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All told, the major contenders for Best Director this year have sixteen career nominations in the category and five wins. This is an incredibly accomplished shortlist, and as a result, the competition for merely five slots among them is particularly fierce. Not to mention that, with eight to ten films in contention for Best Picture spots, more than a few directors are bound to get squeezed out. As for which ones, let’s dig in ...
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Oscar History: Lots of it. "Lincoln" marks Speilberg's eighth nomination for best director. He's won twice. A third win would put him in the rarefied company of only Frank Capra, William Wyler, and John Ford (Ford won four times).
What's the Story if He Wins? The quintessential Hollywood director comes out on top again. All is right with the world, God is in heaven, and the angels are all in place. Spielberg's previous wins have been for epics grounded in true stories of incredible heroism. "Lincoln" more than fits that bill.
Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: The Academy, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tony Kushner, Abraham Lincoln, people everywhere who fight for the quality of all.
What Are the Odds? With Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow cleared from the deck, it's pretty difficult to imagine anybody else toppling him. But if Affleck wins the DGA (which at this point I think he will), there will be that nagging question of just how beloved "Lincoln" is this year.
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Oscar History: Nominated in 2010 for "The Fighter" after years of being one of those notoriously un-Oscary filmmakers. No amount of nominations will ever make up for the Academy ignoring "I Heart Huckabees," I am sorry.
What's the Story if He Wins? Listen: it could happen. The story becomes one of those notorious Harvey Weinstein scandals where he muscles a tough sell (Russell's reputation around Hollywood is a bit of a hot potato; just ask George Clooney) past a beloved Hollywood icon. The hurdle is that "Silver Linings Playbook" feels like much more an actors' film than a director's one. Certainly when compared to works like "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi," the film seems small. Small does not often bring home Oscars.
Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: The Weinstein Company, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro (pause for ovation), Jacki Weaver, Mark Wahlberg (pause for awkward reaction shot because Wahlberg was supposed to play Cooper's part), Lily Tomlin (... no, probably not).
What Are the Odds? He's the next most likely after Spielberg to win. Harvey's probably pushing hard for Best Picture moreso than Best Director, angling for a "Shakespeare in Love"/"Saving Private Ryan" style split. But those splits are rare for a reason, and the more people get convinced to vote "Silver Linings," the better Russell's chances get.
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Oscar History: This is Haneke's first nomination for Best Direction. In 2009, his film "The White Ribbon" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
What's the Story if He Wins? Cannes Takeover in Hollywood! The Palme d'Or winner has gone on to win Best Director at the Oscars only twice ever, for "Marty" in 1955 and "The Pianist" in 2002.
Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: The Academy, Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintingant, Isabelle Huppert, death as an inescapable reaper waiting just down the road, the pigeon.
What Are the Odds? Long odds indeed. Haneke is a well-respected director representing his most accessible film maybe ever, but he's still probably too cerebral, too cold, and too European to win with a broad voting body.
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Oscar History: Two previous Oscar nominations ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"; "Brokeback Mountain") and one win, though "Brokeback" couldn't manage the Best Picture win to match it. He was also left out of Best Director when his "Sense and Sensibility" got a Best Picture nomination in 1995.
What's the Story if He Wins? "Ride with the Devil" redeemed! No, I think the story is that suddenly, Ang Lee becomes a Clint Eastwood-level Oscar favorite. For good and ill -- Eastwood got major backlash after winning for "Million Dollar Baby."
Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: Yann Martel, David Magee, 20th Century Fox, Suraj Sharma, Irfan Khan, Tobey Maguire (psych!), Richard Parker the tiger and everybody who created him, everyone who imagines great stories.
What Are the Odds? If he hadn't already won once, I'd say you could build a campaign around the fact that he deserves it, but without that motivation, it's tough to see it happening.
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Oscar History: None. None! Brand-new blood in a year when there wasn't a ton of new blood to go around.
What's the Story if He Wins? There's a wonderful Hollywood narrative to be had in the upstart young filmmaker with the bold vision and a film that had to sell itself without stars or an easy hook. Certainly the cries of "poor-sploitation!" will get louder in the unlikely situation of a Zeitlin win, but those charges won't get any less misguided.
Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: Fox Searchlight, Lucy Alibar, Quvenzhane Wallis, the cast and crew, the people of Louisiana, his mom and dad, youth, sweet boundary-less youth.
What Are the Odds? He's a tremendous longshot. Truly, the nomination is the reward in his case. The hope is that this heralds big things to come from him in the future.
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This year's Oscar predictions, Oscar Best Director contenders and personal Oscar picks come from the eerily prescient mind of our Academy Awards expert, Joe Reid.