Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
The case for the Oscar: His film was the most ambitious, and all critics seem to agree he's made a dark, challenging American classic. With Blood, he graduated from "the most gifted filmmaker of his generation" to one who might actually be able to deliver on that promise. Also, no rational person doesn't want to see him swagger up to the podium and tell the other nominees that he drank their milkshakes.
The case against the Oscar: He could split the all-important violent sociopath vote with the Coen brothers.
Odds: 3 to 1.
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
The case for the Oscar: They've won the most critics' awards, plus they're the only ones in the batch who've been nominated before (in 1996 for Fargo). By voting for the Coens, Academy members will feel like they're giving long-overdue props to one of the most acclaimed and eccentric filmmaking teams in cinematic history, even if their last movie was The Ladykillers.
The case against the Oscar: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Odds: 4 to 1.
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
The case for the Oscar: He's made a slick, classy film that nobody seems to have a problem with. Critics hailed his direction as streamlined and faultless.
The case against the Oscar: But how will he fare against flashier nominees, like Anderson and the Coens? Also, Clayton is Gilroy's first-ever film as a director — presumably he'll have other chances to win.
Odds: 6 to 1.
Jason Reitman, Juno
The case for the Oscar: His is the biggest hit and the only feel-good movie nominated in major categories this year. If the Academy feels like erring on the side of light and funny, instead of violent and depressing, he just might hear his name called.
The case against the Oscar: Juno's already been rewarded at the box office, and Academy members might feel his surprise nomination is recognition enough.
Odds: 8 to 1.
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The case for the Oscar: The portly, oft-pajama-clad director did make one of the year's most beautiful, best-loved films, and he could certainly be counted on to deliver Oscar night's most entertaining acceptance speech.
The case against the Oscar: Diving Bell wasn't nominated for Best Picture, which pretty much torpedoes Schnabel's chances. Still, we wonder what he'll wear to the ceremony.
Odds: 8 to 1.