Likely to win: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Gravity provides all the visual razzle dazzle that the Academy has been looking for in its best director winners of late - Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) all took the prize for technically demanding, effects-heavy films. Looking further back, films containing challenging set-pieces like 1959's Ben-Hur (with its chariot race) have landed their directors a gold statuette.
Worthy but likely to lose: David O Russell (American Hustle)
American Hustle isn't as obviously eye-popping as Gravity, but it was no less a directorial challenge. Russell had to modulate the performances from a vast ensemble of actors and replicate a '70s aesthetic that could have tended to cliché. But it is the kind of movie that can be regarded as an actors' showcase, not a director's. That charge has prevented major figures from Orson Welles to Russell himself, whose only previous nominations came for The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, from taking home the prize. (PR handouts)