2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Director [Updated November 16]

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 2021 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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UPDATED: November 4, 2020

Leading Contenders

David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix – December 4)

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

Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon – December 25)

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

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

George C. Wolfe, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix – December 18)

Florian Zeller, “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics – December 18)

Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures – December 4)

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

Strong Contenders

Ramin Bahrani, “The White Tiger” (Netflix- January 22, 2021)

Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” (A24 – Winter)

George Clooney, “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix – December 23)

Lee Daniels, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Paramount – February 12, 2021)

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features – December 25)

Shaka King, “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros. – Winter)

Francis Lee, “Ammonite” (Neon – November 13)

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

Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment – June 19)

Edoardo Ponti, “The Life Ahead” (Netflix – November 13)

Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24 – March 24)

John Shanley, “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Bleecker Street – December 11)

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Possible Contenders

Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix – October 9)

Jonathan Butterell, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (20th Century – January 21, 2021)

Dominic Cooke, “The Courier” (Lionsgate – February 19, 2021)

Sofia Coppola, “On The Rocks” (A24 – October 2)

Julia Hart, “I’m Your Woman” (Amazon – December 4)

Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features – March 13)

Armando Iannucci, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” (Searchlight Pictures – August 28)

Azazel Jacobs, “French Exit” (Sony Pictures Classics – February 12, 2021)

Miranda July, “Kajillionaire” (Focus Features – September 18)

Darius Marder, “Sound of Metal” (Amazon – November 20)

Ryan Murphy, “The Prom” (Netflix – December 11)

Aaron Schneider, “Greyhound” (Apple – July 20)

We will be updating our Oscar predictions for each competitive category often in the days to come so be sure to bookmark this page and keep checking back as the race heats up.

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture: Updated – November 12, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Director: Updated – November 16, 2020

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2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Actress: Updated – November 5, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor: Updated – November 6, 2020

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2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay: Updated – November 9, 2020

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2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography: Updated – November 10, 2020

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2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Score: Updated – November 11, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Song: Updated – November 16, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Production Design: Updated – November 10, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Sound: Updated – November 11, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects: Updated – November 11, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature: Updated – November 9, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Documentary Feature: Updated – November 9, 2020

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best International Feature: Updated – November 14, 2020

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

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