Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: Whatever happens in the Best Picture Oscar race, where Argo has emerged as a strong frontrunner thanks to an unbroken string of victories in all the key precursor awards, the race for the Best Director Oscar is turning out to be a nail-biter. Since Argo’s Ben Affleck was famously snubbed by the directors branch and won’t be competing (he most likely would have won), all eyes are turning to the five directors who actually were nominated, Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Michael Haneke (Amour), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts Of The Southern Wild) and Ang Lee (Life Of Pi).

Because Affleck won the DGA award, usually the most reliable indicator of success for the Oscar-winning director, all bets are off. Spielberg and Lee, both past winners and icons, also have the benefit of films with the most nominations with 12 for Lincoln and 11 for Life Of Pi. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook also is very strong, particularly with the all-important and very large Academy actors branch, where it became the first film in 31 years to win nominations in all four acting categories (Lincoln was close behind with noms in three acting categories — no actor in a Spielberg film has ever won an Oscar for that film, but that’s likely to change this year).

But without a single acting nomination for his film, could Lee still possibly emerge the winner? Yes. The pure technical achievement of Life Of Pi is also considered a great triumph for the director, who took a book thought to be unfilmable and turned it into a worldwide hit that has now made well over half a billion dollars internationally. When the Best Director envelope is opened a week from Sunday, it promises to be one of the more suspenseful moments of the night. Could it be Lee? Who knows, but this exclusive featurette from Life Of Pi certainly details some of the reasons that got him to this potential moment of Oscar glory.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.