TECH SUPPORT: Best Cinematography — Volume II

Posted by · 3:07 pm · October 1st, 2009

Melanie Laurent in Inglourious BasterdsAlmost three months ago, I described how our cinematographers bring movies to life, by lensing the director’s vision, the actors’ performances, the production designer’s and the writer’s mood, just to begin. In the absence of these talented individuals, there would truly be no cinema.

Like most people, this is my favorite of the Oscar crafts categories. I was very happy when Anthony Dod Mantle triumphed last year, even though he was barely on my radar post-TIFF, where “Slumdog Millionaire” premiered.  So what has emerged since our last assessment?

From the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, not a whole lot seems to have changed in the category. While “Precious” and “Up in the Air” seem to have been the biggest gainers, they still don’t seem to be obvious candidates here.  Then again, you have to keep an eye on Best Picture contenders, so I’d still consider DPs Andrew Dunn and Eric Steelberg for their work.

Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” also performed quite well at Venice. Many have praised the look of the film, so it would be foolish to rule out Eduard Rau. On the other hand, Javier Aguiressarobe’s lensing of “The Road” did not receive the praise I suspected it might, with most acclaim going to Viggo Mortensen’s performance. Even so, I’ll keep my eye on this title until it is released in theaters.

A contender whose vehicle has shifted since I last covered this category in July is Robert Richardson. While Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” has been delayed until next year, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” on the other hand, has made a considerable splash. Richardson had many chances to show the scope of his talent on this project. I wouldn’t rule him out.

NineAlso moved to next year is Paul Greengrass’s “Green Zone.” As far as I’m concerned, this should only help Barry Ackroyd’s chances for his lensing of Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which has already been greeted with much acclaim and will certainly be revived with year-end awards from critics.

Possibly fading from the summer, however, is Dante Spinotti for “Public Enemies.” Michael Mann’s latest just didn’t click. If there was a place I’d say it could survive, this would be it. But I still maintain that’s a big “if.”

“Bright Star” has also opened to somewhat lesser acclaim than I was originally expecting. While I have no doubt it will remain a major contender in many categories, I am no longer as sure about the chances of DP Greig Fraser.

Two lensers whose positions I can’t say have changed since I last analyzed this category in July are Dion Beebe for “Nine” and Andrew Lesnie for “The Lovely Bones.” Both Oscar winners are re-teaming with the directors who guided them to their past victories (Rob Marshall and Peter Jackson doing the honors, respectively) and the opportunities both, particularly Beebe, are presented with make me confident that they’ll find themselves in the race.

Tom Stern and Stuart Dryburgh both are hunting for nomination #2 but we remain curious as to the overall reception of their films. Stern finally was cited last year by his fellow cinematographers for “Changeling” and will try to once again team up with Clint Eastwood to success on “Invictus.” Dryburgh, meanwhile, has been out of the race since “The Piano” 16 years ago but will have an epic landscape to paint with Mira Nair’s “Amelia.” The reception of both films will be critical to their chances at the end of the day.

Where the Wild Things AreLance Acord’s lensing of “Where the Wild Things Are” still looks very interesting to me. But I’m not sure if Spike Jonze’s film will end up respected enough to find a home here – or perhaps he himself will emerge with all of the credit.

I must also say I’ve become more skeptical of Mauro Fiore’s chances for James Cameron’s “Avatar.” It’s not that I don’t think the film will be a visual treat. It’s merely that I can’t help but wonder if the photography will be overwhelmed by the digital work.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.

So this ends our second glance through this category. I suspect we’ll yet see some movers and shakers before our final glance in January.

Your thoughts?

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24 responses so far

  • 1 10-01-2009 at 3:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Think I’ve said this before, but “Antichrist” stills wins this award for me by a country mile. Not that I expect the Academy to take any notice.

    “A Single Man” would be my runner-up. If Eduard Grau had more of an industry profile, I’d call his work a shoo-in for a nomination, but they can be so unwelcoming to newcomers.

  • 2 10-01-2009 at 5:09 pm

    Jack said...

    Maybe I’m alone in this but I thought, other than The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds, that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince had the best cinematography of the year. Any chance it could get in?

  • 3 10-01-2009 at 5:25 pm

    Marvin said...

    Prieto for Lor abrazos rotos?

  • 4 10-01-2009 at 7:09 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    my favorite craft, can really make a movie, id go for where the wild thing are, the lovly bones, the road, inglorious basterds, and tree of life, which strangely wasnt even mentioned

  • 5 10-01-2009 at 7:51 pm

    Jordan Cronk said...

    I obviously haven’t seen a number of the year-end contenders, but I agree with Guy: I doubt any film– with the exception of maybe “Where the Wild Things Are”– can match “Antichrist” from a visual standpoint. Of course I greatly admire the film a whole, so I’m biased in that regard.

  • 6 10-01-2009 at 10:02 pm

    Georgie said...

    I’m hoping WTWTA blows me away on every plane, but especially the visual one. And Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker had wonderful lensing, I loved it.

  • 7 10-01-2009 at 10:17 pm

    Blake said...

    There are quite a few other contenders I could see getting in:

    A Serious Man- never count out Deakins
    Broken Embraces- Rodrigo Prieto
    Me and Orson Welles- Dick Pope lighting for the stage again
    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
    The White Ribbon

  • 8 10-01-2009 at 11:03 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I can’t understand how anyone who has seen “Bright Star” could possibly deny the brilliance of its visual superiority. Cinematography should be locked up and set to go for this one.

  • 9 10-02-2009 at 12:03 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Wild Things has gorgeous, natural photography. Not going to be a nominee but it’s soft, warm, what you expect.

  • 10 10-02-2009 at 12:13 am

    Ali E. said...

    my views on this category haven’t changed much in the last few months… Ackroyd and Beebe are the closest names to a nomination. I believe Lesnie (which is quite appreciated by his fellow cinematographers as an ASC nod for King Kong also tells) and Spinotti (the film may have been an underplayer, but so was Cinderella Man a few years ago and it still got 3 tech nods with much less boxoffice, so I believe there’s no reason why Public Enemies won’t grab a few nods) are highly probable… Lubezki will definitely be in, if the film gets released this year and he may even win his first Oscar then…

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson gets in with IB. He’s not really one of my favorite DoPs, but his work was solid here… Precious’ overall success can bring a nod to Andrew Dunn who is nothing short of a respected veteran of the industry… I’d be really surprised if Delbonnel’s work in a Harry Potter film gets nominated, but it’s sure deserving, so I wouldn’t count him totally out… And Rodrigo Prieto also deserves some recognition for Broken Embraces…

    I will repeat myself regarding Bright Star… Hierarchy counts a lot in such categories, and it’s very unlikely for a relatively unkown DoP to receive an Oscar nod unless his (in this case) film is a major Best Picture player… Which Bright Star is not…

  • 11 10-02-2009 at 12:18 am

    Ali E. said...

    oh, and in a perfect world Lance Acord would already be an Oscar nominated DoP, and he would be a strong contender with Where the Wild Things Are too… but this is not a perfect world…

    and I don’t see a nod for The White Ribbon… they won’t nominate a foreign film just because it’s black&white… which would not be enough for a domestic film either…

  • 12 10-02-2009 at 12:28 am

    Dan said...

    One must remember that Cinderella Man had a powerful team behind it (Ron Howard, Brian Grazer), which guaranteed that AMPAS members checked it out and paid attention.

  • 13 10-02-2009 at 12:45 am

    Ali E. said...

    and you say the multiple Oscar nominee Michael Mann (for both The Insider and The Aviator) isn’t powerful? He may not be Ron Howard, but I’m sure AMPAS members pay attention to his films… especially when they make $100m domestically and they have such a cast… I’m pretty sure Public Enemies will receive a couple of nods, and Cinematography may be one of them…

  • 14 10-02-2009 at 12:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Am I alone in thinking that art direction and costume design seem more likely (if still hardly surefire) places for “Public Enemies” to be recognized than cinematography?

  • 15 10-02-2009 at 12:59 am

    Jim T said...

    Guy, how many hours do you sleep every night? Where do you find the energy?

  • 16 10-02-2009 at 1:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Far too few. And tea.

  • 17 10-02-2009 at 2:12 am

    Ali E. said...

    Guy, you’re right. Even though I predict PE for a Cinematography nomination, an Art Direction nod is much more likely. Costume Design and Film Editing nominations are also very probable. Spinotti is definitely not a sure thing. But I believe he will at least get an ASC nod, even though he misses the Oscar nomination…

  • 18 10-02-2009 at 4:58 am

    Glenn said...

    Where’s “The White Ribbon”? It’s black and white, which means it’s instantly “unique” and it helps that it is really great lensing. I’m sure at least one critics association will give it the prize.

  • 19 10-02-2009 at 6:38 am

    red_wine said...

    I don’t want Harry Potter to be nominated. Apart from my disdain for the film, the cinematography was good but nothing spectacular. But it definitely has a very good shot.

    And a vote for PE would be a vote in favor of digital. If the cinematographers want to greatly endorse digital, then PE might be in since it is 1 of the titles that has caused the most digital vs film arguments.

    From the trailer, The Lovely Bones looked rather ugly. And those heaven sequences would be so over-loaded with CGI that they would barely showcase photography. I’m like you looking forward to Amelia’s cinematography. Mira Nair has a very good visual sense.

  • 20 10-02-2009 at 7:38 am

    Joel said...

    “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” still has the best cinematography of the year, in my opinion. I’m thinkin’ it could win. That’s just me.

    “Bright Star,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Public Enemies,” and “The Road” are the other nominees, I think. At least at this point in the game.

  • 21 10-02-2009 at 8:10 am

    Glenn said...

    I thought there was way too much CGI and visual effects to classify “Harry Potter” as having the best cinematography. It’s not like he made those colours by himself and other than that it wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Well, not that I saw anyway, but if others have then maybe it was just me.

  • 22 10-17-2009 at 8:49 pm

    John said...

    CHERI was quite sumptuous, but very boring. Harry Potter got his first movie that looked like a master cinematographer was at work, but it’s hard to trust CGI-heavy movies. Orphan moves gracefully from realism to fantasy, bright snow-covered fields to pitch-black horror finale. Of course, the older Academy members would probably suffer heart attacks if they watched that movie.

  • 23 10-30-2009 at 4:42 am

    Holden said...

    Cinematography Nominees
    -Bright Star
    -The Hurt Locker
    -Inglorious Basterds
    -A Serious Man

  • 24 10-30-2009 at 4:44 am

    Holden said...

    Sorry, made a mistake

    Cinematography Nominees
    -Bright Star
    -The Hurt Locker
    -Inglorious Basterds
    -Where the Wild Things Are