Stephen Daldry, the director of Billy Elliot the Musical and its film predecessor, has been named Director of the Year at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

He will be receiving the award for his work on the forthcoming Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which tells the story of a boy who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks and goes on a journey to find out what a key found hidden in his father’s possessions may belong to. The film stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and has had tumultuous beginnings. Similar to the casting of Billy Elliot, a nationwide search began for a boy under the age of 13 who could play the protagonist, Oskar, and ultimately thousands of boys were considered. Finally, Stephen Daldry chose Thomas Horn, based on his appearance on a special “Kids’ Week” edition of the popular game show, Jeopardy! 12 year-old Horn has no previous acting experience. The film’s impressive supporting cast includes Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, and Jeffrey Wright. There was originally subplot where Oskar’s mother, played by Bullock, becomes romantically involved with a man she meets in a group therapy session. Played by James Gandolfini, the role has been removed from the film entirely based on audiences’ negative feedback at screenings. Nico Muhly, who composed the score for Daldry’s The Reader, left the production abruptly, leaving his replacement, Alexandre Desplat, just four weeks to compose and record a new score.

The film’s release date has been delayed several times and opened in a limited release in the US on 25 December. It is due to have a wide release in the US on 20 January, before opening in the UK on 3 February. After being shut out of nominations for the Golden Globes, both Daldry and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are back in Oscar contention after receiving this competitive directing award in Palm Springs. The film is now widely tipped to be in the running when this year’s Academy Award nominations are announced on 24 January.

Daldry has already made Academy-Award history after becoming the first person to receive Oscar nominations for Best Director for each of his first three films, Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader. He directed Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet on to Oscar gold in The Hours and The Reader respectively, while he himself has yet to win.