Modern Masters and the Next in Line

At the center of this year's race are celebrated talents, both veterans and up-and-comers who are linked by some surprising connections.

While many questions still hang over the best picture race (could a black-and-white French movie really take the industry's top prize?), there is little confusion about the state of contenders for top directing honors. Simply put, it's one of the most competitive star-studded battles for helmer glory in the history of the Oscars and Globes.

For starters, nearly every American awards-worthy director is in the mix: Steven Spielberg (War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin), Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and Steven Soderbergh (Contagion). These masters of their craft have never all competed against each other in a given year, so the sheer magnitude of the milestone has awards buffs feeling giddy.

Even more exciting, though, is the bustling crop of outsiders; a band of new and stalwart artists creating a formidable threat to the very forebearers whose canon of work has influenced their ascension to the highest ranks of the craft.

Unfortunately, there is a noticeable dearth of women represented this year -- nary a front-runner like Kathryn Bigelow or Lisa Cholodenko is on the radar -- but with such upstarts as Dee Rees (Pariah), Larysa Kondracki (The Whistleblower), Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground) on the fringes, future races could achieve a more equal distribution of attention.

In the following, the American masters and contenders who look to them as inspiration and also operate within their orbits are mapped out, proving both the insularity and breadth of their prestigious craft.

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