Alexander Payne "The Descendants"
Stephen Daldry "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Woody Allen "Midnight In Paris"
Steven Spielberg "War Horse"
Other Contenders - Terrence Malick "The Tree of Life", Bennett Miller "Moneyball", George Clooney "The Ides of March", Tomas Alfredson "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy", Tate Taylor "The Help", Clint Eastwood "J. Edgar", Martin Scorsese "Hugo", David Fincher "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", Nicolas Winding Refn "Drive"
Commentary - As of now, I feel that there are four strong contenders that I easily put in the slots, and then tons of other worthy choices fighting for the last spot. Even though we have yet to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and War Horse, if they turn out to be good, then Daldry and Spielberg (Two Academy favorites), will most likely make the cut. Of the films we have seen, Alexander Payne and Michel Hazanavicius for The Descendants and The Artist look like the strongest so far. Then there is that elusive fifth spot. Terrence Malick will have a passionate base of supporters, but I don't think The Tree of Life is going to make as big of a splash as some pundits are predicting. Bennett Miller, David Fincher, George Clooeny and Tomas Alfredson all have buzzed projects that are either doing well at the box office, or will most likely do well, as well has have critical support. But all of them are going to need more buzz and some precursors to really put them in the game. Then you have the legends Scorsese and Eastwood. I don't think Hugo will get a lot beyond technical awards, but if J. Edgar is good (some people have seen it and I've heard raves and condemnation, so who knows?) then Eastwood, who is beloved by the Academy will most likely worm his way back into the race. That being said, I am going out on a limb and giving a nod to the great Woody Allen. Midnight in Paris is his most successful film in years, and buzz around Academy members has maintained itself, as they are all still talking about the film. He is still a shaky choice considering some may think a screenplay nod is enough reward, but maybe this is the comeback to the director's race he has been looking for.