True to their reputation as Hollywood nonconformists, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are bucking 80 years of Oscar tradition with a rare joint nomination for directing No Country for Old Men.
Having swept the film honors of Hollywood's major talent guilds, including the Directors Guild of America, the Coen brothers are clear favorites to clinch the Academy Award for best direction when the Oscars are given out this Sunday.
They would become only the second pair of credited filmmakers to share a directing Oscar, following Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for the 1961 musical West Side Story.
The support for No Country from Hollywood's guilds, which comprise a large and influential constituency of Oscar voters, also makes the Coens front-runners to win the best picture Oscar as producers on the film along with Scott Rudin.
Oscar wins for best picture or directing would give the ultimate seal of Hollywood appreciation for Joel, 53, and Ethan, 50, two auteurs who have built a loyal cult following as film industry outsiders.
No Country marks both a departure -- their first film based entirely on a novel -- and a return to form for the pair with its tale of highly idiosyncratic characters caught up in events unleashed by nefarious plans gone horribly wrong.
Blending and bending elements of the thriller and western genres, No Country for Old Men is a tale of fear, despair and moral decay wrapped in a terse and violent chase film. One of the Coens' darker offerings, it stands as their biggest commercial success, grossing more than $92 million worldwide.
POLISHING THEIR EGO
While thriving in their ability to make movies on their own terms, the Coens clearly relish recognition from their peers.
Ethan and I have a bookshelf in our office we call our ego corner, Joel Coen said at January's Directors Guild awards.
When he has a bad day, he gets Windex and polish and spit-shines his awards. This (DGA award) is a big one in every respect.
No Country co-star Josh Brolin saluted the filmmakers as two directors working as one who never argue.
The Coens are weird and iconoclastic enough to be a mystery to us all, Brolin said.
The pair got their first taste of Oscar glory 11 years ago when they took home the Academy Award for original screenplay with their breakout crime drama, Fargo.
That movie also earned a best-actress statuette for Joel Coen's wife, Frances McDormand, for her role as a pregnant small-town police chief who stumbles on to a multiple murder case. She and Joel Coen met while working on the brothers' 1984 feature debut, Blood Simple, and married 10 years later.
The parallels between Fargo and No Country are striking. As Variety's Peter DeBruge observed, both stories focus on a no-nonsense sheriff on the heels of someone who's in over his head with the criminal element.
No Country is up for eight Oscars in all. Besides best film and direction, the Coens earned nods for their screenplay, adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name.
Spanish-born performer Javier Bardem is nominated as best supporting actor for his creepy portrait of a cool-headed, relentless psychopath who cuts a path of murder across Texas, deciding the fate of his victims with the flip of a coin.
Brolin plays a war veteran on the run with a briefcase full of cash found among the bodies of a drug deal gone bad and Tommy Lee Jones stars as a world-weary but wise lawman.
(Additional reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham)