Logically, the five nominees for best directing should match up with the five Best Picture finalists, but when it comes to Oscar voting, logic often takes a holiday. The ornery directors’ branch of the Academy likes to strike out on its own, so prepare for some surprises.

JAMES L. BROOKS (1), an industry fave with 13 Emmys and one Oscar (for 1983’s Terms of Endearment), is probably in the club for As Good as It Gets (though he was left out in ’88, when his Broadcast News was nominated for Best Picture). CURTIS HANSON (2), who swept the critics’ prizes and leapt into the ranks of A-list directors with L.A. Confidential, should also feel secure. And though JAMES CAMERON’s (3) ability to call his own, expensive shots is resented by some directors, Titanic should carry him in its wake.

But Amistad’s STEVEN SPIELBERG (4) has to be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself; he could see a replay of the 1986 vote, when The Color Purple was nominated for Best Picture but he was denied a director’s nod. And despite the success of Good Will Hunting, the never-nominated GUS VAN SANT could suffer from spending more time in Portland, Ore., than he does in Hollywood.

If the directors do decide to throw in a wild card or two, they’ve got plenty of choices: They could feel guilty enough for ignoring ANG LEE’s work on 1995’s Sense and Sensibility to reward him for The Ice Storm. They could hail a new talent — as they sometimes do — by honoring Boogie Nights wunderkind PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, or reward a vet like Deconstructing Harry’s WOODY ALLEN. They could extend a welcome to Canada’s ATOM EGOYAN for The Sweet Hereafter. Or they could applaud BARRY LEVINSON’s (5) initiative in turning out the scrappy little Wag the Dog in just 29 days (he’s got Fastest Director all sewn up). — GK



Because he works hypelessly on his home ground in Florida, Victor Nunez doesn’t make a lot of headlines. But in Ulee’s Gold, Nunez — one of America’s truly independent filmmakers — does banner work, with an elegant, old-fashioned story that makes a hero out of an aging beekeeper and an Oscar contender out of Peter Fonda. Wouldn’t it be golden if Nunez were rightly recognized too?