Most years, the Oscar for Best Director goes hand-in-hand with the Oscar for Best Picture. It stands to reason that if you really love a movie, you love the way it's directed, but sometimes a tight race between two films can result in enough of a discrepancy for the categories to split. What we have this season is not simply a tight race between two films, but between four or five films, meaning dozens of winner permutations are possible.
Point is, we could see a Picture/Director split for the third consecutive year, and even though the critics have made it clear who their preference is, that frontrunner is not necessarily as safe in the hands of the Academy.
It certainly may seem like Richard Linklater's Oscar for Boyhood may as well be engraved right now, as he's picked up almost every major Best Director title given out over the last three months. It's not hard to see why. The guts it takes to commit to a twelve-year project and the ability to tie it all together so holistically is an attractive angle for awards voters when they think of directing, although it's his naturalistic execution of each individual scene that actually gives him legitimate claim to this prize. But when your movie isn't the Best Picture frontrunner, you're not entirely secure in Best Director. Boyhood is becoming something of a 'Social Network story' this season; An unanimous champ with the discerning critics, but a harder sell with the gargantuan, middlebrow Academy. David Fincher's fate was sealed when Tom Hooper dethrowned him at the DGA Awards that year, the one guild that Linklater has lost. Mind you, Linklater still won at the BAFTAs, and Boyhood could still very well win Best Picture along with him, but the race may be closer than it appears.
Will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Runner-up: Richard Linlater, Boyhood
Should win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Should have been nominated: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash