THE DIRECTOR While recruiting a director, we discovered a handful of prominent ones who aren't voting this year. One former winner says he doesn't believe in calling something the ''best,'' while four others simply haven't seen the movies because they were working. Three younger, big-name directors haven't even bothered to join the Academy. Still, we managed to find a veteran member of the director's branch who has some sharp opinions (''Veronica Guerin was the only movie as good as the documentaries'') and plans to vote his mind ''to knock idiotic films like Lost in Translation.'' His choices:
BEST PICTURE MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD The director is voting for the film he dislikes the least. ''We've seen this [story] before, but it's a great production and it holds together,'' he says. He doesn't like the fact that Sean Penn got away with murder in Mystic River, and he calls Seabiscuit ''a minor, drooling picture.'' Though he concedes that Rings will win for its Herculean effort, he calls it a ''mythical mishmash'' and adds that ''it's not Homer.'' But he saves his real ire for Lost in Translation: ''Like many of my friends, I detested it. Aristotle had a thing called 'catharsis': At the end of the picture something should happen. What happened? It's a picture about two losers who go home to losing situations.''
BEST DIRECTOR CLINT EASTWOOD, MYSTIC RIVER Excusing the ending, he's checking off Eastwood's name. ''The performances he got were very good, particularly Tim Robbins' and Kevin Bacon's, and Eastwood is getting better as a director.'' He dismisses Jackson for failing to put emotions into his story. ''Lord of the Rings is a wonderfully directed film about nothing,'' he says. ''The third show is almost two and a half hours of battle. There is no humanity. There is no love. There is nothing except hobbits that run around.''
BEST DOCUMENTARY CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS ''This is the strongest crop of feature documentaries ever,'' he says. He was floored by My Architect, ''a fascinating tale told with a great deal of panache,'' but the two standouts were The Fog of War (''It gets as close to the truth as someone would want you to get'') and Friedmans, which gets his vote. ''It's breathtaking in its revelations,'' he says. ''I'm tempted to use a word I never use: unbelievable.''