CLINT EASTWOOD
Million Dollar Baby
How he got here: From his win in 1992 for “Unforgiven” to his nom last year for “Mystic River,” the DGA seems to prefer Eastwood’s darker stories. This is the 25th time behind the camera for Eastwood — the veteran star has clearly won more respect from his fellow directors than he ever did among his acting colleagues.

MARC FORSTER
Finding Neverland
How he got here: Pure old-fashioned family films usually don’t show up in the DGA’s most high-profile category, but “Neverland” transcended the genre. One fellow helmer says he was impressed that this film came from the same person who directed the far more intense, far less family friendly “Monster’s Ball.” “The mark of a true talent is versatility and being able to serve the story — no matter what it is — and Forster certainly has proven he can do that,” the peer notes.

TAYLOR HACKFORD
Ray
How he got here: “I have never paid much attention to him but how he managed to juggle so many different aspects of Ray Charles’ life and get that performance out of Jamie Foxx was really impressive,” says one DGA member. A previous nominee in 1982 for “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Hackford worked with music legend Charles for 15 years trying to bring his extraordinary life to the screen. And although Foxx’s tour-de-force portrayal seems to have grabbed a lot of press attention, Hackford’s own dogged determination to get “Ray” made hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers.

ALEXANDER PAYNE
Sideways
How he got here: Oscar-nominated for his screenplay in “Election,” Payne once again finds his writing is getting the bulk of the acclaim. But the DGA could change that, acknowledging the helming talents that go into such a subtle, inexpensive character comedy. “My favorite film of the year simply because it dared to focus on real, recognizable people,” says one DGA voter. “That’s just becoming so rare these days.”

MARTIN SCORSESE
The Aviator
How he got here: He’s a six-time DGA nominee who, like Alfred Hitchcock, has never won the top guild honor or an Oscar for directing. This story of the young Howard Hughes is easily the most accessible of his previously nominated achievements, which include “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “GoodFellas” and “Gangs of New York.” The sheer scale and epic quality of “The Aviator” gives Scorsese a good chance to finally break through with both DGA and Academy voters this year, insiders say.

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