Steve McQueen has only made two movies and both have starred Michael Fassbender. Their first collaboration was "Hunger" about Bobby Sands, the IRA prisoner who led a hunger strike. "Shame" is about a New York businessman addicted to sex at the expense of all else.
Moverman has written screenplays for "Jesus' Son," "Married Life," and "I'm Not There," the last of which earned an Oscar nomination for Cate Blanchett. His first film as a director was "The Messenger," which earned Woody Harrelson an Oscar nod for his supporting performance and earned Moverman a nomination for his screenplay. "Rampart" was is only his second film has a director, but it features another acclaimed performance by Harrelson.
Ramsey is a Scottish director who has only made two films before "We Need to Talk About Kevin," the most recent of which was "Morvern Callar" nine years ago. The dark drama about a mother (Tilda Swinton) coping with her violent son (Ezra Miller) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it contended for the Palme d'Or, but most of the attention for the film has gone to its actors.
Levine's primary claim to fame before "50/50" was the independent comedy/drama "The Wackness" (2008), for which he won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and received an Independent Spirit nomination for his screenplay. "50/50," about a young man shocked by a cancer diagnosis, received strong reviews, but will a small-scale comedy from a young director be remembered in the directing category at the Oscars?
After success in his native Denmark, Refn began making films in English with the crime biopic "Bronson" and the medieval epic "Valhalla Rising." Now, with the L.A. based crime drama "Drive," Refn has established himself as an Oscar contender; he won Best Director from the Cannes Film Fesstival for this atmospheric tale of a getaway driver seeking redemption by rescuing the woman he loves from a gangster.
Scorsese is a darling of the Academy, though he only won his first Oscar five years ago for "The Departed." He must always be considered a possible contender in any Oscar race, but his creative departures have not fared as well, most recently the psychological thriller "Shutter Island," which was completely ignored by the Academy. "Hugo" is his first family film and his first 3D film, a fanciful adventure about a boy living within the walls of a train station. The last director of a family film to be nominated was Chris Noonan for "Babe" sixteen years ago.
Allen is one of the most nominated filmmakers in Oscar history with 21 total nominations (14 for writing, 6 for directing, and 1 for acting). He has won three: writing and directing for "Annie Hall" and writing for "Hannah and Her Sisters." Though many believe his best years as a filmmaker are behind him, "Midnight in Paris" earned him his best reviews in years and became the highest grossing film of his career (not accounting for inflation).
Alfredson is a Swedish director best known for the international crossover hit "Let the Right One In," a critically acclaimed vampire drama recently remade in America as "Let Me In." The film earned him a BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, but it did not contend for Oscars. His current film, the spy thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," is considered a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination for Gary Oldman, but it's not as widely touted for Best Picture or Best Director nominations.
After almost four decades, Malick has only directed five films. The first, "Badlands" (1973) was not nominated for any Oscars, and the second, "Days of Heaven" (1978) was nominated for four technical awards, winning Best Cinematography. After a twenty year hiatus, he directed "The Thin Red Line," earning nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. His fourth film, "A New World," was not as well-received, but 2011's "The Tree of Life" received abundant critical acclaim and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The non-linear, metaphysical story about family bonds and the birth of the universe would be an unconventional Oscar contender, but other mind-bending films have contended in this race, including Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" and David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."
"The Help" is widely expected to be nominated for Best Picture, but very few are predicting its director Tate Taylor to be nominated. Taylor only directed one feature film before this, "Pretty Ugly People" (2008), and though "The Help" was a surprise success at the box office and is expected to reap acting nominations for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, little credit has gone to the man behind the camera. However, Best Picture nominees have earned directing bids for other relatively inexperienced filmmakers like Jason Reitman ("Juno"), Lee Daniels ("Precious"), and Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), so if overall support for "The Help" is as strong as speculated, Taylor might be nominated as well.
Spielberg is a darling of the Academy, who has won two Oscars for directing ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan") and one for producing ("Schindler's List"). Both were war-themed projects, which might bode well for the World War I-set "War Horse," which releases in December. His last film to be recognized at the Oscars was "Munich" (2005), which received Best Picture and Best Director nominations.
Soderbergh made history when he was nominated for Best Director twice in 2001 (for "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic"). He won for "Traffic," and like that film, "Contagion" assembles an all-star cast for an international crisis story (in this case, a global outbreak of a deadly illness). However, "Contagion" is considered more a popcorn entertainment than a prestige film and lacks the inherent sense of importance of "Traffic's" war-on-drugs theme. Soderbergh has made almost a dozen films since winning the Oscar, but he has yet to return to the Oscar race.
Daldry, a Tony-winning theater director, does not have extensive feature-film experience. Prior to "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" this year, he only helmed three films, but impressively he has received Best Director nominations for all three of them: "Billy Elliot," "The Hours," and "The Reader," the last two of which were also nominated for Best Picture. "Extremely Loud" is based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer about a young boy looking for the lock that fits a key left by his father, who died on 9/11. The last 9/11-themed film to make an impact at the Oscars was "United 93," which earned a Best Directing nod for Paul Greengrass. "The Hurt Locker," set during the second Iraq War, won Best Picture and Best Director. Other film about War on Terror, like "Rendition" and "Lions for Lambs," have not fared as well.
Like last year's Best Director winner, Tom Hooper, Curtis is primarily known as a British television director, who has helmed movies and miniseries including "Five Days," "Cranford," and "David Copperfield." "My Week with Marilyn" is his first big-screen directing effort, and though much positive attention has gone to possible acting contenders Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, the film itself received mixed reviews at the New York Film Festival. Without stronger support for the film as a whole, an inexperienced director like Curtis will face an uphill battle in the Oscar race.
Polanski is a celebrated Hollywood director who received a writing nomination for "Rosemary's Baby" and directing nominations for "Tess" and "Chinatown" before finally winning Best Director for his 2002 Holocaust drama "The Pianist." But his last two films, "Oliver Twist" and "The Ghost Writer," were not nominated at the Oscars, and though "Carnage" is based on an acclaimed Tony-winning play and features an all-star cast of Oscar-winners (Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, and Christoph Waltz, along with nominee John C. Reilly), it received mixed reviews when it premiered at the New York Film Festival, and small-scale chamber pieces are not often honored for their directing.
Lloyd is better known as a stage director than a film director; she earned a Tony nomination for her production of the play "Mary Stuart" in 2009. Her only previous film credit was the big-screen adaptation of the Abba musical "Mamma Mia!," which received mostly unfavorable reviews. "The Iron Lady" has yet to screen for critics or audiences, but most attention thus far has gone to Meryl Streep for her highly anticipated performance as the title character, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Hazanavicius does not have established Hollywood cred of many of his competitors like Spielberg, Scorsese, or Eastwood, but other inexperienced filmmakers have prevailed in this category, most recently Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech." Hazanavicius's film, "The Artist," is a highly stylized black-and-white silent film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to critical raves and was acquired by Harvey Weinstein, who previously ushered "King's Speech" and "Shakespeare in Love" to Best Picture victories.
Before "Young Adult," Reitman directed only three films, but two of them earned Best Picture and Best Director nominations ("Juno" and "Up in the Air"). Including also his nominations for writing and producing "Up in the Air," Reitman is already a four-time Oscar-nominee. "Young Adult" reunites him with Oscar-winning "Juno" writer Diablo Cody and stars Oscar-winner Charlize Theron. Reitman is also the son of film director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters," "Dave"), and Oscar voters often like to honor second-generation Hollywood stars (Liza Minnelli, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow).
Actors who direct have done well at the Oscars. Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson have all won Oscars for their work behind the camera, and Clooney has already received one nomination for directing (2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck"). In addition to directing, he also co-wrote and co-stars in "The Ides of March," a political thriller with generally strong reviews, though it was not universally praised.
In recent years, Fincher has become an Academy favorite. After dark, cult-hit films like "Seven" and "Fight Club," he earned a Best Director nomination for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which was also nominated for Best Picture, and repeated the feat with his next film, "The Social Network," which was 2010's most critically acclaimed film. The highly anticipated "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" would be an uncommon Oscar contender: mystery thrillers aren't often recognized by the Oscars, though "The Silence of the Lambs" won Picture and Director in 1992.
After an extensive, successful career as an actor, Eastwood has transitioned into directing, where he has become a darling of the Academy. Of his last eight films, seven were nominated for Oscars, and three of them were nominated for Best Picture ("Mystic River," "Letters from Iwo Jima," and "Million Dollar Baby," which won Picture and Director). Oscar voters are also particularly fond of biopics, which might mean success for "J. Edgar," though Eastwood's last biopic, "Invictus," failed to receive nominations for Picture or Director despite acting nominations for Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
Crowe is a three-time Oscar nominee and a winner for writing "Almost Famous," but despite directing critically acclaimed films like "Say Anything" and Best Picture nominee "Jerry Maguire," Crowe has never been nominated for directing. His latest film, "We Bought a Zoo," follows a pair of films that were critical disappointments ("Vanilla Sky" and "Elizabethtown"). If "Zoo" is a success, Crowe could be poised for a comeback.
Miller directed the documentary "The Cruise" in 1998, but before "Moneyball" he only directed one scripted feature film: 2005's "Capote," which earned him immediate acclaim and a nomination for Best Director. "Moneyball" received universal acclaim when it was released in September. However, baseball films do not have a strong track record in the races for Best Picture and Best Director.
Payne has been increasingly favored by the Academy since 1999's black comedy "Election" was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. His followup, "About Schmidt" (2002), received acting nominations for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates, and 2004's "Sideways" earned him his first nomination for directing, as well as being his first film nominated for Best Picture; he won Best Adapted Screenplay for the film. His current film, "The Descendants," screened at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was met with universal acclaim.