2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Director

In three of the last five years, there has been a divide between the winners of Best Picture at the Oscars. Before the academy reintroduced the preferential ballot for Best Picture in 2010, such splits were fairly rare. Since then, they are almost the rule rather than the exception at the Academy Awards having occurred in five of the last 11 years. Why the change? (Scroll down for the most up-to-date 2020 Oscars predictions for Best Director.)

The winner of Best Picture is now determined by a weighted ballot while the other 23 races, including Best Director, are decided by a popular vote. While voters simply check one nominee in those other races, when it comes to Best Picture they are asked to rank all the nominees. If one contender garners more than 50% of the first-place votes, it wins. If, however, no nominee crosses that threshold, the film with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, with its ballots being reapportioned to the second-place pick. This process continues until one nominee reaches 50% plus one vote. The goal, says the academy, is to award the Best Picture award to a consensus choice.

With two different voting systems, it’s easy to understand how this split happens so often. Indeed, it was a fairly common phenomenon between 1934 and 1945, when the Best Picture winner was first chosen 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 directors lost to John Ford (“The Informer”), Frank Capra (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”) Leo McCarey (“The Awful Truth” and Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath”) respectively.

In 2020, the two awards lined up with Boon Joon Ho winning Best Director while his film, “Parasite,” made history as the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture. But the previous year saw a divide with Alfonso Cuaron winning Best Director for “Roma” only to see his film eclipsed in the top race by “Green Book.” That had happened to Cuaron in 2014 as well when he won for “Gravity” but Best Picture went to “12 Years a Slave.” And while Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”) and Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) all won the Best Director Oscar, their films lost to “Argo” (2013),  (2014), “Spotlight” (2016) and “Moonlight” (2017) respectively.

Inarritu also won Best Director for a film that took the top Academy Award: “Birdman” (2015). As with “The Revenant,” this also was a bravura directorial achievement and had strong support throughout the creative categories. Indeed, six of the last eight films 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?

Please note: To read full descriptions of each film, check out our Best Picture predictions. Only those directors whose films have confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while other are dropped due to delays or critical reaction.

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Leading Contenders

Wes Anderson, “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures – October 16)

Guillermo del Toro, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures – Winter)

David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix – Winter)

Paul Greengrass, “News Of The World” (Universal – December 25)

Ron Howard, “Hillbilly Elegy” (Netflix – Fall)

Spike Lee, “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix – June 12)

Christopher Nolan, “Tenet” (Warner Bros. – July 17)

Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story” (20th Century – December 18)

Taika Waititi, “Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)

Strong Contenders

George Clooney, “The Midnight Sky”/”Good Morning, Midnight” (Netflix – Fall)

Dominic Cooke, “The Courier”/”Ironbark” (Lionsgate – Fall)

Kevin MacDonald, “Prisoner 760” (BBC – Fall)

Tom McCarthy, “Stillwater” (Focus – November 6)

Ryan Murphy, “The Prom” (Netflix – Fall)

Aaron Sorkin, “Trial of the Chicago 7” (Paramount – September 25)

Denis Villeneuve, “Dune” (Warner Bros. – December 18)

Florian Zeller, “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics – Fall)

Possible Contenders

Leos Carax, “Annette” (Amazon – Fall)

Sofia Coppola, “On The Rocks” (A24 – Fall)

Reinaldo Marcus Green, “King Richard” (Warner Bros. – November 25)

Francis Lee, “Ammonite” (Lionsgate – Fall)

Lila Neugebauer, “Red, White, and Water” (A24 – Fall)

Michael Showalter, “The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)

Liesl Tommy, “Respect” (UA – October 9)

George C. Wolfe, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix – Fall)

Joe Wright, “The Woman in the Window” (20th Century – Winter)

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