Amonth ago, the helmer race seemed like a done deal. Today, a substantial question mark looms over the category.By many accounts, David Fincher seemed like the clear frontrunner. Not only did he pick up the Golden Globe for directing, but he was similarly honored by nearly every critics circle in North America and the National Board of Review. There’s serious reason to believe the Academy, too, will lend its vote. That is, if members don’t turn to darkhorse candidate Tom Hooper. Nominated against Fincher in a number of smaller races, Hooper had yet to pick up an award for “The King’s Speech” until the Directors Guild of America Awards last month. In all but six years since the DGA Awards’ inception, they have accurately called the Oscar winner, turning Hooper into a serious contender. This is Hooper’s first Oscar nomination. The award has gone to first-time directing nominees in nine of the past 15 years and each of the past three years. But Fincher and Hooper aren’t competing in a vacuum. David O. Russell, Darren Aronofsky and Joel and Ethan Coen round out the noms, two first-time nominees and a duo with an Oscar pedigree. “The Fighter” and “Black Swan” mark Academy nod firsts for Russell and Aronofsky, but the two films have been festival darlings throughout 2010. Russell received his directorial due at Palm Springs International Fest, and Aronofsky’s opened 2010′s Venice Fest to a receptive crowd. Admittedly, both pics have gained more traction for their performances than their direction. The Coen brothers bring up the fifth slot, pushing out DGA nominee Christopher Nolan. The “True Grit” helmers, 2008 Oscar-winners for directing “No Country for Old Men,” have collected buzz for their new adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, but few actual kudos … at least so far.