By EW Staff
Updated February 18, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Who’ll win the Best Director Oscar in 2005?

This year’s race for Best Director is just that: a race. Yes, Mike Leigh wowed voters with his collaborative work on Vera Drake and Taylor Hackford captured the essence of a music legend in Ray. But repeat after us: It’s an honor just to be nominated. Alexander Payne also wrested strong performances out of his wine-tippling ensemble in Sideways, but his visual stylings aren’t flashy enough to take the top prize. That brings us back to two of the elder members of Hollywood’s old guard. By all rights, Martin Scorsese should have a golden guy (or several) on his mantel after four previous directing nominations. His work on The Aviator is characteristically strong, epic even — the latest departure from the maverick, indie sensibility that originally won him acclaim in the ’70s. But the Academy has long had a soft spot for actor-directors, and Clint Eastwood’s multifaceted work on Million Dollar Baby (he even wrote the score!) is gaining steam as a contender just when it matters most, as the finish line approaches.