Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Cinematography

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.








In his fourth collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Richardson scrapped his own aesthetic of a muted palette in favor of the director’s preference for a richly colored, saturated image. Using authentic American landscapes for backdrops — large portions of the film were shot in Wyoming and Louisiana — created a challenge in maintaining a consistently lit shot due to fickle weather conditions. But the result is a vibrant tapestry for this super-violent Civil War-era Sphagetti Western,  including some delightfully graphic shots (a quick zoom to pristine, white cotton sprayed with blood) and clever camera tricks (a view of Django riding into town framed by hangman’s noose). For Django Unchained, Richardson earned his eighth Oscar nomination, following his third win for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo just last year, which means voters aren’t likely to reward him again so soon, especially with so many other worthy nominees.

Seamus McGarvey was a last-minute addition to Anna Karenina, joining the team just three weeks before shooting, though he had worked previously with director Joe Wright on Atonement, for which he was also Oscar-nominated (the DP also did some rather poor work on this year’s Visual Effects nominee, The Avengers). The theatrical conceit — nearly the entire film takes place in a derelict Russian theatre — simplified the staging which took place across 100 sets, allowing a fluidity of transitions that McGarvey shot with 35mm film in order to better blend compositions and smooth the segues from stage to exteriors shots. There’s a lot of zooming around backstage, with the camera flying around corridors and weaving in and out of extras in extraneous theatrical shots (Wright at moments acts as though he’s directing a musical like Moulin Rouge); it’s fun, but (the whole conceit is) unnecessary.

Pretty much everyone thinks Richard Deakins should win this award but won’t. His work on Skyfall marks his tenth nomination (zero wins), with previous excellent work including The Shawshank Redemption, True Grit and No Country for Old Men. What’s interesting about his work here is that Deakins isn’t an obvious choice for a Bond film; his cinematography tends to be character, not action, driven. So, in accordance with the vision of director Sam Mendes (another unobvious choice for an action flick), Deakins took a more simplified approach to the franchise, shooting the heaviest action sequences with just a couple of handheld cameras. Take the Shanghai sequence, for example, with Bond racing under the blue-lit intersecting highways, and grappling with Patrice in a high-rise of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the sparkling night skyline with all its neon-lit skyscrapers. With Deakins’s work, any random still could easily be mistaken for a piece of art.

Life of Pi was widely labeled an “unfilmmable book,” and the fact that Claudio Miranda did just that, and did it very well, equates to an easy win for the two-time Oscar nominee (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Filming with six cameras mounted on rigs, Miranda spent much of the three-month shoot in a huge wave tank at an abandoned Chinese airport, creatively capturing a boat sinking, a zoo, the “Storm of God” sequence, and a pool lit by 120,000 candles — creating a consistently magical tone and watercolor quality to the picture, even managing to shoot in 3D underwater. The technical prowess is remarkable, which voters will surely appreciate.

Not as technically complex, but just as gorgeous is Janusz Kaminski’s great work on Lincoln. A long-time collaborator with Steven Spielberg, Kaminski has won Oscars for Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. Inspired by mid-nineteenth century oil paintings and photographs, Kaminiski shot in a naturalistic style, working with modern lighting equipment to simulate the look of oil-lamp lighting in effort to reflect the president’s life lived in darkness as he grappled with decisions that were neither black or white. Daniel Day-Lewis, who generally played scenes looking down, was often toplit so as to accentuate his deep-set eyes and lend a striking emphasis when he did look up to fully reveal his eyes. The DP’s work here, largely consisting of a series of graceful wide shots, as simple and straightforward as it is, beautifully captures the shadowy moodiness of the time and Lincoln’s inner struggle in making the decision that would result in his greatest legacy. 


3 comments on “Oscars 2013: Best Cinematography

  1. Dean_filmguidedublin
    February 4, 2013

    excellent list and brilliant article.

    Lincon really was a joy to watch. Spielberg’s simpler compositions really gave Kaminski the chance to make an impression on the viewer. So much of the tone of this film comes from those wonderfully dark and rugged shots in the brilliantly designed back chamber sets. This is a wonderfully visual film. I always feel true cinema is accomplished when there is a compelling blend of visual and spoken storytelling, Spielberg and co. are right on the money here.


  2. Dean_filmguidedublin
    February 4, 2013



    • Julie
      February 4, 2013

      I agree, and I don’t always feel this way about Kaminski (War Horse? Oy.) I think his work here is really beautiful — the way he lights the scenes, and the overall subtlety, is rather breathtaking.


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