The aesthetic fate of Catching Fire, the Hunger Games sequel, is back in jeopardy this morning. Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming are reporting that “multiple sources” have told them that director Gary Ross “has not formally withdrawn from the Hunger Games sequel”…zounds! Ross “is off on a family vacation and couldn’t be reached” — bullshit — “but these internet reports that described his withdrawal as definitive are simply not accurate,” per Finke and Fleming.

I wrote yesterday that if — if — Ross has left the franchise it’ll be a good thing all around because his direction of The Hunger Games was/is highly problematic. I also stated a suspicion that Lionsgate execs realize they can do better than Ross for the next two films, and if they’re smart they’ll nudge him toward other pastures and opportunities.

Earlier this week Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy suggested some alternative choices for the Catching Fire gig, given the mismatch with Ross. It’s unlikely Lionsgate will go for an auteur because they’ll want someone they can push around. But they’d be foolish to ignore what Alfonso Cuaron proved when he took the reins on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (’04), which is that talented directors can up the artistic ante while still delivering what the franchise requires.

McCarthy suggested Cuaron and four others:

Kathryn Bigelow: “If The Hurt Locker and Bin Laden filmmaker wants a mainstream gig, she could elevate the pedigree of the Katniss saga.”

Mel Gibson: Don’t laugh. If Catching Fire is one-third as exciting as Apocalypto, it would be dynamite. But can Mel do PG-13?

Walter Hill: “The old-guard director (The Warriors) could provide style and an authentic feel for action that was missing in the first film.

Nicolas Winding Refn: “If modern edginess and unexpected moves are desired for the sequel, then the Drive director could be the man to deliver them.”

HE’s own suggestion: Juan Antonio Bayona, director of The Orphanage and the forthcoming The Impossible.