Today, it's time to take a look at the candidates for Best Director, which is a very fluid race at the moment, with lots of possible names floating around. It's also worth keeping in mind the the director's branch often goes out of their way to nominate people whose films aren't necessarily in the running for best picture (back when there were just five best picture nominees, the directors would often not line up exactly with them, now that there are five to ten nominees it usually does, but not always).
I think the first lock is Steve McQueen, who's also the frontrunner to win. 12 Years a Slave is an incredible cinematic achievement, the importance of which cannot be denied, not to mention the fact that no black director has ever won before. At the moment I really don't see who could beat him out for this honor, actually. It looks pretty unequivocal, even if the film somehow doesn't land Best Picture. Splits are not uncommon, especially if the voters like another movie better but feel obligated to reward the film in a big category. Alfonso Cuaron would be the second lock for Gravity, another directorial achievement the likes of which cannot be overstated. What he pulled off with Gravity was nothing less than amazing, the kind of directing job that blows people away, as everyone knows by now. There's no way he's not getting nominated, and he would be a likely contender for the win, the only challenge being Steve McQueen of course.
And after those two it gets murky, with many potential candidates. I think Paul Greengrass is very likely for Captain Phillips, which was an impressively made, claustrophobic thriller that pretty much took place in just one setting, and he's respected by the director's branch, having been nominated before for United 93. He seems the third most likely to me, and after him there are several possibilities. Alexander Payne is one for Nebraska, which is getting good reviews, and he's a two-time previous nominee (for Sideways and The Descendants), having not won yet, and possibly starting to look overdue (although so many great directors have never won an Oscar that that statistic is fairly meaningless).
The Coen Brothers are always in the mix when they have a film out, and this year it's Inside Llewyn Davis, which is a smaller, more personal film of theirs. It's gotten great reception as well, but we'll have to see how it does when it's officially released in December. I think that Peter Berg has an outside shot for Lone Survivor, which is now reported to be a harrowing, butal war film whose battle scenes are drawing comparisons to Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan (both of which were touted for their direction of course, with Ridley Scott a lone director nominee for the former and Spielberg winning for the latter).
Other names floating around are Lee Daniels for The Butler (a former nominee for Precious), Stephen Frears for Philomena (beloved veteran nominee in the past) and JC Chandor for All is Lost (a feat of filmmaking with just one actor on screen for the whole film). And finally, there are two major contenders whose movies haven't been seen yet, and that's Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street and David O. Russell for American Hustle.
Russell's been on a major hot streak lately, with nominations for his last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook- he's another one who's beginning to look overdue and if American Hustle lives up to the hype he could easily take a slot. And you never, ever count out Scorsese, one of the greats, whose last film Hugo was showered with 11 nominations, and The Wolf of Wall Street looks like it's going to be great as well. Either one of these two, or both, could fill out that list of five. Last year this category provided the biggest upset in nominees, with the director's branch snubbing heavy frontrunners Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck for lesser known names Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin, and then Ang Lee won the big prize on Oscar night. You never know what could happen with this group.
My current predictions:
1. Steve McQueen
2. Alfonso Cuaron
3. Paul Greengrass
4. Martin Scorsese
5. Peter Berg
It could all change and probably will, but this is my shot in the dark for now. I feel that the director's branch usually recognizes someone outside the box and this year I think it could be Peter Berg, but we'll see. Next week we'll look at Best Actor, where at least ten people are trying to crowd into a five slot list.