Best Director, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Pedro Almodóvar
Talk to Her


Everyone still remembers that standing ovation at the Golden Globes; clearly, Hollywood respects him.

Everyone remembers even more Martin Scorsese's standing ovation at the Golden Globes; clearly, Hollywood idolizes him, and counts him as one of their own. The first-time-lucky director of a hit musical might distract them from Scorsese's 0-for-4 record, but a flamboyant, non-English auteur with a Writing nomination to boot will not.
Stephen Daldry
The Hours

If The Hours rides its Golden Globe and Writers Guild trophies to an unexpected groundswell, which is not impossible, Daldry could benefit.
If The Hours rides its Golden Globe and Writers Guild trophies to an unexpected groundswell, which is at best unlikely, Daldry could still lose. And probably would.
Rob Marshall

Widely admired for restoring the musical genre to commercial favor—a feat even Moulin Rouge couldn't accomplish—and for fashioning his first film into such a polished crowd-pleaser, even under the watchful eye of Mr. Weinstein, Marshall is the most celebrated new kid on Hollywood's block since Sam Mendes. Winning the Directors Guild prize is a major point in his favor.
Let's not forget: the DGA also gave a Lifetime Achievement award to Scorsese. Whether Marshall still would have one had this not been the case is highly debatable, besides which the DGA prize has been a less reliable bellwether in the last decade than it once was. If Sam Mendes proved in '99 that a first-timer could still win, he wasn't competing against anyone with the reputation of Scorsese or Polanski.
Roman Polanski
The Pianist

Winning both the British and French film awards in recent weeks for The Pianist has kept Polanski favorably in the mind of voters. A win for him is construable as a vote for the picture, a vote for his entire body of Oscarless work, and—in one of those questionably tasteful moves the Academy loves to make—an ersatz accolade for living to tell about the Holocaust.
Honoring Polanski is, as we all know, also construable as giving a major prize to a confessed child molestor before a global audience—not something which all voters will feel eager to do. Even those with no moralistic gripe with Polanski are not guaranteed of finding Marshall or Scorsese more deserving.
Martin Scorsese
Gangs of New York

For making the movie he's been wrestling with for 25 years. For filming on a vast set and a colossal scale in a far-flung locale, when everyone else is sending their second units to Vancouver. For bringing Harvey Weinstein as close to his knees as that man is ever likely to get. For losing in the year of Raging Bull. For losing in the year of GoodFellas. For not even being nominated for Taxi Driver. (And for not complaining about it—Steven Spielberg's eventual wins were probably delayed by his public whining every time he was overlooked.) The Golden Globe prize seemed like a rehearsal for this moment. The one piece missing from this narrative is widespread enthusiasm for Gangs of New York itself. When Oscar finally caught up with Spielberg, it was for two films that everyone took very seriously. Gangs still seems like a token conduit for a long-delayed honor—perhaps not the climate in which Scorsese's fans, much less his dissenters, want to honor him.

WHO WILL WIN: Martin Scorsese
Even if Gangs isn't universally adored, its 10 nominations are not to be scoffed at. Marshall and even Polanski pose serious challenges, and Robert Altman's loss last year was a clear demonstration that unrecognized bodies of work do not always determine the race at hand. But I still think sentiment for Scorsese is hard to beat.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Pedro Almodóvar
Roman Polanski's is a formidable accomplishment, but Almodóvar equals his craftsmanship while attempting an even stranger, in certain senses more difficult project. Talk to Her is neither a mystery nor a comedy nor a romance nor a topical thriller, but it combines elements of each, and it somehow bleeds them together into an astonishingly beautiful and seamless whole.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Todd Haynes is an obvious and deserving choice for Far from Heaven, but I think we can probe even more broadly. Almodóvar's inclusion here means that Directors are sellable on foreign work, so Alfonso Cuarón's zesty, politicized sex odyssey in Y tu mamá también should also have been entertained: the only recent movie I can think of that Lina Wertmüller, Aaron Spelling, Noam Chomsky, and Zalman King probably all enjoyed. Also deserving for unique accomplishments: Hayao Miyazaki, for the entrancing animation of Spirited Away, and Zacharias Kunuk, whose Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) was the first Inuit movie ever, but more importantly, the best movie any culture could hope to generate in a given year.

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