Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Taylor Hackford, Ray
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Will Win: Clint Eastwood
There are three lines of thought on handicapping this year's Best Director race - and all of them categorically exclude the possibility of this award going to Taylor Hackford or Mike Leigh. Sorry, guys, it's just not your year. Anyway, the raging debate goes something like this:
Best Picture and Best Director winners are not usually split across two different nominees - Million Dollar Baby has built incredible momentum and will sweep this and most of the other major categories. And don't feel sorry for Marty Scorsese - he'll win an Oscar when he doesnt seem to need it so badly - even the Academy can't stand the stink of desperation.
Scorsese's time has come; regardless of "lifetime achievement", we'd all like him to move beyond the blatant Oscar bait, and if he has to go home empty handed again, who knows how many four hour Leonardo DiCaprio pictures the guy's going to make? Plus, if director and Best Picture are going to split (and it has been known to happen), it's much more likely that Scorsese will win this and Million Dollar Baby will take Best picture (and probably everything else).
Both directors have passionate supporters but neither has a clear lead; they'll split the vote, and Alexander Payne will take home Sideways' only major award.
Each argument has its merits, but my gut is telling me version #1 is the narrative that will eventually play out. Payne is a talented filmmaker who continues to build a body of work that compellingly probes the American Experience - but, really, he's still in kiddie pool. Actors are the biggest voting block, and not only do they love to vote for director/actors, but they seem to often have love/hate relationships with Scorsese. Eastwood will take this, and it won't be as close as it might seem.
Should Win: Scorsese
No, it's not his greatest work, but Scorsese's Howard Hughes epic is still a great work. I don't understand the arguments that The Aviator is pure technical achievement, or that it's at all emotionally bereft. Scorsese has made a careful, serious character study in the shell of a gorgeously well-executed tribute to Classical Hollywood Cinema - without resorting to the type of emotional panhandling that keeps Clint Eastwood's film on life support into its third act.