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Oscar nominees 2012: Best Director

Running down the race between Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, and Woody Allen

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The Frontrunner
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Age 44
Oscar History First nomination.
Silent Inspirations When preparing to make his ode to silent Hollywood, Hazanavicius (pronounced ha-zah-nah-VEESH-us) watched the work of his favorite filmmakers from that era. ”All the movies — the ones that I prefer and the ones I reference — were the American movies from the four or five last years of the silent era: F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Josef von Sternberg, John Ford,” says Hazanavicius. ”These are the movies that aged the best.”
Yes, We Cannes The French director insisted on entering his film into competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and the gamble paid off. The Artist was a big hit, earning a lengthy standing ovation. ”They told me it was 12 minutes, but it felt like 12 days,” says Hazanavicius. ”I think my ego took in enough for years to come.”
Considering the Odds While he tries not to worry too much about the awards attention for The Artist, Hazanavicius says, ”I don’t want to not think about it, though, because in a way it’s very pleasant. Like when you buy a lottery ticket and you dream about what you would buy if you win.”
Up Next He is attached to direct an updated version of the 1948 Fred Zinnemann war drama The Search. —Keith Staskiewicz

Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life
Age 68
Oscar History The press-shy auteur was nominated twice in 1999 (Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) for The Thin Red Line.
Long Time Coming The Tree of Life famously depicts the beginning of the universe, which seems to be about the time Malick began working on it. ”He first pitched it to me about 10 years ago,” says producer Bill Pohlad. ”But he had the concept for at least 10 years before that.”
The Waiting Game From the meticulous look of his films, you might think Malick is a Kubrickian perfectionist. In reality, he’s less about dictating performances than coaxing them. ”He’s the guy sitting there with the butterfly net waiting for the great monarch to go by,” says star Brad Pitt. ”And when he sees it, he grabs it.”
Keep Rolling Malick spent years in postproduction on The Tree of Life, but with good reason: He had miles of film to wade through. ”You can’t imagine how much footage there was,” says costar Jessica Chastain. ”We shot all day. The only time the camera wasn’t rolling was when they were reloading the film.”
Up Next Unusually, Malick has four films on his slate, including an untitled, already filmed romance starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, and two projects (Lawless and Knight of Cups) with Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett attached. —Keith Staskiewicz

Martin Scorsese for Hugo
Age 69
Oscar History After being nominated five times for Best Director, Scorsese finally won on his sixth go-round, for 2006’s The Departed. He’s also been nominated twice for Adapted Screenplay.
Grown-up Boys and Their Toys Scorsese has been a rabid fan of 3-D movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder since he was a kid. But after trying out the technology firsthand on Hugo, he’s become a convert, too. ”I’m obsessed with 3-D images,” he says. ”With this movie, I took a chance. I thought, ‘Okay, let’s try it! Let’s see what we can do!’ And now I have faith in it. I feel like the actors come out stronger in 3-D. They’re like moving sculptures. The element that 3-D adds is indescribable.”
Location, Location One of the other benefits of shooting in 3-D is you can avoid shooting outdoors and stick to soundstages. ”As I get older, I find going on locations extremely arduous,” Scorsese says. ”On Shutter Island, there were all these trees. I have asthma. I’m allergic to all that. I’m not a tree guy. I mean, I like to look at them outside the window, just as long as they’re not where I am!”
Up Next He’s expected to direct an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, set in 17th-century Japan. —Chris Nashawaty

Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Age 50
Oscar History Payne earned an Adapted Screenplay nod for 1999’s Election and won in that category for 2004’s Sideways, which also nabbed nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.
Going Native The director — who’s set three movies in his hometown of Omaha (Citizen Ruth, Election, and About Schmidt) and one in California wine country (Sideways) — is a stickler for capturing an authentic sense of place, down to the smallest details. So before shooting began on The Descendants, he spent eight months living in Hawaii — and not just to soak up some rays and do a little surfing. ”The unrealized documentarian inside of me likes to go and do research,” says Payne, who immersed himself deeply in everything from traditional Hawaiian music to the fine points of the Hawaiian shirt. ”Hawaii is great not just for the obvious — the beauty, the sun, the ocean — but the cultural landscape is so specific and so complex for such a small place. I hope the Hawaii audience says I got it right.”
Up Next Payne plans to return to his home state this year to shoot Nebraska, a dramedy about a father-son road trip. He will follow that with an adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Wilson. —Josh Rottenberg

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
Age 76
Oscar History He’s won three Oscars: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for 1977’s Annie Hall, and Best Original Screenplay for 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters. He’s been nominated a total of 21 times.
Awards-Show Dropout When Annie Hall won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Allen was famously a no-show at the ceremony. Instead, he was playing the clarinet with his jazz band back in New York City. The prolific auteur says the idea of the Academy choosing one film (or director) over another is silly. ”I haven’t read a review in 35 years,” says Allen. ”People think certain movies I did were great when they were not at all great. Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan — those are two that aren’t as good as The Purple Rose of Cairo or Match Point. It goes in one ear and out the other.”
Talent Magnet Midnight in Paris star Owen Wilson says he would have signed on even without a script. He’s not alone. ”Actors jump at the chance to do his movies not because they’re getting a big payday but because it’s a chance to work with an icon,” says Wilson. ”It’s like sitting for a portrait with Picasso.”
Up Next Allen’s 43rd film, the Rome-set comedy Nero Fiddled starring Penélope Cruz, is due later this year. —Chris Nashawaty