1. DANNY BOYLE - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Boyle’s dazzling command of his medium was never more apparent than in Slumdog, as it is now simply known. In applying his trademark visceral style famous from Trainspotting and 28 Days Later to a cheerfully preposterous Mumbai romantic saga, he is thrilling audiences everywhere the movie plays and should easily land his first Oscar nomination.
2. DAVID FINCHER - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Fincher has become one of Hollywood’s biggest names on the back of superb adult dramas such as Zodiac, Panic Room and Fight Club, so it was only a matter of time before he made a film ripe for awards recognition. Filled with the telling details and directorial flourishes for which he is renowned, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is a film-making tour de force which could land him the Oscar.
3. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN - THE DARK KNIGHT
If Hollywood’s establishment cannot bring themselves to give a comic-book movie a best-picture nomination, they should not baulk at putting Nolan down for best director. He made an epic 1970s crime saga in Gotham City and in the process delivered a textbook example of blockbuster film-making that does not sacrifice complexity, suspense or style.
4. RON HOWARD - FROST/NIXON
Howard has made the most sophisticated film of his career to date in Frost/Nixon, elegantly transposing Peter Morgan’s stage play to the big screen with little evidence of its stagebound origins. Howard’s attention to historical detail, wonderful work with his actors and precisely attuned pacing should score him a second Oscar nod.
5. GUS VAN SANT - MILK
Van Sant’s range is well known - he can make conventional Hollywood movies such as Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, then Gerry and Elephant - but Milk is probably the apotheosis of his career, covering the political awakening of Harvey Milk with both solid storytelling and a uniquely insightful handling of character, material, period and camera.
6. CLINT EASTWOOD - CHANGELING
Eastwood is in the running with two films this year, looking for his fourth directing Oscar nod this decade; voters will perhaps favour him for acting in Gran Torino and for directing in Changeling. With typically understated direction, he gracefully sidestepped hysteria and melodrama in telling the shocking story of the disappearance of a young boy in 1928.
7. STEPHEN DALDRY - THE READER
With only his third film, The Reader, Daldry establishes himself as one of Europe’s great directors. His stark, devastating take on Bernhard Schlink’s novel is both the story of a nation’s guilt and an intimate story of a young man’s love for an older woman. Daldry weaves intelligently the personal and the political into one complex narrative.
8. BAZ LUHRMANN - AUSTRALIA
There are very few film-makers working today with such a singular aesthetic as Luhrmann. Australia has divided viewers for its blend of comedy and tragedy, social issues and romance, but Luhrmann’s chutzpah and visual audacity should win him direction nods, though he was left off the list when Moulin Rouge won a best-picture Oscar nomination in 2001.
9. SAM MENDES - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
Mendes has not been on the Oscar shortlist since American Beauty won him the best director trophy in 2000. Revolutionary Road, which has already scored him a surprise best director Golden Globe nod, could change all that. Mendes worked wonders with his actors and some scenes of marital discord which resonate long after the credits are over.
10. DARREN ARONOFSKY - THE WRESTLER
Ironically, after two visually bold and viscerally exciting films in Requiem For A Dream and The Fountain, Aronofsky’s greatest success has come from a verite character piece about a washed-up wrestler. He won the Golden Lion in Venice for The Wrestler but the question is whether voters will be able to see past Mickey Rourke’s performance to Aronofsky’s accomplishments.
11 John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
12 Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
13 Bryan Singer, Valkyrie
14 Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married
15 Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
16 Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
17 Tom McCarthy, The Visitor
18 Ed Zwick, Defiance
19 Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Burn After Reading
20 Gabriele Muccino, Seven Pounds