Might the typically veteran-heavy Best Director category find itself filled with four men who've never been nominated here before? We say yes—if, that is, Oscar voters are over Ron Howard.
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
For sheer ability to wrangle, Boyle and Nolan are way up there. The last few months have been kind to Nolan's direction; fewer people remember the incomprehensible third-act action sequences, instead recalling the clean, Heat-like set pieces early on.
Gus Van Sant, Milk
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler
Van Sant is in because Milk will be, while Fincher brought all his technological expertise to bear on Button (it's just too bad that the similarly CG-obsessed Robert Zemeckis stole his thunder by claiming this Gump-like territory first). The Director slot often subs in one nominee who's discordant with the Best Picture choices, and we have a feeling Ron Howard's work on Frost/Nixon will fall to the passion people feel for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Still, we'd never count Howard or Clint Eastwood out totally. Though we'd be happy to do it to Sam Mendes!