2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Director (UPDATED: January 9)

One of the big questions about the 2020 Oscars is whether or not there will be a split between the winners of Best Picture and Best Director, as we’ve seen in three of the last four years. Before the academy reintroduced the preferential ballot for Best Picture in 2010, such divides were fairly rare. Now, they are the rule rather than the exception at the Academy Awards. (Scroll down for the most up-to-date 2020 Oscars predictions for Best Director.)

Why is this?

Unlike every other Oscar category, which are decided by a popular vote, the winner of the Best Picture award is determined by a weighted ballot. Voters rank their choices from first to last. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place vote, it automatically wins. If, however, no nominee can meet that threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes gets eliminated, with its ballot getting reapportioned to the second place choice. This process continues until one nominee reaches 50% plus one vote. The goal, says the academy, is to award the top Oscar to a consensus choice.

So while Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”), Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) and Cuaron again (“Roma”), all won the Best Director Oscar, their films lost to “Argo” (2013), “12 Years a Slave” (2014), “Spotlight” (2016), “Moonlight” (2017) and “Green Book” (2019) respectively.

Given the two different voting systems, it’s easy to understand how this can happen. Indeed, this was a fairly common phenomenon between 1934 and 1945, when Best Picture was first determined by a preferential ballot. “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1936), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1937), “The Life of Emile Zola” (1938), and “Rebecca” (1941) all won Best Picture but their helmers lost to “The Informer” (John Ford), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (Frank Capra), “The Awful Truth” (Leo McCarey) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (Ford) respectively.

Inarritu also won Best Director for a film that took the top Academy Award: “Birdman” (2015). As with “The Revenant,” this too was a bravura directorial achievement and had strong support throughout the creative categories. Indeed, six of the last sevenfilms that won Oscars for helming also took home the lensing prize. When it comes to Best Director, bigger is better. So, who is making that kind of movie this year?

UPDATED: January 9, 2020

Please note: To read full descriptions of each film, check out our Best Picture predictions.

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Leading Contenders

Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain & Glory” (Sony Pictures Classics – October 4)

Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story” (Netflix – November 6; streams December 6)

Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” (Neon – October 11)

Sam Mendes, “1917” (Universal – December 25)

Todd Phillips, “Joker” (Warner Bros. – October 4)

Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman” (Netflix – November 1; streams Nov. 27)

Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony – July 26)

Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight – October 18)

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Strong Contenders 

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women” (Sony – December 25)

Rian Johnson, “Knives Out” (Lionsgate – November 27)

Terrence Malick, “A Hidden Life” (Fox Searchlight – December 13)

James Mangold, “Ford v. Ferrari” (20th Century Fox – November 15)

Jay Roach, “Bombshell” (Lionsgate – December 20)

SEE 2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

Possible Contenders

Clint Eastwood, “Richard Jewell” (Warner Bros. – December 13)

Robert Eggers, “The Lighthouse” (A24 – October 18)

Jordan Peele, “Us” (Universal – March 22)

Josh and Benny Safdie, “Uncut Gems” (A24 – December 13)

Lulu Wang, “The Farewell” (A24 – July 12)

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Click on the linked categories below to read our previews of each of these races.

Best Picture | Best Director

Best Actor | Best Actress | Best Supporting Actor | Best Supporting Actress

Best Adapted Screenplay | Best Original Screenplay

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