Oscar Experts split on Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuaron as best director, but watch out for Barry Jenkins

If the 10 Experts who have boldly made their early Oscar predictions at Gold Derby have their way, there could be a trio of awards season veterans competing  for the title of Best Director. See how each ranked their predicted nominees by their likelihood of winning  and all the Experts’ choices combined.

Right out of the gate, two filmmakers are neck and neck. Four Experts list Spike Lee to win for “BlackKkclansman,” currently in theaters after receiving high critical praise resulting in a 96 score on Rotten Tomatoes. The comedy-drama is based on the true story of a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the ‘70s is currently the go-to pick for Adrian Virk, Joyce Eng, Matthew Jacobs and myself.

They, like me, in part selected Lee in the early rounds primarily because — unlike most of the possibilities — his film has already been vetted by critics and has grossed a healthy $32 million-plus since Aug. 10. Being praised and popular is a good sign. But also Lee, who has a rep for outspoken spikiness, has not exactly received a warm reception by academy voters in the past despite his record of influential landmark films such as “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Malcolm X” and “Jungle Fever.” He has received only two nominations over a nearly 40-year career, best original screenplay for 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” and best documentary for 1997’s “4 Little Girls.” He received an honorary Oscar in 2015, but this year presents his best chance in ages to win a little gold man outright.

SEE Oscar predictions by more than 1,000 savvy Gold Derby users (updated once per hour)

His main competition, according to the Experts, is Alfonso Cuaron, whose “Roma” — which focuses on a Mexican family in the ‘70s –will premiere at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals in the next few weeks. He is tied with Lee, with four experts declaring him the frontrunner. Those backing Cuaron to win are Gold Derby’s jockey-in-chief Tom O’Neil, Christopher Rosen, Edward Douglas and Thelma Adams. Cuaron has a better track record with Oscar than Lee, having won for directing and sharing an editing award for 2013’s “Gravity.” He is a member of the trio of filmmakers fondly known as “The Three Amigos” along with Guillermo del Toro, who won both Best Picture and director for last year’s “The Shape of Water,” and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, who was awarded Best Director for both 2015’s “The Revenant” and 2014’s “Birdman,” as well as for Best Picture and sharing in original screenplay.

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That he already has a directing trophy might work against Cuaron, but then again, his buddy Inarritu won back-to-back trophies.

Coming in third among Experts’ choices is Barry Jenkins, whose “Moonlight” was the Best Picture champ last year but was denied a directing honor when “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle took the gold. Only Tariq Khan picked Jenkins as the one to beat for his adaptation of writer James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” which will first be seen in Toronto. Meanwhile, Peter Travers is the maverick of the bunch, going for Greek director Yorgos Yanthimos (“The Lobster”) for his “The Favourite,” about the 18th-century reign of Queen Anne that is premiering in Venice.

After the early fall festivals conclude in mid-September, the Oscar landscape might totally change. But our Experts are called experts for a reason, and their intuition just might prove right.

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