ROBERT ALTMAN FOR HIM Juggling 23 actors in Gosford Park earned the 77-year-old maverick (and this year’s Golden Globe and AFI winner) his fifth nod. Since he’s never won, a trophy now could be a de facto lifetime achievement award. AGAINST HIM He wasn’t even nominated by the Directors Guild. Compared with the more visually elaborate competition, was his effort a walk in the Park? 5-2 ODDS

RON HOWARD FOR HIM After 15 features, the filmmaker formerly known as Opie finally scored an Oscar nod for the affecting A Beautiful Mind; after this complex effort (and a second DGA prize), the Academy simply can’t ignore him anymore. AGAINST HIM Or can they? Voters seem to love actor-directors (Eastwood, Costner, Gibson). Do they feel the same about former actors as directors? 2-1 ODDS

PETER JACKSON FOR HIM If the award were for most directing, he’d be a lock; he oversaw the largest production of the year, bringing scope and humanity to the first of the three Lord of the Rings films; awarding him now means not having to bother for the next two. AGAINST HIM Directors rarely win for fantasies (George Lucas lost to Woody Allen); he’s not exactly a Hollywood name. 3-2 ODDS

DAVID LYNCH FOR HIM Anyone who can turn a failed TV pilot into a thrilling, even moving mystery with essentially zero plot resolution deserves a prize (and indeed, he’s already won five for Mulholland Drive); his name is synonymous with the phrase ”singular vision.” AGAINST HIM A Best Director win off the film’s only nomination? That would make about as much sense as the film. 20-1 ODDS

RIDLEY SCOTT FOR HIM Today’s most versatile blockbuster maker has scored his second nomination in a row with the formidable Black Hawk Down, whose hyperrealistic battle scenes were reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning work in Saving Private Ryan. AGAINST HIM The film wasn’t nominated for any other major award. If he couldn’t win for Gladiator, he won’t for this. 15-1 ODDS

THE LOWDOWN In the night’s tightest three-way race, Howard and Altman are strong contenders, but Jackson may grab the golden ring.