Danny Boyle, Stephen Daldry, David Fincher, Ron Howard, Sam Mendes
Danny Boyle‘Slumdog Millionaire’ How he got here: This voting body’s mission is to bring Hollywood to the rest of the world, and Danny Boyle graciously returns the favor, assuredly introducing the pulsating heart and restless feet of Mumbai to a Western audience. The director’s award often goes to the film with the “most direction,” and the hand guiding “Slumdog” is very evident throughout. It takes a strong helmer to manage coincidences rivaling those in Dickens and tonal shifts (from magic to melodrama and mayhem) worthy of any Bollywood epic. Boyle pulls it off with brio, especially when contrasted with his relatively understated competition. Stephen Daldry ‘The Reader’ How he got here: The foreign press respects “Masterpiece Theater” dignity, and no one does dignified better than British theater helmer Stephen Daldry. His reticent style is short on visual splendor but long on behavioral nuance, as seen to best advantage in his stately, heavily litereary “The Hours.” Based on an American tome with a distinctly U.K. patina, the film took home the top Globes drama award for 2002. The same night his measured film adaptation copped the top prize, his own trophy moment went to Martin Scorsese for the pyrotechnics of “Gangs of New York.” Will Boyle’s boil best Daldry’s dignity? David Fincher ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ How he got here: Nabbing his first Golden Globe recognition was largely a matter of forsaking the edgy, violent unpredictability of “Alien 3,” “Seven” and “Zodiac,” pics from which the HFPA recoiled like Superman from kryptonite. This is a kinder, gentler David Fincher, sensitive enough to let romantic sequences unfold with studied leisure while maintaining his patented visual dazzle. After almost three hours, what stays with you are directorial tours de force: the U-boat battle, the Parisian what-if sequence, the lightning victim. But you can’t go wrong with these voters when you pull the heartstrings. Ron Howard ‘Frost/Nixon’ How he got here: Longtime Globes fave Howard has been twice nominated as an actor, and twice before as a helmer, for “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” two other fact-based dramas with a strong emphasis on compelling central characters. U.K. writer Peter Morgan says he pushed for an American collaborator on “Frost/Nixon” so as to bridge “the trans-Atlantic divide,” and the foreign press likely deemed Howard successful in treating a British take on U.S. political history with clarity and fairness. He surely scored points as well for abetting Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in reshaping their stage triumphs for a very different medium. Sam Mendes ‘Revolutionary Road’ How he got here: Like Daldry, Sam Mendes is an acclaimed London theater visionary who cast Globe-favorite thesps (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) in an austere adaptation of a highly personal literary tome. As such, both Brits were favored to cop helming noms this year. Mendes is a past winner for “American Beauty,” and it remains to be seen whether the foreign press will once again be drawn to suburban malaise, however artfully presented. The nods for “Revolutionary Road” and TV’s “Mad Men” indicate that this org has no difficulty relating to gray flannel suits and three-martini lunches.