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On March 4, winners will be crowned at the 90th Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, we’ve got inside intel on the nominees. Below, read about the contenders for Best Director, and stay tuned for Best Picture — also, be sure to check out the nominees for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Director Of: Phantom Thread
Age: 47
Oscar Past: 6 nominations; 0 wins

Paul Thomas Anderson is California to the bone. Not only have most of his movies taken place in the Golden State, his oeuvre is arguably about his home. Phantom Thread marked a literal departure for the Boogie Nights director, to merry old England at the height of 1950s couture fashion culture. “Getting over there and shooting, you realize very quickly that there’s a camera and some lights and some people who want to make a movie — and it’s kind of the same everywhere,” Anderson says. Knowing the limitations of his perspective in a geographical sense, however, the filmmaker did turn to his star for an assist. “In some circles, I would have no business writing dialogue for English people in the 1950s, but what I had was a Daniel Day-Lewis, who could make sure that I didn’t sound like a [California] Valley boy, which really helps.” Rad. — Kevin P. Sullivan

Guillermo del Toro

Director Of: The Shape of Water
Age: 53
Oscar Past: 1 nomination; 0 wins

Guillermo del Toro calls his genre “the cinema of the fantastic,” and he’s the first to admit that such fare seldom receives prestigious awards. The Shape of Water, his creature feature about an amphibious being (Doug Jones) who strikes up a Beauty and the Beast-style romance with a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins) at a government research facility in the 1960s, not only raised the hairs on Oscar voters’ arms, but touched their hearts. “You never know, ‘What is it going to become?'” says the Mexican filmmaker, whose one and only previous Oscar bid was a screenplay nod for 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth. “I’ve been through everything. I’ve been part of movies that resonate all over the world and part of movies I love that resonate on a much smaller scale.” After del Toro claimed the Golden Globe for best director, it looks like his fairy tale about outsiders uniting to save a kindred soul has made waves that land on all shores. — Anthony Breznican

Greta Gerwig

Director Of: Lady Bird
Age: 34
Oscar Past: 0 nominations; 0 wins

No actress has made the kind of directorial-debut splash Greta Gerwig did with Lady Bird. Universally praised, the authentic coming-of-age story has put critics and audiences under its spell, to say nothing of landing Gerwig a Best Director nomination (only the fifth woman to do so) with her first solo effort. (She codirected Nights and Weekends in 2008.) “After I was done writing the script, I finally felt like it was time for me to try,” Gerwig says of directing this California-set story that she admits has “a core of emotional reality” from her own adolescence. “I’ve always wanted to [direct], but because I hadn’t gone to proper film school I needed time first to be a producer and writer. But with this [script], once it was done? It was like, okay, let’s jump off this cliff.” And then she soared. — Sara Vilkomerson

Christopher Nolan

Director Of: Dunkirk
Age: 38
Oscar Past: 3 nominations; 0 wins

Christopher Nolan has delivered blockbusters that cost $250 million and grossed more than a billion. But for his 10th feature film, Nolan went back to the extreme basics. (Granted, for the director whose previous film was the sci-fi opus Interstellar, the “basics” involved rigging a replica of a World War II Spitfire fighter plane with an IMAX camera.) Dunkirk, the true story of nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers pinned down and praying for deliverance from the beaches of France as Hitler’s Nazi troops game-plan a finishing blow, is a fury of image and sound — not plot. “With this script, I wanted to really do something very different and strip away the verbal component and concentrate on giving the audience the physical experience of the events of Dunkirk,” Nolan says. “I wanted to have a script that was very, very short, so that it would allow the images to play out in the time that they needed to and explore the physics of each situation and the time it took.” Dunkirk is leaner and meaner than anything Nolan has directed before — his script turned out to be just 76 pages, about half his normal length — but the finished product crescendos with the same knot-in-your-stomach intensity that is his trademark. Finally, the visionary behind Memento, Inception, and The Dark Knight has his first Best Director nomination. In other words: mission accomplished. — Kevin P. Sullivan

Jordan Peele

Director Of: Get Out
Age: 23
Oscar Past: 2 nominations; 0 wins

Having showcased his skills on the Key & Peele sketch-comedy show, Jordan Peele revealed himself to be an equally sizable cinema talent with Get Out, becoming just the fifth African-American filmmaker to earn a Best Director nomination. (None has won.) Equal parts horror-comedy and social thriller, his directorial debut is both scary and hilarious while tipping a hat to classic terror tales from the past and serving up a rumination on racial inequalities. “It’s an ode to a lot of the horror movies he loves,” says the film’s star Daniel Kaluuya. “He spoke about Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, but Jordan’s gift is that he’s managed [to deal] with racism in an entertaining piece that has all the shades of life.” The emphasis on “entertaining” remained the film’s most pressing priority, even beneath all its complex layers. “My whole hope for the film was that people would want to see it multiple times, and go back, and see the stuff they missed,” says the writer-director. One more hope Peele can now reasonably entertain? Making history by winning. — Clark Collis

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