Some of the movie world’s biggest names as well as relative newcomers and a fashion designer-turned-film-maker are among the chief contenders for this year’s best director awards. Mike Goodridge assesses the field

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker

Could Kathryn Bigelow become the first woman to win the best director Oscar in Academy history? Her chances are looking strong after an end-of-year swell in attention which saw both New York and Los Angeles critics bodies giving picture and director kudos to The Hurt Locker and the HFPA bestow a trio of Golden Globe nominations in picture (drama), director and screenplay categories.
Previous nominations Academy Awards (none); Bafta (none); Golden Globe (none)

James Cameron


He has not made a dramatic film in 12 years but Cameron is back with a vengeance in 2009 and his technologically dazzling Avatar should guarantee him a slot in the shortlists for director of the year. He could win the Oscar, not just for the groundbreaking nature and ambition of his sci-fi epic, but because the film has ecological and moral themes the Academy will take to heart.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (3) Titanic (1997, film, director, editor, won for all three); Bafta (3) Titanic (1997, film, director, editor); Golden Globes (5) Titanic (1997, film, director, screenplay; won for film and director), Avatar (film, director)

Quentin Tarantino

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino’s most awards-friendly film since Pulp Fiction catapulted him to a directing Oscar nomination and a trophy for screenplay in 1994, Inglourious Basterds is likely to bring the film-maker another directing nod. He already has directing nominations in the bag for the Golden Globes and Critics Choice awards and is a favourite to win in original screenplay categories.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (2) Pulp Fiction (1994, director, screenplay, won for screenplay), Bafta (3) Pulp Fiction (1994, film, director, screenplay, won for screenplay), Golden Globes (2) Pulp Fiction (1994, director, screenplay, won for screenplay)

Jason Reitman

Up In The Air

Already one of the hottest film-makers in Hollywood after just three films, Reitman stands a real chance of an Oscar win this year — most likely in the adapted screenplay category but, if Up In The Air is on a roll, in the director category as well. The film is catching fire with voters and being embraced as a smart character-driven film in the face of the action, sci-fi or violence delivered by Reitman’s biggest competitors: Bigelow, Cameron and Tarantino.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (1) Juno (2007, director); Bafta (none); Golden Globes (3) Up In The Air (2009, picture — drama, director, screenplay)

Clint Eastwood


The US legend did not disappoint with his 2009 offering Invictus, a classic sports movie with moving historical overtones, and he has already scored directing nods for the Golden Globes and Critics Choice awards. If it is not his year again (he has two directing Oscars at home), the venerated director will likely make the final five.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (10) Unforgiven (1992, picture, director, actor, won for picture and director), Mystic River (2003, picture, director), Million Dollar Baby (2004, picture, director, actor, won for picture, director), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, picture, director); Bafta (3) Unforgiven (1992, film, director), Changeling (2008, director); Golden Globes (16) Bird (1988, won for director), Unforgiven (1992, picture, director, won for director), Mystic River (2003, picture, director), Million Dollar Baby (2004, picture, director, score, won for director), Flags Of Our Fathers (2006, director), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, director, foreign-language film, won for foreign-language film), Grace Is Gone (2007, score, song), Changeling (2008, score), Gran Torino (2008, song), Invictus (2009, director)

Daniels is a former manager and producer whose second film as a director, Precious, has rocketed him on to the A-list. Although omitted from the Golden Globe director shortlist, the outspoken film-maker was nominated for a Critics Choice award and he has to be an Oscar contender since Precious works because of his directorial stamp.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (none); Bafta (none); Golden Globes (none)

Jim Sheridan


A master at filming intense and authentic human drama, Sheridan delivered another emotional wallop this year with Brothers about two soldiers returning home from war. A two-time directing Oscar nominee, Sheridan is widely admired for his work with actors and story, and Brothers shows the full extent of his powers.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (6), My Left Foot (1989, director, screenplay), In The Name Of The Father (1993, film, director, screenplay), In America (2002, screenplay); Bafta (3) My Left Foot (1989, film, screenplay), In The Name Of The Father (1993, screenplay); Golden Globes (2) The Boxer (1997, director), In America (2004, screenplay)

Rob Marshall


Marshall showed a lot of chutzpah in his dramatic reworking of Maury Yeston’s stage musical Nine for the big screen. From coralling one of the biggest star casts assembled in recent memory to combining musical numbers with drama, fantasy with reality, the film represented one of the year’s biggest challenges for a film-maker.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (1) Chicago (2002); Bafta (1) Chicago (2002); Golden Globes (1) Chicago (2002)

Tom Ford

A Single Man

Quickly casting aside any doubts that A Single Man was a self-financed vanity project, fashion icon Ford proved he was a director of vision, style and confidence with his first feature. He is both visually and dramatically meticulous, and coaxes revelatory performances from his leading cast members.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (none); Bafta (none); Golden Globes (none)

Neill Blomkamp

District 9

The 30-year-old South African managed to secure the patronage and producing talents of Peter Jackson on his first feature, inspired by his 2005 short Alive In Joburg. The results were one of the best-received mainstream releases of the year, a bold science-fiction film notable for its fine special effects, bravura handheld cinematography and astute apartheid parallels.
Previous nominationsAcademy Awards (none); Bafta (none); Golden Globes (none)

Also In contention The Next 20

Lone Scherfig-An Education
Jane Campion -Bright Star
Joel and Ethan Coen -A Serious Man
Scott Coope -Crazy Heart
Pete Docter -Up
Wes Anderson -Fantastic Mr Fox
JJ Abrams -Star Trek
John Hillcoat -The Road
Spike Jonze -Where The Wild Things Are
Peter Jackson -The Lovely Bones
Michael Haneke -The White Ribbon
Nora Ephron -Julie & Julia
Michael Hoffman -The Last Station
Pedro Almodovar -Broken Embraces
Grant Heslov -The Men Who Stare At Goats
Michael Mann -Public Enemies
Todd Phillips -The Hangover
Nancy Meyers -It’s Complicated
Steven Soderbergh -The Informant!
Judd Apatow-Funny People