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Ron Howard claims Directors Guild honor for 'A Beautiful Mind'

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ ``A Beautiful Mind'' director Ron Howard claimed the top filmmaking honor Saturday night from the Directors Guild of America, considered one of the most accurate barometers of Oscar success.

Howard downplayed the award's reliability.

``I don't know if that connection holds any more,'' he said backstage. ``It's been so erratic the past few years that I just don't know if it holds up.''

``I have my fingers crossed for the Oscars, but I'm just enjoying this (award) right now,'' he added.

``A Beautiful Mind'' tells the story of Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr., a Princeton mathematics professor who struggled to overcome schizophrenia. It has a total of eight Oscar nominations, including best actor for Russell Crowe and supporting actress for Jennifer Connelly.

Crowe introduced Howard at the DGA ceremonies.

Howard also won the DGA award in 1996 for his direction of ``Apollo 13'' and was nominated in 1985 for ``Cocoon.''

In the 54 years since the guild began distributing its prize, the winner has gone on to win the best director Academy Award all but five times. But Howard wasn't even nominated for an Oscar the last time he won the DGA honor; it went to Mel Gibson for ``Braveheart'' instead.

Last year, Ang Lee picked up the DGA award for ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' while the Oscar went to Steven Soderbergh for ``Traffic.''

There's a chance of disconnect again this year, since the Academy Awards' other two directing nominees _ Robert Altman for ``Gosford Park'' and David Lynch for ``Mulholland Dr.'' _ weren't included in the DGA competition.

Howard competed for the award with two other Oscar contenders: Peter Jackson for the fantasy film ``Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,'' and Ridley Scott for the true-life military drama ``Black Hawk Down.''

Other DGA nominees included Baz Luhrmann for the frenetic, anachronistic musical ``Moulin Rouge'' and Christopher Nolan for ``Memento,'' a thriller told in flashback about a man with no short-term memory trying to solve a crime.

Howard, 48, started his career as a child actor, playing Opie Taylor on the sitcom ``The Andy Griffith Show'' and later teen-ager Richie Cunningham in the 1950s-based comedy show ``Happy Days.''

He turned to feature film directing in the late 1970s, with credits including ``Grand Theft Auto'' (1977), ``Splash'' (1984), ``Parenthood'' (1989), ``The Paper'' (1994) and ``Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas'' (2000.)

Despite tremendous critical and box-office success, the director has never before been nominated for an Oscar.

In the television categories, Todd Holland claimed a comedy award for directing an episode of Fox's ``Malcolm in the Middle'', while Alan Ball got the dramatic series award for the pilot episode of HBO's ``Six Feet Under.''

Co-directors Joel Gallen and Beth McCarthy-Miller won in the musical/variety category for the multiple-network Sept. 11 telethon ``America: A Tribute to Heroes.''

The Academy Awards are scheduled for March 24 at the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
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