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Best Director

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When the nominees for best di- rector are announced, there may be only four smiling faces, not five. The reason: STEVEN SODERBERGH, whose work on Erin Brockovich and Traffic could earn him two nominations, a feat last achieved in 1939 when Michael Curtiz did it with Four Daughters and Angels With Dirty Faces. (By the way, he lost.)

Who will this double whammy leave room for? RIDLEY SCOTT, we bet: Gladiator is the kind of popular, logistically complex epic for which voters like to reward the man with the bullhorn (Scott was last nominated for 1991’s Thelma & Louise). And all but the most staid Academy members will also make room for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s ANG LEE (though never nominated as a director, he’s poised for his third Best Foreign Language Film nod). Slot No. 5 is anybody’s guess. We’ll give the edge to Quills’ PHILIP KAUFMAN, on the grounds that CAMERON CROWE’s Almost Famous, TERENCE DAVIES’ The House of Mirth, CURTIS HANSON’s Wonder Boys, and KENNETH LONERGAN’s You Can Count on Me will be seen as triumphs more of writing than directing. But don’t be surprised if box office coattails pull Cast Away’s ROBERT ZEMECKIS into the slot, or if voters go for Billy Elliot’s STEPHEN DALDRY or Chocolat’s LASSE HALLSTROM.

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DARREN ARONOFSKY brings visual pyrotechnics to Requiem for a Dream — and proves as compassionate an explorer of the drug crisis as Traffic’s Soderbergh. They deserve to go head(trip)-to-head(trip).

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