How they got here: Director

Bigelow, Cameron seize most pre-Oscar awards

For many, the Oscar director race is already down to two nominees: Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” and James Cameron of “Avatar.”

But the helmers — and former spouses — seem to be graciously fluffing the red carpet for each other. Accepting his director trophy at the Golden Globes on Jan. 17, Cameron admitted that he hadn’t prepared a speech because he thought Bigelow was going to win.

About two weeks later, she did, at the Directors Guild of America Awards. That victory puts Bigelow at an advantage to win on March 7 as, more often than not, the DGA winner goes on to take the Oscar. (There are six exceptions to that rule from the past 61 Directors Guild kudos.)

Bigelow also scooped up the majority of film critics kudos for directing, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and the broadcast crix.

An Oscar win for Bigelow would set an important milestone — she would become the first woman to receive the director statue in the Acad’s 82-year history. Just three female helmers have been nominated before her: Lina Wertmueller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola.

The buzz surrounding the Bigelow/Cameron tussle leaves the category’s other helmers — Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”), Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) and Lee Daniels (“Precious”) — in somewhat of an also-ran zone.

All three bowed their films at major 2009 fests (while Bigelow’s “Hurt” debut goes all the way back to Venice 2008, and “Avatar” opened commercially in December). A first-timer to the Oscar director derby, Daniels has been showered with jury and audience prizes since Sundance just over a year ago. Reitman, previously Oscar nommed as director of “Juno,” has been gathering praise for his pic since its Toronto premiere in September. And Tarantino, nommed before for “Pulp Fiction,” has gathered momentum with boffo “Basterds” B.O. in late summer following a May Cannes bow.

The exact same five were nominated for the DGA kudo.