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Michel Hazanavi­cius for The Artist Alexan­der Payne for The De­scen­dants Martin Scors­ese for Hugo Woody Allen for Mid­night in Paris

Ter­rence Mal­ick for The Tree of Life Time for a sneaky game of Words With Friends: In all hon­esty, Allen isn’t much of a di­rec­tor. It’s his won­der­ful scripts – and the casts he chooses to in­ter­pret them – that keep Woody at the top of the game. Payne’s care­ful adap­ta­tion of a tricky novel was a re­strained ef­fort. He ad­mirably ab­stained from flair be­hind the cam­era to hon­our the in­ten­tions of the book.

De­serves to win, but won’t: Mal­ick’s free- form han­dling of The Tree of Life is just too much of an ac­quired taste for con­ser­va­tive Academy types. De­serves the ut­most re­spect for dis­play­ing more pure creative am­bi­tion than the rest of this field. Scors­ese’s bravura jour­ney out­side his usual com­fort zone – a kid­die film in 3D – is also to be ap­plauded. The veteran is still a slight chance to cause an up­set here.

And the win­ner is . . . Michel Hazanavi­cius. The for­mer French ad­ver­tis­ing man built his sin­gu­lar creative vi­sion from the ground up. Ev­ery el­e­ment Hazanavi­cius con­ceived for the silent picture made it to the screen, in­clud­ing some rather dark and heavy ma­te­rial. A slap on the back for a job ex­e­cuted to per­fec­tion.

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