Got some validation today from the winning filmmaker himself....
Sir Richard Attenborough (actor from the Great of Escape) who won an Oscar as director of the film Ghandi recalled seeing E.T. in a theater before the ceremony and thinking that he would most certainly lose the award.
It would be an interesting parlor game to think of how many directors would own up to the fact that they did not consider their film the best of the competition. Most winners are trained to be gracious by their PR reps and will readily admit it, but Attenborough seems genuinely sincere in this interview. Roger Ebert also recalls that in the previous year's Oscar race, David Puttnam and Jake Ebberts being genuinely surprised that their film, Chariots of Fire (which went on to win the Oscar) even got nominated (For the record, I like Chariots of Fire enough to put it in my top 100, even though On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark are also in my top 100 and superior films):
It would be more unheard of in this day and age for a director of an Oscar-winning film to flat-out admit that an opposing director's film is better lest he hurt his own film's marketability. A twenty-six year waiting period, on the other hand, seems like a pretty acceptable time to admit that you weren't the best in the competition, which means that we only have to wait 5 years or so until Bruce Beresford publishes a press statement along the lines of "What the hell were you thinking choosing Driving Miss Daisy over Born on the Fourth Of July, Glory, Crimes and Misdemeanors or Do the Right Thing?"
Another thought that comes to mind is if a filmmaker publicly admits that he felt another film was more deserving, do you think that we can rewrite Oscar history and bump Spielberg up to the 3-time Oscar winner category (placing him 2nd all-time behind John Ford)? That would really piss off the film snobs out there who tend to thumb their noses at Spielberg and Lucas for their plebeian films and the Blockbuster culture they're partially responsible for.