Steven Spielberg directing Lincoln.

With the two front-runners scandalously sidelined, the Best Director category is wide open. Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) have won every award in existence. The Academy snub is likely related to external factors, such as Affleck’s reinvention as filmmaker (too early to reward him) and Bigelow’s controversial choices in the making of her movie. Regardless who wins, the victory will be tainted to some extent.

The nominees are:

Michael Haneke for Amour. By far the best of the group, this is Michael Haneke first Oscar nomination (his film, The White Ribbon, won Best Foreign Film a few years ago). An unknown to the masses, Haneke is one of the most influential European filmmakers currently at work. Next to him, Lars Von Trier is a happy-go-lucky hack. Amour is the most accessible of Haneke’s films, and yet, it demands some serious will power to endure (some Academy members couldn’t be coerced to witness an old lady withering on screen). Regardless, it’s a magnificent film. Odds: 8 to 1.

Ang Lee for Life of Pi. In 2006, Ang Lee won the Best Director category, but his movie Brokeback Mountain failed to secure Best Picture (Brokeback fans called foul, blaming elderly voters for the film’s defeat). This year is looking like déjà-vu, since Life of Pi has no chance in the main category. The adaptation of Yann Martel’s modern classic is superb, but all the CGI makes the film look more like a technical achievement as opposed to a directorial one.   Odds: 2 to 1.

David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. Russell is an “actor’s director”, meaning he puts the performer ahead of the story. The inconsistency of Silver Linings Playbook (a solid first half gives way to a substandard conclusion) is maddening, but may pull a victory if thespians cast their vote in block for him. Consider Russell got his four leads nominated. Odds: 4 to 1.

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. I haven’t liked a Spielberg movie since Munich. Of course they are all technically perfect, but el Señor Spielbergo has been replacing heart for schmaltziness, fooling no one (this was painfully obvious in War Horse). Lincoln is one preachy movie, dull and self-important. However, Hollywood loves the guy and he hasn’t won since 1999. Some Academy members may think he is due. Even.

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Zeitlin deserves a lot of credit for making a big-scale Katrina movie for little money, give it a singular look and a personality of its own. He is also responsible for extracting an effective performance from a six-year-old. Zeitlin may not be the best one of the five, but is definitely the hardest working. Odds: 15 to 1.

Should Win: Haneke. Will win: Spielberg.