Aside from Supporting Actor, this is the one category that is impossible to get a read on. It is simply unprecedented what this category has gone through with the obvious favorite Ben Affleck getting one of the most egregious snubs in Academy history. Affleck has been cleaning up every precursor that means anything. We have two former winners in this category, a past nominee, a first time director, and a foreign director finally breaking through to the mainstream. This is the category to watch.
5. Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Notable awards: none
Notable nominations: Spirit Awards
Case for the Oscar: This is one of the stranger nominees in recent memory. The movie was a modest indie hit at best, but it was a very popular critic movie. Its buzz was very quiet until it somehow jumped into all of the important categories at the Oscars. Zeitlin is a newcomer, and while his direction and film are commendable, he has a very slim chance at making a run at the award. Not enough people saw the film during its June release.
Oscar Doppelganger: 2000 Best Director: Stephen Daldry. He had an astonishing directorial debut that really captured an audience and rode it popularity all the way to the ceremony. Being up against all major directors made it a foregone conclusion that he was not going to take home the Oscar, but his nomination was an expression of the love that the members had for his directing efforts, which put him on the fast track toward a potentially big career.
Odds of winning: 100/1
4. Michael Haneke – Amour
Notable awards: National Society of Film Critics
Notable nominations: BAFTA
Case for the Oscar: He certainly has an uphill battle to winning the Oscar, but the massive love for his film has put him right in contention. With the Best Picture favorite not nominated in this category, this could be the spot that the Academy may want to honor this tremendously popular film. He also has his screenplay in contention, which would be a lesser award to give him, but Haneke is certainly going to shake some things up. His chances are as good as any, and honestly, his direction might be the best of the nominated films. Without having to give a predetermined award to Ben Affleck (which would have been deserved), this may finally be the year that we can see a real directorial achievement take the award, not just the most popular film’s director.
Oscar Doppelganger: 2002 Best Director: Pedro Almodovar. The directing category was a very wide open race going in, yet everyone underestimated the popularity of the foreign film and director that broke through into the major categories. The Academy had their choice of acknowledging his achievement here or in the screenplay category. Since the directing lineup was much more star-studded, he just missed out on winning, but certainly had a terrific chance at it going in.
Odds of winning: 6/1
3. Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Notable awards: none
Notable nominations: BAFTA, BFCA, DGA, Golden Globes
Case for the Oscar: His direction is huge. It is like the Avatar of this year, a direction that under the hands of a less creative director would have tanked. He brought together all of the amazing visuals, photography, and sound to create a beautiful experience. His film is a total Oscar movie, and this is the only real chance that the Academy will get to recognize it in a major category. While the film somewhat underwhelmed at the box office despite its incredible ambition, his direction is a marvel. He is certainly not the favorite, but he is just looming in the weeds, waiting to win his second Oscar.
Oscar Doppelganger: 1956 Best Director: George Stevens. His film was warmly received by many critics and awards circuits, but it was never the frontrunner. While the other films were equally Oscar friendly, his film was just so large in scope and beauty that it was hard to not recognize his achievement in this category. He had won in this category less than a decade before, and there was probably still some leftover love from his previous venture and frustration over it not winning Best Picture.
Odds of winning: 3/1
2. David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Notable awards: Satellite
Notable nominations: BFCA, Spirit Awards
Case for the Oscar: His film has the Weinstein backing, and he is becoming one of the more well-liked people in the industry. The Fighter had a ton of fans, so this could be a delayed award to throw his way. His film is still ripping up the box office, and while it is not the most complex direction, he is the helmer of the crowd-pleaser of the year. He has the sob story about how the movie being about his son, so he will certainly be a sentimental favorite at the ceremony. If he wins this, then his film could challenge Argo for Best Picture. If he doesn’t win for his screenplay, this could be the spot to give him his first Oscar.
Oscar Doppelganger: 2009 Best Director: Jason Reitman: At one point, he was clearly the frontrunner in multiple categories. He wound up getting stuck behind a somewhat confusingly popular awards film that didn’t exactly tear up the box office. His film captured a wide audience, and he rode the sweet comedy-drama all the way to a nomination, his second in 3 years. He had an outside shot at taking home the prize, but there were a couple huge favorites that prevented him from winning it for a film that wasn’t exactly a directing showcase. His real chance was in the screenplay category.
Odds of winning: 3/2
1. Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Notable awards: none
Notable nominations: BFCA, DGA, Golden Globes
Case for the Oscar: He is still one of the most popular directors in the world. Every movie he makes is an event, and to turn that talky script into the engrossing drama that he did is absolutely one of the finer efforts of the year. His film is not going to take Best Picture, so like in 1998, they may want to throw Spielberg another bone. The problem he faces is that he is nowhere near as much of a shoo-in as he used to be. Like Clint Eastwood, the Academy may be getting somewhat tired of him. He was not nominated for War Horse, and Lincoln is Oscar gold on paper, but his film is getting taken to the woodshed by Argo. His chances to win this Oscar are still overwhelmingly good because he is Spielberg, but there are 3 other major contenders who could take it, just because we don’t know how they are going to handle the category without Affleck.
Oscar Doppelganger: 1989 Best Director: Oliver Stone. He was a previous winner, and while his film was never really a serious Best Picture threat, his direction was superb. The inevitable Best Picture winner received a rare snub in this category, so it was somewhat wide open going in. Up against some serious talent, the biggest name ended up winning out.
Odds of winning: 1/2
Comments? Thoughts on this crazy Best Director race? Coming up tomorrow: Best Picture!