2018 Oscar Circuit: Best Cinematography

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The director of a film is only as strong as his or her cinematographer. Anchoring the visual delight of cinema, a cinematographer’s duty is to translate auteur vision into corporeal form. The five nominees in this category do exactly that, immersing us in characters and worlds that inundate audiences with sheer awe. Figuring out who will win this year’s Oscar might seem head-scratching at first glance, but given all the precursors the answer comes into deep focus.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are:

  • “Blade Runner 2049” — Roger Deakins
  • “Darkest Hour” — Bruno Delbonnel
  • “Dunkirk” — Hoyte Van Hoytema
  • “Mudbound” — Rachel Morrison
  • “The Shape of Water” — Dan Laustsen

Let’s begin with the strongest contender of the group, Roger Deakins. With BAFTA and ASC wins under his belt heading into the Oscar ceremony, the lauded cinematographer seems poised to win an Academy Award following an unlucky 13-streak loss. Consider him the Ennio Morricone of the year. Like Morricone — who finally won for “The Hateful Eight” in 2015 — Deakins has a reputation for being Oscar-less after years of recognized work. While the nomination in question isn’t a “Best Picture” contender, the overdue factor should outweigh “Blade Runner 2049’s” limited visibility. Working against Deakins is the usual genre bias, made worse by the fact that the other genre competitor, “Shape of Water,” is a frontrunner for the biggest prize of all.

Speaking of Guillermo Del Toro’s English-language masterpiece, “The Shape of Water” is a crowning achievement of interior world-building cinematography. If anyone is going to eclipse Deakins, it will be Dan Laustsen for his stellar composition of motion against equally impressive production design. Laustsen shoots his indoor sets and actors with generous scope that aptly reflect their larger-than-life impact. The dreamlike filtering of the movie washes it with lullaby seduction and fantasy allure. Who knew the endless rain of Baltimore circa 1962 could be embraced with such warmth of feeling? This is Laustsen’s first Academy Award nomination. Even if he goes empty-handed, you can count on a return for the sake of spectacle appreciation.

Hoyte Van Hoytema traveled to hell, high water and heaven to capture the seemingly impossible shots for Christopher Nolan’s arthouse-turned-blockbuster WWII film, “Dunkirk.” There is no comparison among the competition as to which cinematographer had the more challenging task at hand. Hoytema’s perilous journey to present a technical achievement of supersonic proportions proved worth the risk. When directors of equal estimation as Nolan can’t understand how certain sequences were filmed so realistically, that’s when it’s apparent a cinematographer has reached heights of cinema no one has dared traverse. Unfortunately, the late-game apathy towards “Dunkirk” will end up costing Hoytema the rightful Oscar he deserves. BAFTA and ASC losses signal a lack of enthusiasm for recognizing the year’s “Best Picture” earner. It also doesn’t help matters that the Academy has moved away from awarding practical effects-driven craftsmanship in favor of computer-generated.

After 90 years of little opportunity and zero recognition, a female cinematographer was finally nominated for an Academy Award. Rachel Morrison earned this record for her scorching work on Dee Rees’s “Mudbound.” Highlighting its bleak subservience as blood, sweat and tears pour onto it over the course of brutal American history, Morrison depicts the Mississippi countryside as a character of immense tragedy. Audiences grieve for the land nearly as much as those who live off it. Although early critics group citations gave her the traction needed to build nomination buzz, Morrison likely won’t topple the boy’s club this year. However, if there’s a breakout star to come from the group in the new year, just watch “Black Panther” and wait for the credits to reveal its super-heroine behind the camera.

Last to vie for the coveted award is Bruno Delbonnel, one of the only sources of Academy recognition for the criminally underrated “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013). Delbonnel’s lush delicacy with the camera has always been one of his greatest strengths. In “Darkest Hour,” he provides flair and theatrical drama for the similar Winston Churchill. Delbonnel is able to amplify the weight of Churchill’s decision-making with effective claustrophobic hallway and office shots. Five Oscar nominees and zero wins mean Delbonnel could become a future Deakins. This go-around, Delbonnel will have to settle for inclusion appreciation. His work in Joe Wright’s latest is remarkably riveting for a stoic period film, yet the glaring weak link in the lineup.

WILL WIN: Roger Deakins for “Blade Runner 2049”

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: Dan Laustsen for “The Shape of Water”

SHOULD WIN: Hoyte Van Hoytema for “Dunkirk”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for “Call Me By Your Name”

WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY? SHARE YOUR PREDICTIONS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |

ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT |