Tom Hooper
Credit: James Fisher
Tom Hooper
Credit: James Fisher

The Directors Guild Award nominations are out, and Tom Hooper is in.

The Les Miserables director has become a bit of a question mark as reviews for the epic musical have been less than kind, but with Oscar nominations due on Thursday, this nod from his peers in the union comes as a welcome bit of support.

The full list of nominees:

• Ben Affleck, Argo

Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Hooper, Les Miserables

Ang Lee, Life of Pi

• Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.

For a director who made a movie about leaps of faith, Lee told EW today he’s gratified by the DGA recognition because other filmmakers can read between the lines and see the challenges of what it took to make Life of Pi, a film three other directors tried and failed to get made.

“I try not to put it in the win-lose situation,” says Lee. “I just have to tell people my conviction and what I believe my crew has achieved, and be a modest person – but still be very proud of this movie.” He adds with a laugh: “If I said anything else, that would be false modesty!”

Lee has two previous DGA wins, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, which also won him the Oscar, and was nominated another time in 1996 for Sense and Sensibility. As someone who has been through this several times before, he said he tries maintain “a balance of attachment and detachment. “Movie-of-the-year is nothing you can control. If you don’t win, take it gracefully. Be grateful for the honor. As a director I try to be a good representative of a film, of everybody who worked on the film, so it goes beyond personal,” he says. “Also you’re part of the year, a phenomenon of the year. If you’re one of the pack, you should feel pretty good.”

The five films recognized by the Directors Guild of America are among the sure things for the Academy’s best picture race. But this has been one of the most closely contested Oscar races in recent memory, with no single film breaking away as a clear front-runner, although Lincoln is starting to edge ahead.

I’d put Silver Linings Playbook in the group of likely best picture players, too, although its director, David O. Russell, was left out of the DGA noms.

Others who didn’t make the guild’s cut: Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained, and Michael Haneke for the aching end-of-life love story Amour. (Haneke is not a member of the DGA, but that’s not a requirement to be nominated.)

But the guild has tended to differ from the Academy’s selection. Last year, they matched up except for one: the DGA recognized David Fincher for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, while the Academy went with Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life.

In 2011, it was the same: the DGA nominated Christopher Nolan for Inception, while the Academy chose Joel and Ethan Coen instead for True Grit. In 2010, they matched up exactly, but in 2009 the DGA went for Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight and the Academy honored Stephen Daldry for The Reader.

In 2008, the DGA nominated Sean Penn for Into the Wild, while the Academy chose Jason Reitman for Juno. And there were two differences in 2007: the DGA had Bill Condon for Dreamgirls and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine, while the Academy went with Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima and Paul Greengrass for United 93.

There is a definite pattern of disconnect. So what might the difference be this year?

This may well prove to be a time where the two lists mirror each other, but if not I would bet Haneke has a chance of breaking through for Amour. The Academy’s directors have shown an eagerness to think outside the mainstream, and his emotionally devastating portrait of a longtime couple, facing the end of their days, has struck deep into the hearts of Academy voters.