With no apparent front-runner in this category, voters may choose to honor directors whose movies don’t make the Best Picture cut. So even if Mulholland Drive fails to earn the big nod, two-time nominee DAVID LYNCH could still find himself recognized for his singularly bizarre vision (that is, if the Academy can get past the film’s small-screen origins). They’ll also likely include four-time directing nominee ROBERT ALTMAN, who gracefully handles 23 leads in Gosford Park.

Of the filmmakers looking for their first directing nods, the surest bet has to be PETER JACKSON, whose ambitious take on The Lord of the Rings has earned critical kudos and monster dough. RON HOWARD’s Golden Globe nod for A Beautiful Mind bodes well for the man who guided Apollo 13 to nine nominations but has never been recognized in this category.

As for the rest: RIDLEY SCOTT might make it two nominations in a row with Black Hawk Down, although the war drama, which was shut out at the Globes, lacks Gladiator’s momentum. STEVEN SPIELBERG did receive a nod from the Globes, but A.I.’s chilly reception hurts his chances. MICHAEL MANN was nominated two years ago for The Insider, but Ali didn’t end up on many top 10 lists. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN turned heads with Memento’s backward brilliance, but that film will likely be viewed more as a triumph of writing. Ditto In the Bedroom’s TODD FIELD, whose film may lack the visual pizzazz to earn a nod. Perhaps the last slot, then, could go to BAZ LUHRMANN, whose hyper first half hour of Moulin Rouge gives way to a lush love story.

For your consideration


For your consideration

EW likes: The way a flustered amelie morphs into a cascade of water; the photo-booth pictures that talk back; and the starburst visions that remind us why Paris is so romantic. EW dislikes: That JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET might not get an Oscar nod.