Three heavyweights, a provocateur and a crowd-pleasing funnyman - these are the contenders for this year's best director Oscar. As for the front-runner, you may be surprised: It's a woman.
WHO James Cameron
THE MOVIE "Avatar"
THE DEAL His last blockbuster, 1997's "Titanic," earned Oscars for best picture and best director. "Avatar" won the Golden Globe equivalents as well. But he may have to give up one Oscar this year to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow.
PHOTOS: Best director nominees
THE MOVIE "The Hurt Locker"
THE DEAL Bigelow this year became the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America's top honor. The DGA has a near-perfect track record of predicting the Oscar, which means Bigelow could become the first woman to win that award, too.
WHO Lee Daniels
THE MOVIE "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
THE DEAL Racial stereotypes be damned: Daniels went ahead and delved into the ugly life of an obese, abused, illiterate black teenager in this urban drama. Still, it's his actors - newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and comedian Mo'Nique - who have gotten the Oscar buzz.
WHO Quentin Tarantino
THE MOVIE "Inglourious Basterds"
WHO Jason Reitman
THE MOVIE "Up in the Air"
THE DEAL Somehow, this popular and timely comedy has gone from Oscar favorite to dark horse. This is Reitman's second directing nod, after "Juno," and at 32 he's young enough to wait his turn for a win.