Why they might win -- and why they might not

photos/_mugb/bigelow_kathryn.jpg” HSPACE=10 align=”left”>KATHRYN BIGELOW
DGA win could give ‘The Hurt Locker’ helmer an edge
Why she’ll win: The DGA triumph dramatically increases her probability. Similar to what Oliver Stone did with his Vietnam pic “Platoon,” Bigelow sticks moviegoers’ faces right in the sand when it comes to the Iraq War. Plus it’s an actual battle she’s chronicling onscreen, not an alien one like her ex-husband Cameron. Being only the fourth woman to be nominated in the category is also a plus. Voters might like having at least one groundbreaking first at this year’s ceremony.
Maybe not: Even though there have been no other Iraq War-themed films to make it to Oscar’s best pic category, the Acad rank and file could be turned off by the subject and the film’s by-the-numbers suspense storyline. Politicos might want a more antiwar movie, too.

QUENTIN TARANTINO
Auteur’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ strikes theatrical balance
Why he’ll win: Touting much less blood than “Pulp Fiction,” which Tarantino was lauded for in this category 15 years ago, “Basterds” breaks the mold on War World II films by striking a balance between its over-the-top theatrics with a sharp foreign cast and multilingual screenplay.
Maybe not: Like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, Tarantino is an avant-garde auteur, and the Academy rarely gives the final prize to the cinematic revolutionary in the room. Also, voters prefer their World War II films with a heavy dose of romanticism or realism (i.e. “The English Patient,” “Schindler’s List”), not absurdity

JASON REITMAN
Navigates complex flight pattern in ‘Up in the Air’
Why he’ll win: His second nomination in the category after 2007’s “Juno,” Reitman captures another set of complex characters. With “Up in the Air,” Reitman brings a wonderful accessibility to protag Ryan Bingham, a man in the throes of midlife who fires people for a living.
Maybe not: “Up in the Air” is more an adult character study than biting social commentary about the current recessionary climate. Wins for such fare (i.e. “As Good as It Gets”) are typically relegated to the acting slots.

LEE DANIELS
Filmmaker breaks barriers with ‘Precious’ commodity
Why he’ll win: As only the second African-American, after John Singleton in 1991, to be nominated, Daniels has not only reshattered that glass ceiling but has turned in a flawless true-to-life portrayal of a teenager’s plight in the ghetto. More serious than an alien battle and more accessible than an Iraq bomb squad, the docu sensibility of Daniels’ “Precious” opens eyes to everyday atrocities.
Maybe not: The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a Daniels win is the stiff competition between ex-spouses Cameron and Bigelow. Historically, directors with lightweight dramas have a better chance than those with urban dramas. Even Norman Jewison was overlooked for best director in 1967, despite “In the Heat of the Night” winning five Oscars, including best picture.

JAMES CAMERON
Builds tech marvel ‘Avatar’ to ‘Titanic’ proportions
Why he’ll win: Multibillion-dollar worldwide champ, technological breakthrough epic and Cameron’s first film since leaving the Academy breathless with 1997’s “Titanic” — all of these are reasons why he will walk away with the Oscar.
Maybe not: Maybe “Titanic,” with its record 11 Academy Awards, is enough. Maybe having directed the two top-grossing movies of all time is enough. And although it’s a blockbuster, “Avatar” is a sci-fi film, a genre, along with its directors (i.e. “Star Wars'” George Lucas), that has yet to raise the Academy’s eyebrows.

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