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Rookies fill Emmys race for Best Movie/Miniseries Direction

By Adam Waldowski
By Adam Waldowski
Aug 29 2011 14:48 pm

First-time nominees fill this year's Best Movie/Miniseries Director category. These helmers hail from across the United States and Europe and directed diverse works set in various times over the past century

Brian Percival directed three of the seven episodes of "Downton Abbey." PBS edited these down to four installments and Percival contends for helming the first of these. This episode set up the main storylines and introduced more than a dozen characters, including Emmy nominees Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith as a battling set of in-laws. Percival has a keen eye for period detail and a flair for melodrama. Two years ago, Derbhla Walsh won this race for the first part of the miniseries "Little Dorrit." Besides Walsh, the British have done well in this race as of late with wins by Philip Martin ("Prime Suspect: The Final Act," 2007), and Tom Hooper ("Elizabeth I," 2006).

Nominated for directing all of "Mildred Pierce"' is Todd Haynes who also shares a writing nod with  Jon Raymond for adapting James. M. Cain's bestseller. This five-hour miniseries follows the title character's climb from poor divorcee to owner of a successful restaurant chain. At the start of part three, Haynes really delivers as Mildred opens her first restaurant. It's a dazzling sequence that makes for thoroughly entertaining television. Under his direction, this glossy, masterful miniseries picked up more nominations than any program this year, racking up 21 nods. Six are for the superb performances by Kate Winslet, Brian F. O'Byrne, Guy Pearce, Melissa Leo, Mare Winningham, and Evan Rachel Wood.

Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman helmed the stirring and stylish "Cinema Verite." Based on the 1973 reality series "An American Family," the co-directors capture the electric vibe of a bygone era. They evoke the giddy, perverse feeling that defines reality TV as a guilty pleasure by turning family drama into camp. As the family in question, Diane LaneTim Robbins, and Thomas Dekker give memorable performances while James Gandolfini is equally excellent as the producer who manipulates them. However, the two "Cinema Verite" directors don't double their chances by competing as a team. Though eight directors shared a victory for "Band of Brothers" in 2002, it has been solo artists who have otherwise won this category since its creation in 1976. Pulcini also contends for his editing of the piece. 

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Curtis Hanson, director of the Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" and "8 Mile," contends for "Too Big to Fail." This account of the 2008 financial crisis required Hanson to shepherd a large cast over dozens of locations. He has varying degrees of success, getting competent performances out of William Hurt and Topher Grace but a less than stellar one from Cynthia Nixon. Hanson makes a noble effort to compellingly retell a story that was, until recently, an overexposed current event.

French director Olivier Assayas may not take home the Emmy for helming the TV edition of "Carlos," but he won over the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. last year for the trimmed down film  of the five-and-a-half-hour miniseries. The full version, which aired on the Sundance Channel, covered 20 years in the life of terrorist Carlos the Jackal. A hostage crisis, which dominated part two of the three-part miniseries, is one of the best-directed, most exhilarating sequence seen on television in quite some time. However, "Carlos" missed out on a bid for Best Movie/Miniseries. In the last quarter century, the only helmer to win without a nomination for their project was John Frankenheimer for "Against the Wall" in 1994. 

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