past 58 years.

Best director, best film
And Oscar has a long history of giving its top award, the prize for best picture, to the film made by the winner of the Academy Award for best director.

Moreover, for each of the past four years all five filmmakers nominated for the DGA’s feature film prize went on to have their work land Oscar nominations for best picture, O’Neil said.

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A DGA win would be especially gratifying for Scorsese, the iconic director of such films as “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas.”

“The Departed” earned him his seventh DGA nomination, and he has been twice honored for his overall body of work, but Scorsese has never won the organization’s prize for a particular film. Nor has he managed to win an Academy Award, despite earning five Oscar nominations as best director.

“It’s a great honor to receive this recognition from my fellow filmmakers,” Scorsese said in a statement. He last lost out in both the DGA and Oscar race in 2005, when “The Aviator” was defeated by Eastwood’s boxing film “Million Dollar Baby.”

Eastwood’s absence from the PGA pack this year cements Scorsese’s status as a favorite to finally win this year, though he faces stiff competition from Condon for his work on “Dreamgirls,” a lavish musical loosely based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

“The one thing that the DGA members love is a big, splashy production, and they appreciate, as directors, all the hard work that goes into a musical,” O’Neil said.

Still, Scorsese has gained strong momentum with best director honors from the influential New York Critics Circle and the National Board of Review and six Golden Globe nominations for “The Departed.”

“Babel,” a searing film about cultural gaps dividing people around the world, leads the Golden Globe race with seven nominations.

The Globes, another key precursor to the Oscars, will be presented Jan. 15. The Oscar nominations will be unveiled on Jan. 23, with the Academy Awards presented on Feb. 25.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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