ALFONSO CUARÓN (ROMA) – Cuarón is the only one of the quintet of nominees who is a previous winner; of the other four, only Adam McKay has been nominated before. However, Roma couldn’t be more different to the visual effects spectacle of Gravity – which won him the statuette back in 2013 – underlining the Mexican director’s boundless versatility. Cuarón has won Best Director at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Directors’ Guild Awards. Only six DGA winners haven’t gone on to win Best Director at the Oscars, so this one looks done and dusted already.
SPIKE LEE (BLACKKKLANSMAN) – It’s hard to believe that this is Lee’s first ever nomination, especially with such a rich and varied body of work behind him. That he’s just the sixth black director to be nominated ever speaks volumes about why the Academy took so long to recognise him, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that BlacKkKlansman’s nod isn’t earned in its own right. Lee draws out the absurdity of Ron Stallworth’s story without abandoning the social issues that remain relevant today, ending it with a gut punch that underlines the hatred and bigotry that was just waiting for its chance to resurface. It’s impossible to root against Lee as a possible winner but it doesn’t seem to have the traction to take on Cuarón and his labour of love.
PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI (COLD WAR) – Year after year, there’s an irrefutable correlation between the nominees for Best Picture and Best Director. The biggest barrier (apart from Alfonso Cuarón) in Pawlikowski’s way is the fact that Cold War isn’t also on the Best Picture list. It’s nominated for Best Film in a Foreign Language, but only two directors have ever won Best Director without a Best Picture nomination and they were both in the 1920s. That would suggest that Pawlikowski’s victory was making the final five and that’s as far as he’s going. If we were to rank these five in our own order of preference, he’d be just behind Cuarón and Lee but a decent distance clear of the other two.
YORGAS LANTHIMOS (THE FAVOURITE) – The Favourite is easily the most talked about and palatable of Lanthimos’s films, so it’s easy to see why it bagged him his first directing nomination. But is it his most deserving? In our opinion, there was more of a case to be made for the weirder and more difficult The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. The Favourite’s momentum seems to be weighted towards the film’s stars, making it more of an outsider than a favourite here.
ADAM MCKAY (VICE) – “Adam McKay, the Oscar-winning director of The Other Guys and Talladega Nights” just doesn’t sound right. There’s no question that McKay’s recent pivot to the worlds of finance and politics is one that he’s handled deftly, but there’s a flashiness and breeziness to Vice (just like there was with The Big Short) that makes it feel entertaining but insubstantial. It’s hard to make any case for McKay being a contender here.