1. TIM BURTON
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Burton has a Bafta nomination under his belt for Big Fish in 2003 and was nominated for the feature animation Oscar for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. But bearing in mind his films have grossed several billion dollars between them, he is somewhat underappreciated. That has to change this year with his grisly film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. It possesses the visual excitement you expect from Burton, along with pitch-perfect musical storytelling and an undercurrent of rich emotion in the grand guignol tragedy that has been missing from his ouevre to date.
2. RIDLEY SCOTT
Scott is another great director who has never won an Oscar, although he has been nominated three times (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down). American Gangster, his most satisfying film since Gladiator, is likely to bring him a fourth nomination and could finally get him the statuette. Gangster has all the trademarks of an Oscar favourite - it is a box-office success, an epic crime tale based on a true story and Scott's direction is fluid and assured.
3. JOE WRIGHT
Wright's achievement in bringing Atonement so effectively to the screen cannot be underestimated, considering the novel's structure and challenging conceit. From the brilliant opening act to the heartbreaking final revelations featuring Vanessa Redgrave, he provides a sweep to the story that recalls both the best British war films and the great screen romances.
4. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON
There Will Be Blood
Anderson roars back to the screen and could land his first directing Oscar nomination (he has two writing nods to his name) for his wildly ambitious and inventive adaptation based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! From the opening, wordless section of a man mining diamonds, to the volcanic finale in the bowling alley, he has crafted a new kind of American epic.
5. JULIAN SCHNABEL
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Schnabel's third film is a directing tour de force, breathing spectacular life into the potentially static true story of a paralysed man who can move only one eyelid. Winner of the directing prize at Cannes this year, Schnabel could become the first US film-maker to be nominated for a foreign-language film.
6. JOEL AND ETHAN COEN
No Country For Old Men
The Coens soared in 2007 with their bravura Cormac McCarthy adaptation, a Cannes favourite this year and a box-office hit for Miramax. An enormously confident film from the co-credited brothers and easily their best since Fargo.
7. SIDNEY LUMET
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
It has been a relief for many that Lumet returned to form this year after duds such as Gloria and A Stranger Among Us threatened to damage his legacy. Nominated for the best director Oscar four times in the past (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The Verdict) and an honorary winner in 2005, he could be ripe for a nomination this year for his latest pungent tale of greed, deception and crime.
8. MIKE NICHOLS
Charlie Wilson's War
The ever-popular Nichols, who won an Oscar for The Graduate and was nominated on three further occasions, is given a showcase for his skills in Charlie Wilson's War. Few film-makers could match the elegant pacing and sophisticated humour generated here.
9. SEAN PENN
Into The Wild
Penn's fourth and best feature is a labour of love in which his camera roams free across the American wilderness. Penn throws in multi-person voiceovers, poetry, songs and even writing on screen to echo his young subject's free spirit with a cumulative impact that is impressively powerful.
10. DENZEL WASHINGTON
The Great Debaters
Washington's second film is a rousing crowdpleaser marked by strong performances, his own among them, and expert storytelling. His confident handling of the material and actors could well position him for Academy recognition in the direction category.
THE NEXT 10
11. ANG LEE, Lust, Caution
If it is not Ang's year to take home another Oscar, it won't be because his work here is any less magnificent than usual. On the contrary, his odyssey of sex and resistance has some of the boldest images and most dazzling passages of any film this year.
12. MARC FORSTER, The Kite Runner
Always one to try something new, Forster took a strong grasp on Khaled Hosseini's bestseller in his big-screen adaptation, creating an indelible portrait of the changing history of Afghanistan.
13. TONY GILROY, Michael Clayton
Gilroy made one of the most talked-about directorial debuts in years with his sharp-edged thriller about corruption in corporate America, starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton.
14. ANDREW DOMINIK, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Australian Dominik made one of the year's great American movies, investing the story of Jesse James with visual poetry, hypnotic pacing and narrative eloquence.
15. JASON REITMAN, Juno
Reitman confirmed the promise of his first film Thank You For Smoking with a charming comedy whose success rests on the confident guidance of its young director.
16. BRAD BIRD, Ratatouille
Although most likely to be dispatched to the animated feature categories, Bird has an outside shot at winning directing nominations for his exhilarating Ratatouille.
17. PAUL GREENGRASS, The Bourne Ultimatum
Greengrass' second in the Bourne series was the most knuckle-crunching thrill ride to come out of Hollywood this year, sealing his reputation at the top of the A-list.
18. DAVID CRONENBERG, Eastern Promises
If a little raw for more conservative voters, Cronenberg's delicious thriller is still a fine showcase for the director's preoccupation with man's darker instincts and pitch-black humour.
19. JAMES MANGOLD, 3:10 To Yuma
Mangold gave a shot of life to the western genre with his giddily entertaining remake, all brooding testosterone and swaggering heroics.
20. Julie Taymor, Across The Universe Across The Universe had legions of enthusiastic fans and Taymor has a shot at recognition for such a wildly ambitious musical vision.
Although it divided critics,
- Sarah Polley, Away From Her
- Eran Kolirin, The Band's Visit
- Anton Corbijn, Control
- Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited
- Cristian Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
- Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone
- Adam Shankman, Hairspray
- Todd Haynes, I'm Not There
- Paul Haggis, In The Valley Of Elah
- Judd Apatow, Knocked Up
- Adam Rifkin, Look
- Noah Baumbach, Margot At The Wedding
- John Carney, Once
- Brian De Palma, Redacted
- Werner Herzog, Rescue Dawn
- Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
- Susanne Bier, Things We Lost In The Fire
- Adrienne Shelly, Waitress
- Francis Ford Coppola, Youth Without Youth
- David Fincher, Zodiac
PROFILE: SIDNEY LUMET
The legendary director talks to Mike Goodridge about his attraction to melodrama and his respect for the screenwriter.
One of the greatest US film-makers alive today, Sidney Lumet is back on awards lists for his 44th feature, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, a gripping potboiler about two brothers in financial crisis who make the misguided decision to rob their parents' jewellery store. And the articulate Lumet is very clear about what drew him to this project. 'The plot,' he explains, 'was so ingenious and smart and tension-making and really first-rate melodrama, which I love. Melodrama is a very frowned-upon genre but not to me. I love it.'
The film, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney, has already grossed more than $5m in North America through ThinkFilm and is winning Lumet the kind of reviews that have not been bestowed on his work in two decades or more.
Based on a first script by Kelly Masterson, the film opens with a candid sex scene between the married couple played by Hoffman and Tomei. 'I thought it was very important to establish what this man wants and there are two areas where you see that,' Lumet explains. 'The first scene where you see that he just wants to be at peace so that sex comes freely and the second scene (is) where he is in the dope dealer's apartment. He talks more in that scene after he's had his fix than he does in the whole picture. When you've got a character who's going to do some pretty hideous things, you'd better understand a little bit about him.'
Lumet has made some of the best films of the last 50 years, from his feature debut 12 Angry Men in 1957 to Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), The Pawnbroker (1964), Fail-Safe (1964), The Offence (1972), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982). Throughout his career, he has been renowned for his respect for the script and the screenwriter.
'I don't think I ever received a script which didn't say at the end of it that I could put on any writer I wanted (to rewrite it),' he explains. 'It's a rather contemptuous way of treating anybody and I was always bothered by that ... So because I come from the theatre where the respect for the writer is paramount, I view it as a complete collaboration with the writer. There have been instances where I've taken it over but they're almost always a certain kind of picture where I know the sound very well. I know cops very well, for example. But in general, I never call in another writer.'