Since the film academy began handing out the best director Oscar in 1929, you can count the number of women who have been nominated on one hand — Lina Wertmüller for "Seven Beauties" (1976), Jane Campion for "The Piano" (1993), Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" (2003) and Kathryn Bigelow, who took the prize for "The Hurt Locker" in 2009. This year, voters have the opportunity to make history, possibly rewarding two women — Angelina Jolie ("Unbroken") and Ava DuVernay ("Selma") — with nominations for historical dramas possessing deep feeling and admirable craft. If nominated, DuVernay would become the first black woman so honored in Oscar history.
Will it happen? An early look at the races for director and cinematography:
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, "Birdman"
Ava DuVernay, "Selma"
David Fincher, "Gone Girl"
Angelina Jolie, "Unbroken"
Prime contenders: Clint Eastwood, "American Sniper"; Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"; James Marsh, "The Theory of Everything"; Christopher Nolan, "Interstellar"; Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Bubbling under: Mike Leigh, "Mr. Turner"; Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"; Damien Chazelle, "Whiplash"; Jean-Marc Vallee, "Wild"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "Inherent Vice"; J.C. Chandor, "A Most Violent Year"
For your consideration: Wes Anderson has three Oscar nominations — two for writing and one for producing the animated film "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" — but the directors branch has never called his name. Anderson has long been one of our most imaginative and intelligent directors, as well as one of the most influential. His signature style (carefully composed frames, impeccably executed traveling shots, a love for symmetry) and whimsical, melancholy tone have been aped and parodied to death. Oscar voters haven't been as charmed as critics, but enough is enough. Anderson's latest, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," digs deeper, ruminating on nostalgia and the power of farce in the face of facism. It's an outright masterpiece.
Analysis: At the moment, this is a difficult race to call with only two directors — Linklater and Iñárritu — firmly entrenched as potential nominees. It's easy to see the directors branch, which totals just under 400 voters, going in any number of directions, returning the likes of Eastwood, Miller and Leigh to the nominee circle or including one of the European directors (Tyldum, Marsh) from the tasteful biopics "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything." The coronation of the never-nominated Nolan, which seemed a sure thing before ... you know ... people saw "Interstellar," seems much less likely now, though the movie still has many admirers.
Voters famously rejected actor turned director Ben Affleck two years ago for "Argo," but they aren't allergic to the idea of actor-auteurs, having nominated Kevin Costner and Robert Redford for their first directorial efforts and George Clooney for his second. I suspect Jolie will join the club, both for the earnest intention behind "Unbroken" and her considerable star power. But it's early — academy members are just seeing "Unbroken" — so, really, who knows? We'll have a much more accurate picture once voters start viewing "Selma," "Sniper" and "Unbroken" in greater numbers.
Emmanuel Lubezki, "Birdman"
Roger Deakins, "Unbroken"
Dick Pope, "Mr. Turner"
Bradford Young, "Selma"
Hoyte Van Hoytema, "Interstellar"
Prime contenders: Robert Yeoman, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"; Jeff Cronenweth, "Gone Girl"; Robert Elswit, "Inherent Vice"; Oscar Faura, "The Imitation Game"; Benoit Delhomme, "The Theory of Everything"
Bubbling under: Dion Beebe, "Into the Woods"; Bruno Delbonnel, "Big Eyes"; Greig Fraser, "Foxcatcher"; Roman Vasyanov, "Fury"; Bradford Young, "A Most Violent Year"
For your consideration: With his beautifully framed compositions and a remarkable way with natural light, Young has been an up-and-comer on movies like "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" and DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere." Between "Selma" and "A Most Violent Year," it's safe to say people will soon know Young's name as one of the field's greats. Sundance has already recognized his talent. The academy shouldn't be far behind.