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Favorite: David Fincher for The Social Network. He's already proved his skill at marrying content and style with Fight Club, Seven and Zodiac (OK, I have issues with Benjamin Button). But Fincher tops himself here by hard-wiring the film’s verbal pyrotechnics to his peerless visual drive.
Spoiler: Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech. Since the Best Picture race will come down to The Social Network versus The King’s Speech, so will the category that rewards the wizard behind the curtain. But for me, Black Swan’s Darren Aronofsky is the only other nominee who pushed the bounds of directing last year.
Switcheroo: I'd sacrifice anyone but David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky for Inception's Christopher Nolan. Gotta be the biggest snub of the Oscar season. Nolan is a Fincher-level visionary, and the fact that he’s been spurned for Memento, The Dark Knight and now Inception speaks to Oscar flaws. Note to the Academy: It’s a new century. Get onboard.