ENTERTAINMENT
12/22/2017 05:46 am ET

These 14 Filmmakers Are Vying For Best Director In The 2018 Oscar Race

Could Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins or Dee Rees become the fifth women ever nominated for this award?
A24/Warner Bros/Universal

With almost a month left until the Oscar nominations are announced, the annual debate has again emerged: Will a woman be included in the Best Director category?

In the Academy Awards’ 89-year history, only four women have occupied spots in this field: Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow. A few others are feasible candidates for 2018′s roster, which will, of course, be dominated by dudes. (The Golden Globes didn’t honor any women, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t have any voting overlap with the Academy, so the Globes’ predictive reliability is limited.) 

However Best Director shakes out when the Oscar ballot is unveiled on Jan. 23, the category features a parade of A-listers. Even the less experienced contenders have secured Hollywood’s respect. Which five filmmakers will find themselves honored as part of this year’s crop? Here’s the list of possibilities, ranked according to their likelihood of earning nominations. 

  • 14 Alexander Payne, "Downsizing"
    The Academy loves Alexander Payne. Each of his movies since "Election," released in 1999, has earned a nomination for its wri
    Paramount Pictures
    The Academy loves Alexander Payne. Each of his movies since "Election," released in 1999, has earned a nomination for its writing, directing and/or acting -- which would imply a bright future for "Downsizing," if it weren't Payne's most divisive film to date. In fact, many of the reviews are treacherous. And yet, the National Board of Review named it one of the year's 10 best. If Payne squeezes in, it'll be a symbol of his accomplished reputation.
  • 13 Joe Wright, "Darkest Hour"
    "Darkest Hour" satisfies several boxes on the traditional Oscar-movie checklist: It's a wartime period piece w
    Focus Features
    "Darkest Hour" satisfies several boxes on the traditional Oscar-movie checklist: It's a wartime period piece with actorly performances and a methodical directorial hand. But maybe awards groups are drifting away from safer choices like this one, considering the film hasn't seen a groundswell in the precursor prizes. That doesn't bode nicely for Joe Wright, who was presumably seeking a mea culpa after not being nominated for his Best Picture contender "Atonement."
  • 12 Dee Rees, "Mudbound"
    "Mudbound" was first deemed an Oscar hopeful when it premiered at Sundance in January -- and then Netflix bought it
    Netflix
    "Mudbound" was first deemed an Oscar hopeful when it premiered at Sundance in January -- and then Netflix bought it, raising questions about the movie's prospects among Hollywood's anti-streaming contingency. But it's remained a second-tier favorite throughout awards season, which keeps Dee Rees' name in the conversation. The Academy's newly diversified membership could help give her just the boost she needs.
  • 11 Patty Jenkins, "Wonder Woman"
    Warner Bros. started <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wonder-woman-oscar-campaign_us_597b8633e4b02a8434b65a8e" t
    Warner Bros
    Warner Bros. started plotting a fierce Oscar bid for its runaway feminist blockbuster back in July. So far, it hasn't proven especially fruitful. The Academy's resistance to big-budget tentpoles won't do "Wonder Woman" any favors, but maybe -- just maybe -- it will thrive if the ongoing sexual-misconduct fallout further compels the organization to honor a woman.
  • 10 Sean Baker, "The Florida Project"
    Untraditional in every way, Sean Baker represents Hollywood's new guard. He's drawn to homemade stories about marginalization
    A24
    Untraditional in every way, Sean Baker represents Hollywood's new guard. He's drawn to homemade stories about marginalization, told apart from anything resembling studio machinery. At first, "The Florida Project" seemed a tad too small for the Oscars. But it has earned a nice little haul at the box office and performed exceedingly well on critics' year-end lists and in pace-setting accolades. Baker has already collected a smattering of directing prizes, making him more than just a distant gleam in Oscar's eye.
  • 9 Paul Thomas Anderson, "Phantom Thread"
    "Phantom Thread" skipped the festival circuit, so it hasn't had to wade through months' worth of buzz. After finally screenin
    Focus Features
    "Phantom Thread" skipped the festival circuit, so it hasn't had to wade through months' worth of buzz. After finally screening in December, the reviews were effusive. And while the movie's lush melodrama seems a bit too offbeat and elliptical for steak-and-potatoes voters, keep in mind that Paul Thomas Anderson's two most offbeat and elliptical films -- "Magnolia" and "Inherent Vice" -- earned screenplay nods. This would mark his second directorial shout-out, following "There Will Be Blood."
  • 8 Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
    This year's Best Picture race hasn't found a veritable front-runner, and some have held on to the notion that "Three Billboar
    Fox Searchlight
    This year's Best Picture race hasn't found a veritable front-runner, and some have held on to the notion that "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" could be the one to beat. It scored the Toronto Film Festival's audience award, considered one of the season's first bellwethers. But the narrative surrounding Martin McDonagh's film has shifted in recent weeks, with many critics picking apart its wonky depiction of small-town racism. A respected playwright who was previously nominated for penning "In Bruges," McDonagh may have to settle for a Best Original Screenplay recognition instead.
  • 7 Ridley Scott, "All the Money in the World"
    Here's the superhero this category needs.&nbsp;Hollywood types will eat up the&nbsp;stories of Ridley Scott scurrying to resh
    Sony Pictures
    Here's the superhero this category needs. Hollywood types will eat up the stories of Ridley Scott scurrying to reshoot "All the Money in the World" with Christopher Plummer in the role originally occupied by alleged predator Kevin Spacey. In an unprecedented turnaround, Scott still got the movie out on time. A director couldn't ask for a better narrative. Even if "World" isn't fantastic, the three-time nominee is considered one of the industry's foremost veterans and has validated his stature.
  • 6 Luca Guadagnino, "Call Me by Your Name"
    We need to discuss how anyone&nbsp;can watch "Call Me by Your Name" and somehow <i>not</i> worship every frame's sensual effe
    Sony Pictures Classics
    We need to discuss how anyone can watch "Call Me by Your Name" and somehow not worship every frame's sensual effervescence. Luca Guadagnino's delicate gay romance is one of the year's most acclaimed releases. But without the added charge of timely political resonance, it will have to coast on its own merits. (It's nice to say that about a movie featuring gay characters, but there's a caveat: A different gay movie -- "Moonlight" -- won Best Picture this year, which could make it easy to brush this one off.) Guadagnino has made off with umpteen independent prizes, but he was omitted from the Golden Globe ballot last week.
  • 5 Grega Gerwig, "Lady Bird"
    In terms of securing a nomination for a female auteur, Greta Gerwig is our best hope. The direction in "Lady Bird" doesn't an
    A24
    In terms of securing a nomination for a female auteur, Greta Gerwig is our best hope. The direction in "Lady Bird" doesn't announce itself with the sort of grandeur usually spotlighted in this category, but the coming-of-age dramedy is so beloved that Gerwig won't need any outsize visual tricks to convince us of her craft. She's pretty much guaranteed a screenplay nomination -- does that mean voters will ignore her direction? The Golden Globes did, but the Academy may be more proactive in avoiding signs of misogyny in the year of #MeToo.
  • 4 Steven Spielberg, "The Post"
    It's easy to take Steven Spielberg for granted. No one&nbsp;who works as&nbsp;frequently as he does churns out&nbsp;films thi
    Fox
    It's easy to take Steven Spielberg for granted. No one who works as frequently as he does churns out films this consistently reliable (looking at you, Woody Allen). In fact, Spielberg dropped what he was doing and fast-tracked "The Post" so its timely themes -- freedom of the press, female leadership, corrupt government officials -- could hit the big screen this year. It worked. The movie is Spielberg's best since, well, whatever you thought Spielberg's last great movie was. "Lincoln"? "Munich"? "The Terminal"? (Just kidding.) He has a Golden Globe nod to show for it.
  • 3 Jordan Peele, "Get Out"
    Jordan Peele made the year's most important movie: a socially resonant crowd-pleaser whose small budget ($5 million)&nbsp;pro
    Universal Pictures
    Jordan Peele made the year's most important movie: a socially resonant crowd-pleaser whose small budget ($5 million) proved that studios don't need franchise tentpoles to turn profits. "Get Out" is a masterclass in craft, built off the back of its twisty, economical script but crystallized in the visual language created by the Sunken Place. Peele has stayed on the press circuit since this movie opened in February, making him a near shoo-in. 
  • 2 Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water"
    A technical craftsman who has never been nominated in this category, Guillermo del Toro&nbsp;needn't look far to find peers w
    Fox Searchlight
    A technical craftsman who has never been nominated in this category, Guillermo del Toro needn't look far to find peers who adore him. His reputation is that of a swell, huggable guy; actors clamor to work with him. And the sci-fi romance "The Shape of Water" is del Toro's best-reviewed movie since "Pan's Labyrinth," for which he received a screenplay nomination. It feels like his turn, and he has the Golden Globe nod to get him going.
  • 1 Christopher Nolan, "Dunkirk"
    Warner Bros.&nbsp;<i>really&nbsp;</i>wants to get Christopher Nolan this nomination. Seizing on the impressive box-office ret
    Warner Bros
    Warner Bros. really wants to get Christopher Nolan this nomination. Seizing on the impressive box-office returns "Dunkirk" saw in July, the studio has kept Nolan on the road. He has participated in umpteen industry Q&As, and this month "Dunkirk" was rereleased in theaters, borrowing a recurring note from the Oscar-campaign playbook. The fact that he has never earned a Best Director nomination is just what Nolan needs to seem overdue in the Academy's eyes.

The Oscars air March 4.

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