Best Cinematography

Cinematography, like many technical awards, is an incredibly difficult art form requiring years of experience, an encyclopedic knowledge of light and color, and an impossible ability to adapt to an industry whose technologies of capturing moving images are always changing. But that doesn’t mean someone as inexperienced as the Academy voters or myself shouldn’t be allowed to judge all that hard work!

This year’s cinematography category is surprisingly controversial. Mihai Mălaimare, Jr’s work on The Master, once thought a shoo-in for this category, wasn’t even nominated, nor were other visually enthralling films, like Darius Wolski’s work on Promtheus. That said, the films that were ultimately nominated no doubt contain some expert cinematography (because I would know), but, as the political nature of these things always indicates, the question of “best” is highly suspect.

Here’s how the nominees size up, with my prediction for the winner in red

dashes

Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey

Why He Was Nominated

While Joe Wright’s films have varied greatly in both quality and subject matter, they’ve always been impeccably well-shot. And Seamus McGarvey has lensed nearly all of them, including the long-take in the trenches of war in Atonement and the wintry hiding place for Eric Bana and Siorse Ronan in Hanna. Anna Karenina finds McGarvey working on all cylinders, capturing anything from the elegant dresses of the St. Petersburg bourgeoisie to a gorgeous but overwhelming sunrise on the Russian countryside. Anna Karenina is – in terms of costuming, set design, tone, and formal devices – unapologetically excessive, and with McGarvey’s skillset, is a film that evokes beauty, elegance, and high drama within every frame.

Why He Might Win

The Academy is known for confusing “most” for “best” in some technical categories (see sound design), but sometimes the most also happens to be really, really good. Wright’s film allows McGarvey to bring out every tool at his disposal. Watch the first dance between Kiera Knightley’s Karenina and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Vronksy if you want just one reason why McGarvey should be recognized as one of the most talented cinematographers working today.

Why He Might Not Win

Compared to McGarvey’s other collaborations with Wright, Anna Karenina seems to be small potatoes despite its variety. It’s not as universally celebrated as Atonement, nor does it go down as easily as Pride and Prejudice. Anna Karenina is an audacious and even slightly experimental adaptation. Not all the experiments work, even though beauty seems to be executed within every creative person’s contribution. But the film’s lack of an overall profile will likely hurt its chances here.

dashes

Django Unchained, Robert Richardson

Why He Was Nominated

Go back and look at a scene, any scene, from Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Now watch a scene from Inglourious Basterds or Kill Bill. See that difference? It’s the same Tarantino, but Robert Richardson has made the director’s vision shine through with flare (literally – Richardson does a lot of backlighting) and panache. Richardson, who has regularly worked with Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone, is the go-to cinematographer for serious directors who make seriously violent films. Blood doesn’t quite splatter the same with anybody else.

Why He Might Win

Unless the Academy is going to turn Richardson into the John Williams of the cinematography category, he isn’t going to win.

Why He Won’t Win

Richardson is a great cinematographer. Like, one of the all-time greats. His work on Django is solid, but it’s hardly his stand-out best. Besides Django’s purple suit, the film’s setting is a bit more monochromatic than Richardson is used to. He also has more statues than anybody on this list, and for more impressive works of cinematography (for The Aviator, he recreated 20s, 30s, and 40s styles of color cinematography), so it’s hard to imagine he’ll take home the gold here.

dashes

Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

Why He Was Nominated

For all its criticisms, Life of Pi is still one of the most visually stunning of this year’s awards contenders, and its cinematography (namely its use of color, especially sky blues and white sands) makes for a truly state-of-the-art imaging. Add that to the fact that Life of Pi (shot digitally with an array of special effects, then projected in 3D, which is the exact inverse of Django) heralds the future of cinematography more so than any other film on this list.

Why He Might Win

Again, visual elements are Life of Pi’s strongest suits. This and Best Visual Effects are the film’s most likely categories to make a dent in, for anything that’s perceived lacking in the film overall doesn’t necessarily come into play with cinematography, where the power of the image rules. As with Avatar (whose storytelling was also heavily criticized), the Academy might be inclined to reward a film that uses 3D and digital technologies for the sake of artistry instead of gimmickry.

Why He Might Not Win

Life of Pi hardly signals the technological revolution that Avatar did, and there are other serviceable contributions to cinematography in this category that were for more highly regarded films. But make no mistake, Life of Pi is a heavy contender here.

dashes

Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski

Why He Was Nominated

Having worked together on nearly every film since The Lost World, Kaminski and Spielberg are an inseparable team: one articulates the vision of the other. Kaminski is a talented cinematographer who shot some of Spielberg’s most visionary works, including Saving Private Ryan and A.I. He also should have won five years ago for the gorgeous (non-Spielberg) Diving Bell and the Butterfly. To honor Spielberg is, in many ways, to honor Kaminski.

Why He Might Win

Kaminski, like Richardson and Deakins, is a heavy hitter on this list, one who is more than familiar with the Academy Awards because he constantly puts out good work in service of a visionary director, but also contains a signature style of his own…

Why He Probably Won’t Win

…But there’s nothing about his work in Lincoln that makes it stand out from other Spielberg collaborations as exceptional enough for the Oscar. To be honest, I wish these two would take a break from one another. Kaminski’s dusty, washed out approach is getting old, and I’d like to see a Spielberg period piece that doesn’t imagine the past in sepia tone or almost-black-and-white. Furthermore, when Kaminski collaborates with others (like Julian Schnabel for Diving Bell), it’s easy to remember why he’s great again.

dashes

Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Why He Was Nominated

Roger Deakins is arguably the best British cinematographer working today. He’s beautifully realized the visual signatures of Sam Mendes and the Coen brothers, and he’s elevated films like The Reader, The Village, and In Time simply because they’re seen through his eyes. Of course he would make the most eye-pleasing James Bond film ever made.

Why He Might Win

If Deakins had won any of the awards he deserved at this point, his nomination for Skyfall would simply be a routine recognition of regularly exceptional work. But Deakins is nearing pre-2006 Scorsese territory, having never won an Oscar despite the fact that he shot gorgeous films like The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and set the gold standard for color correction with O Brother, Where Art Thou? After nine nominations and zero wins, it’s time for the man to receive his legacy prize.

Why He Might Not Win

Even though it’s a technical award, Best Cinematography is a prestigious one, and it might be beneath the Academy to give this award to a Bond film. Despite the fact that this was a Bond film beloved by critics and audiences (but not me, for the sake of transparency), voters might feel more inclined to give this award to one of the contenders in the major categories. Still, Skyfall looks amazing, and Deakins will probably get his due on the big night.

dashes

Read more about The Oscars

 

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly labeled Roger Deakins as an American. Clearly, we’re jealous of Britain on this one. Apologies.


ARTICLE TAGS
Like this article? Join thousands of your fellow movie lovers who subscribe to The Weekly Edition from Film School Rejects. Our best articles, every week, right in your inbox!
  %
%  
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!
Twitter button
Facebook button
Google+ button
RSS feed



Some movie websites serve the consumer. Some serve the industry. At Film School Rejects, we serve at the pleasure of the connoisseur. We provide the best reviews, interviews and features to millions of dedicated movie fans who know what they love and love what they know. Because we, like you, simply love the art of the moving picture.
Fantastic Fest 2014
6 Filmmaking Tips: James Gunn
Got a Tip? Send it here:
editors@filmschoolrejects.com
Publisher:
Neil Miller
Managing Editor:
Scott Beggs
Associate Editors:
Rob Hunter
Kate Erbland
Christopher Campbell
All Rights Reserved © 2006-2014 Reject Media, LLC | Privacy Policy | Design & Development by Face3