Nominees for Best Director

Oscars 2016: Best Director nominees viewer's guide

No one was sure who would be nominated – and not everyone was thrilled – but when Chris Rock hosts the 88th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 28, a whopping 57 films will be represented. So to help you prep for the least predictable Oscar race in recent memory, EW has your inside scoop on who’s been nominated and why. Ahead, a look at the year’s best director nominees. Pick up the latest issue of EW here.

He isn’t interested in repeating himself, yet every film he’s made informs his next. With The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu took a daring approach – shooting few takes, making minimal cuts, relying on natural light – that wouldn’t have happened had he not made his Oscar-winning Birdman first. “I wanted to try to solve things in real time, ” he says. “It allows people to really submerge themselves into the character’s experience, especially if you are shooting from the right point of view. I learned that from Birdman.” He also learned to test his actors’ endurance and upped the ante with The Revenant, putting his stars through hours of rehearsal, often in freezing conditions, to capture long takes when the lighting was just right. It was worth it, according to them. “The second I met him, he had such a specific vision for how he wanted the film to look and feel, ” says Leonardo DiCaprio. Not that his vision was always easy to communicate. “He’s unlike any director I’ve ever worked with, ” says Tom Hardy. “He sees things how he sees them, so giving him back what he wants is an interesting experience. But I love him so much, I want to know what he wants so I can do it for him.” – NICOLE SPERLING

The odds were never in Lenny Abrahamson’s favor. Five years ago he was the director of just two features, neither of which had made waves outside of his native Ireland, but he wrote a detailed 10-page letter to fellow countrywoman Emma Donoghue, who had written the beloved novel Room about a mother and her son imprisoned in a shed. To make a totally uncompromised film version of her book, Abrahamson pleaded, he should be the director. Donoghue stalled, but when the director began production on his indie film Frank – featuring boldfaced actor Michael Fassbender as a rock star in a papier-mâché mask – she said yes. “The most satisfying thing for me is that we started from zero and made exactly the film we wanted and achieved all this, ” Abrahamson says. That’s particularly true given that he was considered a dark horse for a nomination. “I was absolutely flummoxed and flabbergasted when I heard my name, ” he says. “It’s wonderful that not everything in life is so predictable.” – JOE MCGOVERN

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