Here’s the challenge of the 2014 Oscars race – well, the first of many challenges, and possibly the largest. No matter how many movies the Academy slots into the Best Pictures race – from six to eight to 10 – there can be only five Best Director nominees … meaning a handful of filmmakers who saw their movies nominated for BP are on the outside of the Director’s race, looking in. There isn’t much that we can do about this flawed system, because we’re rarely going to have as many Best Director nominees as there will be Best Picture nominees.

This chart, I believe, will change often. We don’t know how director-driven ‘Foxcatcher’ or ‘Gravity’ will be until we’re able to screen these Oscar contenders. Maybe Paul Greengrass’s ‘Captain Phillips’ will blow us away. Or John Lee Hancock’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ But for now, if I had to guess the five most likely Best Director nominees, I’d nominate:

  • 1

    Joel and Ethan Coen, 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

    The Coens are no strangers to the Acaademy, scoring multiple nominations for recent pictures like ‘True Grit,’ ‘A Serious Man,’ and ‘No Country for Old Men,’ which took home multiple Oscars. If ‘Llewyn Davis’ has the same effect on Academy voters as it did on Cannes critics earlier this year, the siblings could be back in contention early next year.

    Getty Images
  • 2

    Alfonso Cuaron, 'Gravity'

    Cuaron’s a brilliant director, whose credits include the mesmerizing ‘Children of Men,’ the scintillating ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ and the best ‘Harry Potter’ installment, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban.’ And yet, his three Oscar nominations have been for editing and screenplay (twice). This year, he seems poised to break into the Director category with ‘Gravity,’ which dominated the chatter out of Telluride and Venice. An Oscar nom feels like a lock.

  • 3

    Bennett Miller, ‘Foxcatcher’

    Here, I’m betting on Miller’s track record. He has directed two films. He was nominated for Best Director for ‘Capote,’ and coached ‘Moneyball’ to multiple Oscar noms including Best Picture, Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Screenplay. The dark, demeted story of ‘Foxcatcher’ sounds tailor-made for Miller, and I think it will be a serious Oscar player, but we’ll know when it starts to screen.

  • 4

    Ben Stiller, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

    This one is my gamble. Stiller is an underrated director, and his adaptation of ‘Walter Mitty’ could connect with multiple demographics, putting itself into prime position to compete for several top Oscars. Or, it could be a harmless family-friendly movie that does well over the holidays and disappears. That’s not what I’m hearing, though. What I’m hearing is that ‘Mitty’ is special, and Stiller belongs on this short list of Director candidates.

    20th Century Fox
  • 5

    John Wells, ‘August: Osage County’

    To me, ‘Osage County’ feels like The Frontrunner, the movie that, on paper, should dominate the Oscar season. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It has a powerful cast of Oscar veterans. It’s bathed in dark, complicated family materials that, when played right, get Oscar’s attention. If it works, from top to bottom, then Wells likely gets in on the movie’s coattails.

  • 6

    Additional Contenders:

    Woody Allen, ‘Blue Jasmine;’ JC Chandor, ‘All Is Lost;’ George Clooney, ‘The Monuments Men;’ Bill Condon, ‘The Fifth Estate;’ Ryan Coogler; ‘Fruitvale Station;’ Paul Greengrass, ‘Captain Phillips;’ John Lee Hooker, ‘Saving Mr. Banks;’ Ron Howard, 'Rush;' Steve McQueen, ’12 Years a Slave;’ Alexander Payne, 'Nebraska;' Jason Reitman, ‘Labor Day;’ David O. Russell, 'American Hustle;' Ridley Scott, ‘The Counselor;’ Martin Scorsese, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street;’ Denis Villeneuve, 'Prisoners'

    Getty Images