The directing race has boiled down to nine names, four of which you can pretty safely etch into stone. Michel Hazanavicius, whose surname becomes quite easy to spell after constant repetition, is your frontrunner, as both he and his film seem rather insurmountable at this point. Martin Scorsese is next in line for the prize, boosted by a victory at the Golden Globes and the bonus of being Martin Scorsese (if the Academy wanted to split picture and director for one big cine-stalgia duet, the Hugo helmer would surely be sitting pretty). Alexander Payne will hear his name called for The Descendants, a movie that should be snagging more love for its makers than for its blandly reliable star. And Woody Allen, Oscar Hall of Famer and all-around oxymoronic humanist misanthrope, is a shoo-in for his adorable, CliffsNotes time machine, Midnight in Paris.
But what about slot number five? Just weeks ago, had you asked any pundit who'd be rounding out the field, the odds-on answer would have been Steven Spielberg (this blog certainly figured as much). But with War Horse's unseen rockslide of lost traction, everyone's favorite blockbuster maestro is probably going to have to settle for a producing nod only. Could Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn step up? Thanks in large part to Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks, his movie definitely has voters' attention, and though his shot may seem as pulverized as a certain elevator rider's skull, he does boast nods from BAFTA, the BFCA, and the OFCS, not to mention wins from Cannes, the Houston Film Critics, and the San Diego Film Critics. Another very real possibility is new perennial favorite David Fincher, who blindsided just about everybody when he snuck into the DGA lineup for piloting "The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas."
The most bone-chilling scenario would be a last-minute nom for Tate Taylor, whose chicken-fried heartwarmer, The Help, is lurking in the wings as your new Best Picture dark horse. Swelling love for the film could will such a development into existence, and Oscar-nomination morning habitually has at least one bitch slap of a surprise. That'd be sour news for Terrence Malick, whose film has been fighting an uphill battle throughout the season. Shut out by every major guild, The Tree of Life seems less and less like a viable Best Picture candidate. Malick, however, doesn't appear to be out of the game just yet, serving as many prognosticators' go-to arty choice. It may be unwise to bet against Fincher, whose DGA citation makes him the safest bet of those vying to join the top quartet, but right now any declaration of a fifth contender feels like a leap of faith. And by that measure, no hopeful seems more worthy of blind trust than spiritual shepherd Malick, whose ode to existence has the auteurial awe to put him in the running.
Will Be Nominated: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Should Be Nominated: Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Asghar Farhadi, A Separation; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive; Lars von Trier, Melancholia