Clint Eastwood: Merie W. Wallace
January 07, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Best Director 2005: Oscar’s likely contenders

Michael Moore and Mel Gibson may have been the highest-profile directors of the year, but Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ are bound to polarize voters, so we’re counting these two out. Who do we count in? Four-time nominee Mike Nichols, who hasn’t won since 1967’s The Graduate, stands a chance with his grown-up drama Closer, but as far as the veteran contenders go, we’re placing our bets elsewhere: Clint Eastwood, who last won for 1992’s Unforgiven and whose work on Mystic River was eclipsed by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sweep last year, has delivered a knockout punch with his sensitive Million Dollar Baby; and Martin Scorsese — who has been nominated four times now and never won — is almost a lock with his ambitious biopic, The Aviator.

That leaves three spots. Kinsey‘s Bill Condon could fill one. So could Ray‘s Taylor Hackford, Hotel Rwanda‘s Terry George, or Collateral‘s Michael Mann. But our sense is that one nomination will go to Alexander Payne, whose tragicomic Sideways has intoxicated critics and Globe voters alike; one to Finding Neverland‘s deft Marc Forster, who was overlooked in 2002 for Monster’s Ball; and one to a wild card. Should voters rally behind a foreigner as in years past (Pedro Almodóvar, Fernando Meirelles), Zhang Yimou’s work in the dynamic martial-arts romance House of Flying Daggers could have them doing backflips.

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