January 16, 2015 2:43 PM EST

Each year at the Oscars, there’s a divergence: Some of the Best Picture nominees are left out of the Best Director field, and, for the first time this year, a Best Director nominee fails to crack the Best Picture list. How can one of the year’s best films not be one of the best-directed? (Aside from the fact that there are more nominees for Best Picture than Best Director.) And how can one of the best-directed films of the year fail to be one of the year’s best?

It’s actually fairly straightforward: Directors like to honor veterans, strong stylists, and people who look like themselves. TIME staff writer Daniel D’Addario explains the history of the category and what they’ve honored over time.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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