Voters want change. (Or so we've heard.) And unless there's some underground cult society devoted to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's work in Terrence Malick's experimental drama "Knight of Cups" — and, really, there should be, as L.A. has never looked better than as seen through Lubezki's lens — we're going to have some new faces holding Oscars next year for direction and cinematography.
After winning in back-to-back years for "Birdman" and "The Revenant," director Alejandro G. Iñárritu is off making a TV series for Starz. And Lubezki, coming off a historic Oscar three-peat, keeps on keepin' on with Malick and is making a new movie with Alfonso Cuarón. He'll be back — just not next year.
So who's going to fill their shoes? Here's an early look at the director and cinematography races.
Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Pablo Larraín, "Jackie"
Prime contenders: Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”;
Analysis: You want change? Four of the five director nominees will likely be first-timers, while a couple of them — Jenkins and Chazelle — would be recognized for their second and third feature films, respectively. (Chazelle's only 31, for crying out loud. If he wins, he'd be the youngest director to take that Oscar, breaking a record held by Norman Taurog for 85 years. Taurog had a pretty amazing career, working with everyone from Elvis Presley to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Look him up.)
There are, of course, other ways this race could play out, one being nominations for a couple of previous Oscar winners. After being exiled for a decade, Gibson returns with the harrowing "Hacksaw Ridge," again demonstrating his supreme skill as an action filmmaker. The movie — and Gibson — have received standing ovations at screenings for guilds and academy members. Plenty of voters remain resistant to forgiving Gibson for the hateful things he said in the past, but it's clear others are ready to turn the page. An Oscar nomination for Gibson would be surprising, but not shocking.
And, of course, there's Eastwood, a four-time directing nominee who at age 86 continues to deliver thoughtful, powerful movies like "Sully," a film about an unassuming man becoming a hero because he knows how to do his job. Like Sully, Eastwood doesn't call a lot of attention to himself. And by continuing to produce accomplished work, he's likely to win votes from his fellow directors who — outside of Quentin Tarantino — would like to imagine they could continue to make art as octogenarians.
Also of interest will be how the directors branch responds to excellent work by Lonergan, known primarily as a writer, and Washington, a Hollywood legend directing his third film. "Fences," Washington's adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is theatrical and largely confined to one setting. Visually, there's not a lot Washington can do. But there are cinematic grace notes throughout the film, and no one can dispute the performances Washington coaxed from his ensemble.
Linus Sandgren, "La La Land"
Rodrigo Prieto, "Silence"
Stéphane Fontaine, "Jackie"
Bradford Young, "Arrival"
James Laxton, "Moonlight"
Prime contenders: Caleb Deschanel, "Rules Don't Apply"; Robert Richardson, "Live by Night"; Roger Deakins, "Hail, Caesar!"; Vittorio Storaro, "Café Society"; Seamus McGarvey, "Nocturnal Animals"; Tom Stern, "Sully"; Bill Pope, "The Jungle Book"; Óscar Faura, "A Monster Calls"
Analysis: I love Deakins as much as the next human and look forward to the day when this 13-time nominee finally wins an Oscar. And three-time winner Richardson is a genius who has been instrumental in bringing the vision of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone to the screen.
But at some point, the cinematography branch needs to recognize great new talent too. Will that happen this time? Probably not. That above list of nominees borders on advocacy, but the work of Sandgren, Fontaine, Young and Laxton — none of whom has been nominated — is every bit as striking and integral to their films as that of veterans like McGarvey, Deakins and Richardson.