TECH SUPPORT: Best Cinematography — Volume II

Posted by · 11:36 am · October 15th, 2010

Today we take a look a second look at, well, certainly the most “cinematic” of categories: Best Cinematography. As I like to say, cinema is born out of the camera and those who wield these devices enrich our films more than a few words written here could possibly say. From capturing mood, lighting and atmosphere to telling the story visually and creatively, our cinematographers truly are artists in every sense of the word.

Naturally, “pretty” films, war films and Best Picture nominees all have a knack for doing particularly well in this category.

Now that the trailer for “True Grit” has reached the internet, I surely cannot be the only person asking…is this the film that will finally bring Roger Deakins his Oscar?  He has eight nominations (four for Coen brothers films), tragically winning zero times. The photography looks amazing, and the film is exactly the sort that would seem to excel in this category. That the film also looks like a bigger Oscar player across the board (more than I was originally expecting) is merely icing on the cake.

Anthony Dod Mantle won this category, on his first nomination, for Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” two years ago. With Enrique Chediak, he will be lensing Boyle’s “127 Hours” this year, capturing the harrowing journey of James Franco’s character in the grueling heat of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.  This film will be made by its imagery.  I haven’t seen the film but I expect this duo to deliver. And if they do, I expect Oscar could take note.

Another one-time nominee/one-time winner I expect to see return this year is Russell Boyd.  His cinematography for Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” has scored a mixture of reviews (the most glowing probably from Kris in this space). The last time Weir worked (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”), Boyd won this category.  Awards potential will certainly depend on savvy marketing, but if it scores anywhere, I expect it will be here. Knowing Weir’s Oscar track record, a shutout would be a surprise.

A man with three recent nominations (in as many shots on goal), but still awaiting his first win, is Wally Pfister. The innovative work on “Inception” was merely one among many assets in the film’s crafts departments and showed just how well Pfister works with Christopher Nolan. After nominations for “Batman Begins,” “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight,” I think this will make him four-for-four.

I have a strong hunch that the above four films will be among the final five (not that one can be that confident from this far out.) But what to place next gave me a great deal of pause.

“Secretariat” is a very handsomely mounted production which clearly had Oscar on its mind and fared well enough with the critics. But I still cannot help but wonder why Dean Semler has never managed to receive a follow-up nomination after “Dances With Wolves” 20 years ago.  And the film hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, either.

The great Robert Richardson must always be considered. “Shutter Island” was not the most memorable work he has ever done but it was possibly the most memorable thing about the film – and this is a Martin Scorsese film, after all. So while I think the film will be forgotten, if it scores anywhere, expect it to be here.

Richardson’s nomination last year for “Inglourious Basterds” placed him alongside surprise nominee Bruno Delbonnel for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in a slightly surprising nomination (given the trajectory of the circuit until that point).  This year, Eduardo Serra is in the running for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” As I’ve stated before, I think next year’s title is when AMPAS may (I’m still not convinced) give its blessing to this series. While virtually all crafts artists are contenders, I doubt more than one or two of them will be nominated and, given the history of this series, it is almost impossible to guess in advance which ones.

I used to think Adam Kimmel would be a very strong candidate for “Never Let Me Go.” Capturing the beauty of Southern England in wartime is very often a good strategy for finding love from Oscar in this category. Then the film’s Telluride and Toronto reception was more disappointing than I expected. That said, I still wouldn’t completely rule this out.

A great cinematographer who has yet to be nominated is Harris Savides, this year behind the camera on Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere.” The film managed to delight audiences in Venice, and there can be no doubt that Coppola is a well-respected director.  But while I suspect this film will not be Oscar’s cup of tea, I’ve long maintained Savides would one day be nominated. When it comes, it may very well be for something surprising.

Another film I’m not sure how to qualify this Oscar season is David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” which could either be a big hit or not catch on at all. Whatever happens, Hoyt Van Hoytema will have great opportunities to capture the gritty Boston mood and fight sequences. Those who have seen “Let the Right One In” will quickly verify his talent. That said, this doesn’t seem an obvious Oscar category for this title and I remain skeptical of the film overall.

Then we come to the Best Picture contenders. Jeff Cronenweth’s lensing of David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was well-received in many circles. The film is arguably the Best Picture frontrunner (though I can’t help but wonder if it is peaking too soon) and that often leads to a nomination here. That said, the work isn’t as showy as many nominees in this category tend to be.

Speaking of frontrunning contenders, if “The King’s Speech” sweeps the nominations (as I suspect it might), Danny Cohen could easily earn a trip to the Kodak. I’d place him in sixth, as I have a different hunch for my fifth position.

I am tempted to look to a title I’ve had my eye on for a few weeks: Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” Though the film has been somewhat divisive, it has nonetheless managed to attract a very strong fan base. I also maintain that Matthew Libatique will eventually be nominated for an Aronofsky title.  A moody dance-based film will be one hell of an opportunity. Could it be his time?

We’ll see if my four principals and somewhat edgy alternate are still looking good in December. In the meantime, there are eight more categories to cover.  Have your say on the cinematography field in the comments section below.

[Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures]

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Tech Support

16 responses so far

  • 1 10-15-2010 at 1:53 pm

    Ben M. said...

    I’m feel good about The King’s Speech, True Grit, 127 Hours, and then think the rest of the category is a toss-up, with any two of the films you mention possibly showing up in any combination.

    I actually think given the unique challenge of shooting a film set in a coffin and still pulling off impressive visuals that Buried deserves some consideration, but AMPAS is never going for that.

  • 2 10-15-2010 at 2:00 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m becoming very confident that Matthew Libatique will see his first Oscar nomination for Black Swan. Even if the film sputters critically/commerically on release, I could definitely see the technical aspects of the production, especially Libatique’s work, being highlighted during the awards season.

    And call me crazy, but I actually think Wally Pfister will miss out this year. Oscar tends to like cinematography that calls attention to itself, and Inception’s photography doesn’t have the “Wow” factor that The Dark Knight and The Prestige had.

  • 3 10-15-2010 at 2:20 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Currently I’ve got these in my predictions: True Grit (Deakins), Inception (Pfister), Shutter Island (Richardson), The King’s Speech (Cohen) and The Way Back (Boyd).

    Just outside of those would be Libatique and Black Swan, though I have fairly little faith in its actual chances seeing as it’s again probably too gritty and edgy for the Academy wieners.

    I hadn’t really even considered 127 Hours, since much of it is a guy stuck in one place. It does look nicely lensed though, but I remain skeptical for now.

    Anyway, I don’t see how this won’t be Deakins’ year. None of the other contenders feel like they are on that kind of level where Deakins would get the snub once again. It’ll obviously depend on how well True Grit is (and is shot), but if it’s up to the level we all expect, it just has to be Deakins next February.

  • 4 10-15-2010 at 2:42 pm

    James said...

    I just rewatched Milk, and Harris Savides definitely deserved a nomination. With his work in that, Zodiac, and even something like American Gangster hopefully he will get a nomination in the near future.

  • 5 10-15-2010 at 3:10 pm

    Robert Wyatt said...

    I find it curious that everyone mentions Richardson for Shutter Island but not Eat Pray Love. I mean, people’s tastes about cinematography aside, I think we can all agree on the Academy’s predilection for lush visuals, foreign landscapes, etc. I also find it odd this insistance that a kinda-forgettable Scorsese film from a very-forgetable part of the year is gonna be remembered come awards time.

  • 6 10-15-2010 at 3:12 pm

    Robert Wyatt said...

    Quick Thing – Graysmith says “I don’t see how this won’t be Deakins’ year.” I’d remind him we all thought that in 2001 and 2007. But I agree.

  • 7 10-15-2010 at 3:14 pm

    americanrequiem said...

    im rooting for shutter island to show up here

    also Im completely down with deakins winning for true grit, unless i am utterly impressed wiht something else

  • 8 10-15-2010 at 3:40 pm

    Graysmith said...


    Did anyone (at all) praise Eat, Pray, Love for its cinematography though? I’m pretty sure there are critics who gave Shutter Island a thumbs down that still praised the cinematography. Kris has already said they will be campaigning the film, and your own feelings aside, the vast majority liked the movie.

    As for Deakins, who knows. I’m not going to say he’s a slam dunk, stranger stuff have happened and a lot will also ride on how good the movie is, or isn’t. But the competition this year doesn’t feel as fierce as it was in 2001 or 2008, the latter where a big part of him not winning probably was because he cancelled himself out. Another interesting aspect is also that several of the major contenders this year have already won: Mantle, Richardson, Boyd. That doesn’t matter quite as much as it does in acting categories, but it’s worth noting nevertheless.

  • 9 10-15-2010 at 4:44 pm

    Pete said...

    I don’t think 127 hours will make it in this category.

  • 10 10-15-2010 at 5:36 pm

    Ric H said...

    I wish Greig Fraser could get some notice (for Let Me In this year). I know I know, maybe I’m still thinking about Bright Star.

  • 11 10-15-2010 at 7:14 pm

    Robert Wyatt said...


    I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but here’s the thing…

    The overwhelming amount of people in the Academy have no real idea what seperates good cinematography from great cinematography – the group think tends to follow whichever of the five is most popular. Same goes for other disciplines and guilds like Editors. I expect the category will match up 80% as it usually does with the ASC. And I’d be willing to bet you the ASC will nominate EPL over Shutter Island, if he doesn’t cancel himself out entirely (as he likely did in ’95 with Casino and Nixon).

    Along the same line but this time about Deakins…year after year I watch the Oscars pass over either the hands-down favorite or the clearly better shot film for the cinematography Oscar because it’s not the “most popular” film in its category. There’s a great discrepency between ASC winners and Oscar winners because while the Cinematographers nominate who’s included in the Oscar category, the entire Academy selects the winner. And as I said earlier, the vast majority (especially actors) have no real idea. Hence, LOTR beats Man Who Wasn’t There, and guys like Emmanuel Lubezki win every other critic’s award EXCEPT the Oscar while guys like Mario Fiore win it easily.

    My point? While Deakins is well liked and everyone knows he’s overdue I won’t be surprised if he loses again because of any of the above factors. But I do think this is his year.

    Also…I fail to believe 127 Hours will be nominated. And I’m willing to make wagers with people for EPL over Shutter.

  • 12 10-16-2010 at 6:40 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    127 Hours
    The Kings Speech
    Black Swan
    True Grit

  • 13 10-16-2010 at 9:56 pm

    SJG said...

    127 Hours
    Black Swan
    True Grit
    The Social Network

    Those are my predictions. And I have to say that I’m not sufficiently convinced from the trailer for True Grit that this is really Deakins’ year, either in terms of getting the votes or in terms of truly deserving to win. Maybe my thoughts will change once I’ve seen it.

    Right now I’m actually thinking The Social Network is the best bet, though I’m rooting for Wally Pfister.

  • 14 10-16-2010 at 11:49 pm

    pilfering monk said...

    If there was one category that I wish had 10 nominees, it’s this one. I agree with Kris on his five in the sidebar, though.

  • 15 10-18-2010 at 5:08 am

    VHS said...

    127 Hours
    The Social Network
    True Grit
    The Way Back

  • 16 12-09-2010 at 6:28 pm

    RichardA said...

    Gah! No mention of Winter’s Bone?