2. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
I thought Oscars 2017 could see Best Picture and Director split between La La Land and Moonlight. After a few Golden Globe snubs and a last-minute Drama win, the cynic in me thinks Jenkins' lush identity-drama triptych will have to settle for a nomination and a loss. The movie's arty and intelligent, and too much so for the broad Oscar-voting base. Whatever -- Jenkins deserves a spot on this list, and a surprise win will be a standing-ovation-worthy upset.
3. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Lonergan is a seasoned playwright and an occasional filmmaker. The latter role has been a struggle; his last movie, the polarizing, three-hour character study Margaret, took nearly five years to complete and release. Lonergan returned with a tighter, trickier, truer story of grief, with the performance of the year backing his script. He earned this nomination for executing the entire piece to perfection (and delivering it in less than five years).
4. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Despite a documented list of horrible offenses over the years, Gibson is still a Hollywood favorite who makes Hollywood movies for Hollywood-minded Hollywooders. Hacksaw Ridge is classically tailored, from the '50s-style romance that ignites the opening scenes to the courtroom drama that embroils Andrew Garfield's conscientious objector in moral argument to the large-scale war scenes, even more devastating in the hands of the gore-obsessed Gibson. The actor-turned-director's faith gives Hacksaw Ridge a righteous spine, and his lust for action makes the movie stand out from meeker competition like Martin Scorsese's Silence. But pull back the artistry to a real-life, macro level, and it's hard to imagine anyone really fighting for Gibson's comeback.