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Tracking the Oscar race for best director

November 3, 2010 |  5:47 pm

The social network david fincher

Oscar voters usually choose their best pictures based upon who directs them, so award seers must pay special attention to this category while tracking the top derby. Over the past 20 years, the awards for best picture and director split only four times. That's 80% overlap. That's impressive.

To predict best picture, it's smart to think backward from the directors' category. Last year, "The Hurt Locker" won both races in part because it was time, finally, for a woman to win the helmer's trophy and the woman out front happened to be Kathryn Bigelow, the ex-wife of her chief rival, James Cameron ("Avatar"), the one-time "king of the Oscars" (back when "Titanic" swept) who is notoriously crusty and, some think, in need of a good humbling. Academy members, like everybody else, like to root for the underdog, so Bigelow's personal story probably had a lot to do with her Oscar romp.

Back in 2001, "A Beautiful Mind" won best picture and director even though the movie was under widespread media attack for having sugar-coated its real-life story. That's how hellbent Hollywood was to give Ron Howard his overdue Oscar for best director and so "A Beautiful Mind" got to go along for the ride in the corresponding best-picture race.

Being overdue is often a key factor to win. This year the prevailing view seems to be it should be David Fincher's turn since he previously proved himself a master of provocative little indies ("Zodiac") and big-studio epics starring A-Listers (best picture nominee "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button").

However, there are other top contenders who are also notable directors overdue for Oscar glory: Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan and Peter Weir.

Ben Affleck, "The Town"
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Danny Boyle, "127 Hours"
James L. Brooks, "How Do You Know"
Lisa Cholodenko, "The Kids Are All Right"
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, "True Grit"
Clint Eastwood, "Hereafter"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
Christopher Nolan, "Inception"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"
Lee Unkrich, "Toy Story 3"
Peter Weir, "The Way Back"
Edward Zwick, "Love & Other Drugs"

Derek Cianfrance, "Blue Valentine"
Sofia Coppola, "Somewhere"
Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, "How to Train Your Dragon"
Debra Granik, "Winter's Bone"
Mike Leigh, "Another Year"
John Cameron Mitchell, "Rabbit Hole"
Roman Polanski, "The Ghost Writer"
Martin Scorsese, "Shutter Island"

Nigel Cole, "Made in Dagenham"
Tony Goldwyn, "Conviction"
Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu, "Biutiful"
Richard J. Lewis, "Barney's Version"
Doug Liman, "Fair Game"
Tyler Perry, "For Colored Girls"
Mark Romanek, "Never Let Me Go"
Aaron Schneider, "Get Low"
Randall Wallace, "Secretariat"
John Wells, "The Company Men"

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: David Fincher (Columbia Pictures)