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Powerhouse directors square off at the Oscars

| Sunday, Feb. 27, 2005

Fan-mag readers might be wondering if cover-boys Leonardo Di Caprio ("The Aviator") and Johnny Depp ("Finding Neverland") can grab the Oscar most probably earmarked tonight for hipster-of-the-year Jamie Foxx ("Ray").

Moviegoers with a longer view of Motion Picture Academy history, as well as academy members themselves, will be watching a different race with greater interest.

Even more than the balloting for best picture, the speculation is whether 74-year-old Clint Eastwood will win his second Oscar for directing and his fourth Oscar overall -- and possibly two others in the bargain -- or whether Martin Scorsese, 61, will receive his first.

Fair fight.

Each has directed at least 25 feature films, Eastwood beginning with "Play 'Misty' for Me" (1971) and Scorsese beginning with the shoestring-budget "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" (1967).

Eastwood has appeared in more than 50 movies, most often as the leading man. He was the biggest box-office draw of the 1970s, in a virtual tie with Burt Reynolds, and one of the biggest of the '60s and '80s. He's also often credited as a producer.

Scorsese frequently appears in supporting roles and does narration and cartoon voiceovers. He, too, produces.

Eastwood, winner of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1994, is up for his sixth, seventh and eight Oscars tonight for directing and acting in "Million Dollar Baby," for which he has an additional nomination as one of the producers of a best-picture nominee.

He won two Oscars for directing and producing the elegiac western "Unforgiven" (1992).

Eastwood received additional nominations for acting in "Unforgiven" and for directing and producing "Mystic River" (2003).

Although no longer a top box-office draw as an actor, his association with movies since 1992 -- after the achievement of "Unforgiven" -- has imbued them with a cache of prestige, which means they're approached by the media and the public with considerably more than average interest: What's been occupying his attention since last he surfaced•

Because Eastwood is the surviving actor-filmmaker of his generation, which is to say someone who started out doing small parts in the mid-1950s, he is to all Hollywood the symbol of survival: You can still be an important "player" in the film industry at 74 if you choose as carefully, work as hard and play the game as well as Eastwood.

Although hardly of consequence at this point, it probably didn't hurt that Eastwood was born in San Francisco and is a native Californian -- for whatever good that did, and does, in projecting a West Coast sensibility within the film industry. He's a rope-knowing insider who still manages to maintain a distance -- former mayor of Carmel and all that.

Scorsese, a Queens, N.Y., native raised in Lower Manhattan, has a sensibility so purely New York you couldn't remove it with industrial-size tongs and lasers.

No one in the industry is more identified with a reverence for, and encyclopedic knowledge of, film history, be it Italian, Japanese, British or American. The man breathes movies. Who in Hollywood wouldn't respect that•

Up tonight for his direction of the year's most nominated picture, "The Aviator," Scorsese has been up six times before for directing "Raging Bull" (1980), directing "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988), directing and co-writing "GoodFellas" (1990), co-writing "The Age of Innocence" (1993) and directing "Gangs of New York" (2002).

No, his direction didn't make the ballot when his "Taxi Driver" (1976) was up for best picture.

Scorsese was figured to have come close twice. His intense work on "Raging Bull" was spectacular, but he lost to Robert Redford's crisply measured direction of best-picture winner "Ordinary People."

"Gangs of New York" was hardly anybody's idea of an outstanding movie, but because his main opponent two years ago was former Pittsburgher Rob Marshall, making his film-directing debut on "Chicago," most forecasters thought "Chicago" would win the top prize, as indeed it did, but that Scorsese had a 50-50 chance of getting the directing prize -- as much as anything for the times he was denied.

The world's collective jaw dropped when a veteran other than Scorsese, dark horse Roman Polanski, won for "The Pianist," about a Jewish Holocaust survivor.

Many foreign-born directors had won (Polanski is a Pole who was born in Paris), and Polanski had done other fine work ("Rosemary's Baby," "Tess"). But to upset not only the wunderkind Marshall but also a veteran who everyone had seemed eager to reward for decades•

So who• Eastwood or Scorsese• Both did superb work on tonight's contenders -- Eastwood on a moody, contemporary, ambient work; Scorsese on a glossy mural of an epic spanning the late 1920s through the late 1940s.

Either would be an honorable choice.

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