As far as the Oscars are concerned, the best way to get a handle on the year's best films is to look at the Best Screenplay nominees. The writers who vote for the ten films nominated in the Original and Adapted categories are the closest things to outsiders the movie community has. They're generally smarter and lower paid than anyone else, and they tend not to work on movie sets, hobnobbing with famous directors and movie stars. And so they have a more objective outlook on what's good and what's not.
The screenplay category has historically shown more foresight and flexibility than its fellows. After all, some of the past winners include filmmakers William A. Wellman, Orson Welles, Preston Sturges, Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, none of which ever had a shot as Best Director. Other nominees include Budd Boetticher, Andre de Toth, Nicholas Ray, Jacques Tati and Jacques Demy. Certain filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone and Bill Condon won Screenplay Oscars long before their careers as directors took off. And even some genuinely legendary writers have heard their name called: William Saroyan, James Agee, Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Paddy Chayefsky, Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Miller.