Best Director might be the trickiest major category to assess given the new rules regarding Best Picture. Anywhere from five to ten films may get a nomination for the big prize, but only five slots remain for Best Director. Expect some newcomers along with some tried and true veterans.
Two certainties, to me, represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. First, there is Steven Spielberg, no stranger to Best Director nominations, and his stellar directorial effort putting together the historical drama Lincoln. While I didn't connect on an emotional level with Lincoln, there is no denying Spielberg at the top of his game here with such an engrossing visual picture and wonderful acting. Then there is Ben Affleck, who has shown real maturity as a director with his Iran-hostage thriller, Argo. Again, I was not sold on the film as a whole, but Affleck's direction is sharp and succinct.
Ang Lee should get a spot here for Life of Pi, one of the more beautiful films I have seen in the last decade, and one of my favorites of 2012. Kathryn Bigelow has blossomed into somewhat of an Academy darling after her win for The Hurt Locker. And as much as the Academy doesn't like to acknowledge their love for a little controversy to drive ratings, Zero Dark Thirty comes with just enough backlash to drive the success of the film on Oscar night. This leaves a fifth and final spot, and a few auteurs left to fill out the category.
I would like to think Paul Thomas Anderson would get the fifth slot for The Master. A few months ago I would have said he was a lock for his hypnotizing, ambiguously religious film. But then Quentin Tarantino came calling with Django Unchained, which has stolen some prestige from films like The Master. It is Tarantino's slavery epic and, despite the aura around Tarantino as an edgy filmmaker, the Academy loves having him in the mix on Oscar night.
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
Ben Affleck - Argo
Ang Lee - Life of Pi
Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained