Oscars Predictions: Best Director – Will Cord Jefferson Join the List of Over 20 Filmmakers Nominated for Their Debut Feature?

Variety Awards Circuit section is the home for all awards news and related content throughout the year, featuring the following: the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tony Awards ceremonies, curated by Variety senior awards editor Clayton Davis. The prediction pages reflect the current standings in the race and do not reflect personal preferences for any individual contender. As other formal (and informal) polls suggest, competitions are fluid and subject to change based on buzz and events. Predictions are updated every Thursday.

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2024 Oscars Predictions:
Best Achievement in Directing


Weekly Commentary (Updated Sept. 28, 2023): Cord Jefferson’s debut feature, “American Fiction,” won the TIFF Audience Award, which could significantly impact its Oscars chances.

With “Fiction,” Jefferson, best known for penning television episodes of “Succession” and “Watchmen,” helms one of the finest directorial debuts seen since Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty.” In the style that feels like an audacious blend of the screenplays of Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” and Nicole Holofcener’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” he shepherds an audacious dramedy anchored by a career-best and Oscar-worthy performance from star Jeffrey Wright.

There have been six directors who have won their debut outings — Delbert Mann for “Marty” (1955), Jerome Robbins, who co-directed with Robert Wise for “West Side Story” (1961), Robert Redford for “Ordinary People” (1980), James L. Brooks for “Terms of Endearment” (1983), Kevin Costner for “Dances with Wolves” (1990) and Sam Mendes for “American Beauty” (1999).

There have been over 20 first-timers in history, beginning with Orson Welles for “Citizen Kane” (1941) up to the last three instances being Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), Jordan Peele for “Get Out” (2017) and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” (2020).

Greta Gerwig at arrivals for The BARBIE Movie Premiere, Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall, Los Angeles, CA July 9, 2023. Photo By: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection
Greta Gerwig at arrivals for The BARBIE Movie Premiere, Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall, Los Angeles, CA Jul. 9, 2023. Photo By: Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection

Speaking of 2020, it marked the first time two women were nominated for best director — Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) and eventual winner Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”). Fennell, and another prominent female director in the race, “Barbie” helmer Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), are in the mix. Jane Campion, a nominee for “The Piano” (1993) and a winner for “The Power of the Dog” (2021), is the only female filmmaker to be nominated twice for directing. There could be a chance of seeing two get in.

Another potential history-making moment could involve Ava DuVernay, who produces, writes and directs the harrowing drama “Origin,” which premiered at Venice and TIFF. DuVernay has made history at the Oscars multiple times. For her Martin Luther King Jr. film “Selma” (2014), she became the first Black woman to direct a movie nominated for best picture. She garnered the same distinction in 2017 with her masterful “13th,” becoming the first Black woman nominated for best documentary feature. After being snubbed for “Selma” (although she became the first Black woman to receive a Golden Globe nod), we’ve seen the branch continuously pass on critically acclaimed and respected filmmakers, including Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King”). It’s time to rectify the omission.

After last year’s shutout of female directors, multiple women are in the discussion. In addition to DuVernay, Gerwig and Fennell, we have Celine Song (“Past Lives”), Justine Triet (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Chloe Domont (“Fair Play”) and Sofia Coppola (“Priscilla”).

There have been six Black directors nominated in 95 years — John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”). This year could have some notable and worthy entrants, such as Cord Jefferson from MGM’s “American Fiction” or veteran George C. Wolfe for Netflix’s “Rustin.” The directorial debut of “The Color Purple” helmer Blitz Bazawule is also waiting in the wings and could drum up some noise. We’ll have to see the final product first.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

The submission deadline for general categories is Nov. 18, 2023. Preliminary shortlist voting will begin on Dec. 18, with the results announced on Dec. 21. The voting period will run from Jan. 11-16, 2024, with the official nominations announcement on Jan. 23.

The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10.

***The list below is not final and will be updated throughout the awards season.

And the Predicted Nominees Are:

  1. Christopher Nolan — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)

  2. Martin Scorsese — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)

  3. Yorgos Lanthimos — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

  4. Jonathan Glazer — “The Zone of Interest” (A24)

  5. Cord Jefferson — “American Fiction” (MGM)

Next in Line

  1. Greta Gerwig — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)

  2. Ava DuVernay — “Origin” (Neon)

  3. Alexander Payne — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)

  4. Bradley Cooper — “Maestro” (Netflix)

  5. Celine Song — “Past Lives” (A24)

Other Top-Tier Possibilities

  1. Michael Mann — “Ferrari” (Neon)

  2. Todd Haynes — “May December” (Netflix)

  3. Justine Triet — “Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)

  4. Blitz Bazawule — “The Color Purple” (Warner Bros.)

  5. Jeff Nichols — “The Bikeriders” (20th Century Studios)

  6. Sean Durkin — “The Iron Claw” (A24)

  7. Ben Affleck — “Air” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  8. Emerald Fennell — “Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  9. George C. Wolfe — “Rustin” (Netflix)

  10. Craig Gillespie — “Dumb Money” (Sony Pictures)

Also In Contention

  1. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi — “Evil Does Not Exist” (Janus Films)

  2. Andrew Haigh — “All of Us Strangers” (Searchlight Pictures)

  3. Ridley Scott — “Napoleon” (Apple Original Films/Sony Pictures)

  4. David Fincher — “The Killer” (Netflix)

  5. Trần Anh Hùng — “The Taste of Things” (IFC Films/Sapan Studio)

  6. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson — “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

  7. Sofia Coppola — “Priscilla” (A24)

  8. Matt Johnson — “BlackBerry” (IFC Films)

  9. Wim Wenders — “Perfect Days” (Neon)

  10. Matthew Heineman — “American Symphony” (Netflix)

All Eligible Titles (Alphabetized by Studio)**

  • Kenneth Branagh – “A Haunting in Venice” (20th Century Studios)

  • Jeff Nichols – “The Bikeriders” (20th Century Studios)

  • Ari Aster – “Beau is Afraid” (A24)

  • Sean Durkin – “The Iron Claw” (A24)

  • Celine Song – “Past Lives” (A24)

  • Sofia Coppola – “Priscilla” (A24)

  • Kelly Reichardt – “Showing Up” (A24)

  • Jesse Eisenberg — “When You Finish Saving the World” (A24)

  • Nicole Holofcener – “You Hurt My Feelings” (A24)

  • Jonathan Glazer – “The Zone of Interest” (A24)

  • Ben Affleck – “Air” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  • Maggie Betts – “The Burial” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  • Roger Ross Williams – “Cassandro” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  • Garth Davis – “Foe” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  • Emerald Fennell – “Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)

  • Christos Nikou – “Fingernails” (Apple Original Films)

  • John Carney – “Flora and Son” (Apple Original Films)

  • Martin Scorsese – “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)

  • Ridley Scott – “Napoleon” (Apple Original Films/Sony Pictures)

  • Guy Nattiv – “Golda” (Bleecker Street)

  • Wes Anderson – “Asteroid City” (Focus Features)

  • Alexander Payne – “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)

  • A.V. Rockwell – “A Thousand and One” (Focus Features)

  • Matt Johnson – “BlackBerry” (IFC Films)

  • Andrea Pallaoro – “Monica” (IFC Films)

  • Trần Anh Hùng – “The Taste of Things” (IFC Films/Sapan Studio)

  • Eva Longoria — “Flamin’ Hot” (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures)

  • Ryûsuke Hamaguchi — “Evil Does Not Exist” (Janus Films)

  • Kelly Fremon Craig — “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Lionsgate)

  • Francis Lawrence – “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Lionsgate)

  • Adele Lim – “Joy Ride” (Lionsgate)

  • Lisa Cortes – “Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures)

  • Paul Schrader – “Master Gardener” (Magnolia Pictures)

  • James Gunn – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)

  • Nia DaCosta – “The Marvels” (Marvel Studios)

  • George Clooney – “The Boys in the Boat” (MGM)

  • Michael B. Jordan – “Creed III” (MGM)

  • RaMell Ross — “The Nickel Boys” (MGM)

  • Cord Jefferson – “American Fiction” (MGM)

  • Justin Triet – “Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)

  • William Oldroyd – “Eileen” (Neon)

  • Daniel Goldhaber – “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (Neon)

  • Alice Rochwacher – “La Chimera” (Neon)

  • Wim Wenders — “Perfect Days” (Neon)

  • Matthew Heineman — “American Symphony” (Netflix)

  • Pablo Larrain – “El Conde” (Netflix)

  • Chloe Dumont – “Fair Play” (Netflix)

  • David Fincher – “The Killer” (Netflix)

  • Sam Esmail – “Leave the World Behind” (Netflix)

  • Todd Haynes – “May December” (Netflix)

  • Bradley Cooper – “Maestro” (Netflix)

  • Jimmy Chin, Chai Vasarhelyi — “Nyad” (Netflix)

  • David Yates — “Pain Hustlers” (Netflix)

  • Zack Snyder – “Rebel Moon” (Netflix)

  • George C. Wolfe – “Rustin” (Netflix)

  • J.A. Bayona – “Society of the Snow” (Netflix)

  • Ava DuVernay – “Origin” (Neon)

  • Tony Goldwyn – “Ezra” (No U.S. Distribution)

  • Ellen Kuras – “Lee” (No U.S. Distribution)

  • Matteo Garrone — “Me Captain” (No U.S. Distribution)

  • Peter Sohn – “Elemental” (Pixar)

  • Ray Romano – “Somewhere in Queens” (Roadside Attractions)

  • Andrew Haigh – “All of Us Strangers” (Searchlight Pictures)

  • Taika Waititi – “Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight Pictures)

  • Yorgos Lanthimos – “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

  • Jeymes Samuel – “The Book of Clarence” (Sony Pictures) **

  • Craig Gillespie – “Dumb Money” (Sony Pictures)

  • Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson – “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

  • Matt Brown – “Freud’s Last Session” (Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Angus MacLachlan – “A Little Prayer” (Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Ilker Çatak – “The Teachers Lounge” (Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Michael Mann – “Ferrari” (Neon)

  • Christopher Nolan – “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)

  • Rebecca Miller – “She Came to Me” (Vertical Entertainment)

  • Greta Gerwig – “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)

  • Ángel Manuel Soto – “Blue Beetle” (Warner Bros.)

  • Blitz Bazawule – “The Color Purple” (Warner Bros.)

  • Paul King – “Wonka” (Warner Bros.)

  • Rob Marshall – “The Little Mermaid” (Walt Disney Pictures)

  • Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn – “Wish” (Walt Disney Pictures)

2022 category winner: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)

** indicates an unconfirmed release date in 2023 or could campaign in the lead or supporting categories. All release dates are subject to change.

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About the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. Since 1927, nominees and winners have been selected by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Seventeen branches are represented within the nearly 10,000-person membership. The branches are actors, associates, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers, directors, documentary, executives, film editors, makeup and hairstylists, marketing and public relations, members-at-large, members-at-large (artists’ representatives), music, producers, production design, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects and writers.

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