There are but two guarantees in this year’s Oscar race for best director: Bradley Cooper and Alfonso Cuarón will be nominated for “A Star Is Born” and “Roma,” respectively.
Who else makes the final five is anybody’s guess.
Eleven other directors — including some Oscar-nominated veterans and would-be first-timers — all have a legitimate path to those remaining spots. But who will come out ahead when the nominations are unveiled on Jan. 22? Below, going in alphabetical order, your Carpetbagger weighs their odds.
Bo Burnham, ‘Eighth Grade’
In his favor: Burnham’s junior-high dramedy has netted several breakthrough awards from critics. Could he follow in the path of other first-time filmmakers like Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and crash the best-director category?
Working against him: This year’s race may be too stacked with heavyweight names for Burnham to slip through.
Damien Chazelle, ‘First Man’
In his favor: Chazelle won the best-director Oscar for his last film, “La La Land,” and the man-on-the-moon drama “First Man” is even more of a technical feat. The directors category respects a special-effects movie that was difficult to pull off, and “First Man” has that feel.
Working against him: The movie has not lived up to its high expectations during this award season. Neither Chazelle nor his star, Ryan Gosling, scored nominations from the Golden Globes — “First Man” failed to crack the group’s best-drama category, too — and the Screen Actors Guild snubbed it entirely.
Ryan Coogler, ‘Black Panther’
In his favor: Coogler’s three-film arc as a director, moving from a Sundance prizewinner (“Fruitvale Station”) to a mid-budget studio hit (the first “Creed”) to one of the biggest movies of all time (“Black Panther”), is the stuff a classic career is made of. His work clearly resonates with the world, but will the academy follow suit?
Working against him: “Black Panther” seems certain to crack Oscar categories where no superhero movie has gone before, but it’s possible this one will remain out of reach. Though “Black Panther” earned a notable SAG nomination for its ensemble and a best-drama nod from the Golden Globes, Coogler didn’t score one for the latter’s directing prize.
Peter Farrelly, ‘Green Book’
In his favor: This fact-based, race-relations comedy about a black pianist and his white driver is a favorite for many in the academy, and considered one of the few outright crowd-pleasers in the category. Its stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, are near-locks to be nominated, and Farrelly’s path from co-directing “Dumb and Dumber” to helming an Oscar contender will charm voters.
Working against him: The best-director category increasingly favors auteurs who can display technical showmanship, which is not a trait “Green Book” has in abundance. Farrelly must also contend with criticism from the pianist’s relatives who say the film distorted his character.
Debra Granik, ‘Leave No Trace’
In her favor: Granik has won multiple best-director laurels from critics’ groups for this note-perfect study of a father and daughter living off the grid. Jane Campion, one of five women ever nominated for a best-director Oscar, wrote a letter to IndieWire recently arguing that Granik should be the sixth.
Working against her: It’s hard to get nominated for best director if your film isn’t favored to snag nominations for best picture and for its cast, and “Leave No Trace” — which has a lower-profile pair of stars in Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie — will have trouble breaking into those fields.
Marielle Heller, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’
In her favor: Critics loved this true story of two New York misanthropes who forged letters from literary figures, starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. It’s picked up many notable nominations this season and even some wins.
Working against her: Heller herself hasn’t found much traction with critics’ groups or awards organizations, and the Golden Globes failed to give the film a nomination for best drama.
Barry Jenkins, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’
In his favor: Jenkins directed the 2017 best-picture winner “Moonlight,” but the academy still has a few things it could make up to him: In addition to the infamous envelope snafu that briefly gave the top prize to “La La Land,” Jenkins lost the directing Oscar to Damien Chazelle. As far as this year’s race goes, Jenkins is one of the best liked and most personable directors in this category, which can go a long way with voters.
Working against him: It’s worrisome that the Screen Actors Guild snubbed “If Beale Street Could Talk” entirely, and may suggest that the film is breaking too late.
Yorgos Lanthimos, ‘The Favourite’
In his favor: From his unlikely camera setups to the perverse deadpan tone, you can identify a Yorgos Lanthimos film in a matter of seconds. The maker of “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” has never made as accessible a film as “The Favourite,” but he did it without sacrificing that distinctive personal stamp.
Working against him: Might his avant-garde tendencies still prove a little too much for some members of the academy? Royal period pieces usually go a long way with this group, but Lanthimos films thrive on discomfort, and he isn’t afraid to push “The Favourite” into some untraditional places.
Spike Lee, ‘BlacKkKlansman’
In his favor: Lee is one of the most famous and influential directors in Hollywood, yet somehow, he’s never been nominated for the best director Oscar. The academy has the perfect opportunity to make it up to him for the successful, critically acclaimed “BlacKkKlansman.”
Working against him: At the 1990 Oscars, presenter Kim Basinger famously used her screen time to criticize the academy for failing to nominate Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in other categories besides original screenplay. The directors branch is very different now thanks to the academy’s diversity push. But has Hollywood’s old guard changed enough to embrace a provocative filmmaker who has made what some critics call his best movie in years?
Adam McKay, ‘Vice’
In his favor: McKay won a best adapted screenplay Oscar for his last fact-based comedy, “The Big Short,” and his new film, a Dick Cheney biopic, is more technically accomplished. Stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams are locks to be nominated, which will only help McKay’s cause.
Working against him: The film is polarizing, and reviews were wildly split, with critics calling “Vice” both the worst film of the year and one of the best. If Christmas audiences aren’t in the mood to watch a big-budget movie about Cheney, poor box office could further depress McKay’s chances.
Paul Schrader, ‘First Reformed’
In his favor: A real director’s director, Schrader has never been nominated for an Oscar, not even for writing the screenplays to “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” His focused work on “First Reformed” had critics raving, and the directors category may seize its opportunity to recognize the man and his career.
Working against him: Major awards groups like the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild totally ignored “First Reformed,” and many academy members still haven’t seen it. To his handlers’ dismay, Schrader has not been afraid to court controversy this awards season: He used his press tour to blast modern audiences as the culprit for bad movies and, on his Facebook page, advocated for the disgraced Kevin Spacey to win lead roles again.