Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2017 Best Director Academy Award Contenders

As we learned at the Oscars this year, the winners of Best Director and Best Picture don't always go hand-in-hand. And while yesterday we took a very premature swing at the movies that might become 2017 Academy Award Best Picture nominees, if any of those come true and go on to win the big prizes, don't assume Best Director will follow suit (for another recent example, the year "Argo" won the big prize, it was Ang Lee who took directing honors; Ben Affleck wasn't even nominated).

READ MORE: Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2017 Best Picture Academy Award Contenders

All that to say, taking a very preliminary look at who could be in the mix for five slots for Best Director in 2017 sees a lot of possibility. Martin Scorsese will be back in the mix with a new film, as will Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. And those veterans will pose a challenge to rising filmmakers like Amma Asante, Pablo Larraín, and even Nate Parker, who is coming in hot out of the Sundance Film Festival with the buzzed-about "The Birth Of A Nation."

Of course, we're not psychic, and it's a bit silly to be talking about any of this when we're still hung over from this year's Oscars, but consider this a bit of the hair of the dog. Take a nip, steel yourself, and check out our choices below, and as always, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Amma Asante

Amma Asante - “A United Kingdom”
Only four women ever have been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. Only one woman has ever won. No woman of color has ever been nominated. That’s a shameful set of statistics, and even if we end up with a more racially diverse selection of acting nominees, it’s not one that’s likely to go unnoticed. The best chance of avoiding that situation might well be Amma Asante. The British director deserved more attention than she got for “Belle,” but has been gathering fans ever since, and if her new movie “A United Kingdom” lives up to the promise of its premise (see here), she could be set to break down some boundaries.

Pablo Larrain, The Club

Pablo Larraín - “Jackie”
Like we said, Pablo Larraín has three movies out this year, and the sheer volume if nothing else should help make him more noticeable to Academy voters. And with “Jackie,” he picks up the reins from Darren Aronofsky (who’s still producing the movie), and seems primed for a sort of Lenny Abrahamson nomination: the kind of undervalued filmmaker much respected by his peers whose work is meticulous but unshowy. The film obviously needs to work, and to be seen as more than a performance showcase for Natalie Portman, but it’s so much in Larraín's wheelhouse that this could be the year that he breaks into the mainstream.

READ MORE: Oscars 2017? New Look At Natalie Portman In Pablo Larrain's 'Jackie'

Life Of Pi, Ang Lee

Ang Lee - “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
There are three directors in history with more than two directing Oscars: Frank Capra, William Wyler and John Ford. Could Ang Lee become the fourth, and the first to manage the feat in nearly 60 years? He’s one of our most restless and fully achieved filmmakers, and has been for close to three decades, and even when his films don’t work (which is rarely), they’re always interesting. Iraq drama 'Billy Lynn' is well-poised for awards success in terms of its subject matter, and could see Lee bring home his third trophy. The wild card is a technical one: Lee is shooting the film in 120 FPS 3D. That’s twice the frame-rate that Peter Jackson shot “The Hobbit” in, and given the negative reaction there, it could prove to be a hindrance more than a help. Or it could be the next revolution. We’ll find out in November.

READ MORE: Retrospective: The Films of Ang Lee

Birth Of A Nation

Nate Parker - “The Birth Of A Nation”
The Academy do love an actor turned director: Look at Best Picture or Best Director wins for Ben Affleck, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Richard Attenborough and Robert Redford, among several others. Nate Parker was, until this year, not as well known as that lot, but if anything, the narrative of a striving working actor who took a chance and ended up with a titanic success could help him more. Reviews for his “Birth Of A Nation” have been glowing, and with Parker as ambassador for the movie, he’s likely to land more than one nod for his achievement.

Scorsese, Boardwalk
HBO Martin Scorsese directing "Boardwalk Empire"

Martin Scorsese - “Silence”
With five nods in 15 years, no one has popped up more regularly recently in Best Director than Martin Scorsese, and it paid off when he won the Oscar for “The Departed.” He’s the second-most-nominated helmer in history (tied with Billy Wilder, though still four behind William Wyler), and has still only one win to his name. Which is to say that if Scorsese was to win a second, not many people would be upset. Best Picture and Best Director are increasingly split (three times in the last four years), so even if “Silence” proved to be a little too out-there to take Best Picture, Scorsese could be a major, major threat.