And the gifted maestros are...
Jane Campion for Bright Star
For elevating what could have been typical period costume drama/biopic fare into a thing of beautiful poetry. Richly acted, gorgeously realized and a visual splendor that John Keats himself would have trouble describing.
Steve McQueen for Hunger
It's only fitting that a visual artist turned director would have such a knack for purely visual storytelling. Even in the long stretches, absent of dialogue, McQueen knows where to direct your eye. I am unbelievably thrilled and excited by his presence as a filmmaker.
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Elevates Mark Boal's very good screenplay into an excellent film. Her ex-husband's film may have required 3D-glasses, but the thrills lie here in spades as Bigelow creates white-knuckle suspense under her expert guidance.
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
For being one of the most assured, unafraid and strident filmmakers (and therefore one of the most relevant) in recent memory. Even when you question the choices, you know that they are never arbitrary. He may seem indulgent, but Tarantino is in total control of his excesses.
John Hillcoat for The Road
For capturing what he can of the source material's stark lyricism and pain. Hillcoat has directed the best possible adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book. Even in the midst of the wide, barren vistas and long stretches of nothingness, his direction remains truly intimate and well-observed.
I have to give props to Oren Moverman for his unrestrained direction of the exquisitely acted The Messenger. Lee Daniels does masterful work in Precious. He experiments. It doesn't always land, but wow...
Marc Webb makes (500) Days of Summer frenzied fun and controlled. Cary Joji Fukunaga gifts Sin Nombre with a gaze mostly free of the "gaze of the other" that diluted a film like Slumdog Millionaire. Next up for Fukunaga is an adaptation of "Jane Eyre." Can't wait.
Special mention to: James Cameron whose direction of Avatar, while not making my personal final five, is a great achievement.