Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2015: 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.

2015 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY

0

1. BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
Emmanuel Lubezki

2. IDA
Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski

3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Robert Yeoman

4. MR. TURNER
Dick Pope

5. UNBROKEN
Roger Deakins

It’s so absurd that the cinematographer of The Shawshank Redemption and No Country for Old Men (and Skyfall and True Grit and…) doesn’t have an Oscar yet, but he won’t receive one for this, his twelfth nomination. For his work on Unbroken, the epic WWII story of Louie Zamperini, Roger Deakins does a lot of tracking of the characters – running with them, squeezed inside planes with them, etc. – to create an intimacy for this very personal story. While he does the typical saturated-earth-tones WWII look, there’s also a more monochromatic scene when the men are working in coal mines. It’s not his most exciting work, but then again, the film isn’t very exciting either.

Mr. Turner, about the life of British artist J.M.W. Turner, marks Dick Pope’s second nomination (after The Illusionist). The look, in addition to evoking the Georgian and Victorian periods of the time, means to act as a visual interpretation of the artist’s works. Each shot is a gorgeous tableau of vivid colors and vibrant storytelling. But this quiet, little film, and Pope, are just happy to be invited to the party.

Robert Yeoman shot The Grand Budapest Hotel on film – an apt choice, offering more texture, for the period film. To distinguish the films settings, each of the three time periods – ’30s, ’60s, ’70s – was filmed in a different aspect ratio. For the ’30s, Yeoman used a near-facsimile of Academy format, the standard for most films shot in that era. As for the overall aesthetic, it’s typical Wes Anderson: fussily stuffed frames, lots of natural light, and a distinctly vibrant palette. This film has been getting a lot of love, and in another year, the longtime collaborator of Anderson’s would be going home with the trophy for this work.

On nominations morning, no one saw this coming, but it’s totally deserved. Ida, also up for Best Foreign Language Film, isn’t a total shocker, though, when you consider its black-and-white predecessors (Nebraska, The Artist, The White Ribbon). The pair of DPs chose b & w because it evoked Polish films of Ida‘s era, the ’60s, and the photography is as unsparing as the film itself, with gorgeous, anomalous compositions. It’s a stunning, startling film to watch, but it’s the only nominee not also up for an ASC Award (the ASC chose – sigh – Óscar Faura for The Imitation Game), and everyone’s just thrilled to be nominated.

Do we even need to talk about why the insanely-good Birdman‘s gonna win? DP mastermind Emmanuel Lubezki – raking in his seventh nomination after his first win just last year for Gravity – created the illusion of a single, unbroken, snaking shot throughout the film. Using wide lenses that allowed for extreme closeness to Keaton (while still giving us views of the periphery), the camera immerses us in Riggan’s desperate last couple days before his world falls apart; we pace the narrow backstage labyrinth of the St. James Theatre with him, and as his nerves rattle, ours do too. Practical lighting adds to all that realism, while the subjective lighting of the staged moments allowed for darker undercurrents. It’s seamless, thrilling work. Enjoy your second Oscar, Lubezki.

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