The Best Director Oscar Race: Who Will Be Nominated?

Belfast, Dune, and licorice Pizza posters
(Image credit: Focus Features, Warner Bros, MGM)

With Oscar nominations right around the corner, CinemaBlend is taking a look at which films and performances are likely to be in contention for nominations. Let’s look at the Best Director race. 

Locked In

The director’s branch has dealt some brutal snubs in the past, but if there’s one candidate who is immune, it’s Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. Her thoughtful, meticulous direction has earned her more critics awards than any director this season by far.

Denis Villeneuve is likely to find himself in the director race again with Dune. It’s perhaps the most stunning looking and sounding big budget film of the year, and one that will be supported with nominations in just about every tech category.

Paul Thomas Anderson solidified himself in this category after a DGA nomination for Licorice Pizza. The Academy was the only major awards body to nominate him for Phantom Thread, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll miss for his latest, which will easily show up in Best Picture and Original Screenplay as well.

Likely Bets

This branch of the Academy is no stranger to nominating directors from international films, even ones that don’t make the Best Picture lineup like Cold War and Another Round. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has a great shot at being that sort of nominee with Drive My Car. The film is a frontrunner in International Feature, and is one of the most acclaimed of the year. BAFTA nominations in Screenplay and Directing add a lot of confidence to this pick.

Nearly every year, this category produces a shocking snub or two. Should Hamaguchi make it in, it’ll likely be Steven Spielberg or Kenneth Branagh who misses. Films with strong visual craftsmanship excel here, so it’s baffling to imagine Spielberg missing for West Side Story. However, Spielberg isn’t always nominated alongside his films, and a weak performance from BAFTA makes me skeptical of his nomination. I think West Side Story is a weaker contender overall than Belfast, so shockingly, I am predicting Spielberg misses for Branagh and Hamaguchi. 

Dark Horses

Adam McKay seems likely on paper to be nominated for Don’t Look Up, but he hasn’t received support with precursors like DGA and Critics Choice the way he did for his previous two awards contenders. Guillermo del Toro and Joel Coen have certainly made some of the most eye-popping films of the year with Nightmare Alley and The Tragedy of Macbeth, respectively. However, their films are weaker contenders overall. 

Perhaps there’s another international contender we should consider like Julia Ducournau for Titane or Joachim Trier for The Worst Person in the World, but Hamaguchi is more likely to be that candidate.

You can check out our other category breakdowns for Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay.