The nominees for Best Director are James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious), and Jason Reitman (Up In the Air). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we have the fourth woman and the second African-American Best Director nominees and the first ever divorced couple (Cameron and Bigelow) up for Best Director. That may be a first in any category, but I'm too lazy to research it.
Here's my take: Up In the Air and Inglourious Basterds were great, stylish films and are the unmistakably unique products of their directors, but their strength lies more in their screenplays. Daniels is the least-experienced director, though he shows a creative narrative skill. Really, though, it's going to come down to Cameron and Bigelow. On one side is a big technical production involving an army of actors, computer animators, and computer power and on the other is a relatively smaller, though more intense, action film that cuts to the core of a handful of characters. Let's face a fact here: Avatar is not Titanic. It may be the new highest-grossing movie ever, but I don't think Avatar has the same deep cultural impact and fervent support as Cameron's previous Oscar juggernaut. It's sure to take a handful of technical awards, but I believe that the Academy will make some history and recognize The Hurt Locker for its direction. Bigelow has already won nearly every critics' award and the all-important Directors' Guild award, making her the favorite for the Best Director Oscar.