Darren Aronofsky, “The Black Swan”
Why it’ll win: Aronofsky has directed a number of thesps to Oscar nominations, including Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem for a Dream”) and Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”). With “Black Swan” — a film that brings together impeccable editing, cinematography and costumes as well as performances — Aronofsky has finally nabbed his first best director and best picture noms. Academy members will likely be swayed by the helmer’s skill in juxtaposing the beauty and self-mutilation inherent in elite ballet. Equally impressive is Aronofsky’s role in catapulting star Natalie Portman to a career-changing performance.
Maybe not: Will voters see “Black Swan” as a drama or a horror film? If the latter is true, Aronofsky’s odds dwindle given that the Academy has little affinity for the genre. Also hurting the director’s chances is the fact that Portman was the sole cast member to garner an Oscar nomination. Supporting thesps Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis had previously been in the awards-season mix.

Ethan and Joel Coen, “True Grit”
Why they’ll win: The Coens took one of the most beloved John Wayne Westerns and remade it adhering to their own distinctive vision. The brothers, who notched their second Oscar directing nom with “True Grit,” are also credited with turning the film into an unlikely box office success. With showy performances from Jeff Bridges and 14-year-old thesp Hailee Steinfeld, who both received Oscar nominations, the Coens are once again positioned for a best director trophy.
Maybe not: The brothers already have one best director Oscar under their belt thanks to “No Country for Old Men.” Academy members might prefer to anoint new blood.

David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Why it’ll win: The two-time Oscar nominee, who has already garnered a slew of awards-season trophies, finds himself in the favorite position for directing the drama about the birth of Facebook. He managed to pull that off even though his cast offered zero currency with the Academy and the true-life events on which the film is based are only a few years old. The director was an early front-runner two years ago for the epic “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” but eventually lost out to “Slumdog Millionaire’s” Danny Boyle. Many see this is as Fincher’s year, regardless of whether or not “The Social Network” takes home the best picture prize.
Maybe not: If there is a digital divide separating the younger and older factions of the Academy’s directing branch, a sizable chunk may find Fincher’s tale less than compelling. After all, a voter not familiar with the social networking site might not grasp the dramatic punch of such scenes as the one where star Jesse Eisenberg hovers his mouse over the “Add as Friend” button on an ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page.

Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”
Why it’ll win: With “The King’s Speech,” peaking at just the right time, first-time nominee Hooper is poised to benefit in the best director heat. The film, which centers on Britain’s speech-impaired King George VI, nabbed the most Oscar nominations — an emphatic testament to Hooper’s work behind the camera. Additionally, members of the director’s branch will likely be wowed by the individual acting performances that Hooper mined. Colin Firth, one of three thesps nommed from the film, is the best actor favorite for his portrayal of the stammering royal. And though Hooper is a relative newcomer, he is hardly an unknown quantity — having directed HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries to a bevy of awards including 13 Emmys.
Maybe not: Hooper is 38 years old. Academy members may want the helmer to pay some Hollywood dues before bestowing its top directing prize. Hooper also could be hurt by a whisper campaign suggesting the film downplays King George’s Nazi sympathies.

David O. Russell, “The Fighter”
Why it’ll win: Russell moved well outside of his comfort zone of angsty existential indies for this true life-based pugilist drama. In the process, the first-time nominee coaxed out some of the year’s best performances from his big-name cast, including Christian Bale’s first-ever Oscar-nominated turn. Academy members will likely be impressed by the authenticity of everything from the Boston accent to the boxing scenes, widely hailed as the best since Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Furthermore, voters may be moved by Russell’s own personality rehab. The mercurial helmer, whose image took a pounding after a profanity-laden outtake from “I Heart Huckabees” surfaced on YouTube, ran one of the most professional and drama-free sets in years, according to insiders.
Maybe not: One of the only criticisms leveled at “The Fighter” is the story’s predictability. Though Academy members have long embraced traditional narratives with neatly resolved endings, in recent years the director’s branch has tapped a number of helmers whose films offer ambiguous messages including Katherine Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”).

Best Picture | Director | Animated Picture | Foreign Film |

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