Oscar Circuit: Cinematography

roger deakinsAnd the Nominees Are:

  • Roger Deakins, Skyfall
  • Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
  • Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
  • Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina
  • Robert Richardson, Django Unchained

Few realize how integral cinematography is to the film experience. Without the technical prowess of “the man behind the camera,” we are lost, the magic of movies disappears, and our eyes are left to gaze at nothing more than an amateur home video caught on tape. A cinematographer is the visual liaison between the viewer and the film’s universe. To understand and wholly appreciate a director’s vision, the cinematographer must literally point us in the right direction. At the best of times, those “directional paths” almost eclipse the film itself thanks to a cinematographer’s artistic imprint that leaves an impression that stands in equal measure to all the quality elements that make a film great. Such work is usually rewarded in the form of an Oscar® nomination, and this year five heroic men of their great craft have been honored. Below, I will break down each contender, their film and their chances of winning an Academy Award at the 2013 Oscar® ceremony.

The Frontrunners:

Life-of-Pi-Shipwreck500Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi:

Oscar Scene: Entire sequence of cargo ship destruction, ending with Pi Patel underwater, watching the freighter explode as he realizes he’s lost everything.

Oscar History: 1 nomination (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), 0 wins

With eleven nominations to its name, and the majority of them from tech categories, it’s simple math that puts Life of Pi out in front for this award. Claudio Miranda’s skillful camerawork with visual productions already raised eyebrows just a few years back when he was nominated for his work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. However, what really propels him to the front of the pack is that The Academy tends to award the cinematographer whose work artificially feels the grandest thanks to its equally epic film. Just by looking at prior victories in this same category for big-budget extravaganzas like Avatar and Inception, it’s easy to see how this pattern of rewarding the most visually appealing film can benefit Claudio Miranda. While Miranda is still a relative newcomer compared to some of his other competitors who’ve been in the business for years — and have mountains of Oscar® nominations to their names — he has the advantage because he’s not solely relying on the cinematography branch for votes. If the majority of Academy members love Life of Pi and feel that the cinematography is its most award-worthy feature, this win will be a cakewalk for Claudio Miranda.

sf silhouette fightRoger Deakins, Skyfall:

Oscar Scene: Silhouette fist-fight between Bond and Patrice in Shanghai.

Oscar History: 9 nominations (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country of Old Men, The Reader, True Grit), 0 wins

If ever there was a cinematographer who has long deserved recognition from The Academy in the form of a golden statue, it’s Roger Deakins. What’s so mind-boggling is that most of the films he’s worked on in the past — films in which his camerawork was nominated for — weren’t slouches when it came to racking up Oscar® nominations. So then, what gives? Unfortunately, Deakins has been playing second fiddle to at least one film that, for whatever reason, tends to “stand out” more in voter’s minds. This goes back to my earlier notion that the larger-than-life the film is, the likelier chance it has of winning “Best Cinematography.” Deakins’ work in Skyfall elevates his skillset to a whole other level no one imagined he could reach. The way Deakins can capture his subjects in a high-octane, action-oriented setting without making it look cheap or rushed is a testament to his artistry. Every shot and sequence that was captured in Skyfall was a magnificent work of art that transcended the intriguing allure and beauty of a Bond film like never before. I still get chills thinking about that poetic silhouette duel that felt incredibly Asian-inspired, and just not due to the setting. There was a zen-quality to the way Deakins caught those two men brawling that really ingrained a cinematic imprint in our minds we won’t soon erase. Perhaps Deakins’ overdue factor will finally sway his Academy peers into voting his way, but Skyfall is a Bond film, which means it doesn’t have the aura of prestige that Life of Pi and Lincoln innately carry. However, Deakins has made it this far, and given his long track record with Oscar, I truly believe that at the very least he’ll find himself the maid-of-honor to Life of Pi’s win. And yet, a maid-of-honor is still a bridesmaid…

The Potential Spoilers:

annakarenina_784_thumbSeamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina

Oscar Scene: The long-take of the ballroom dance between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky.

Oscar History: 1 nomination (Atonement), 0 wins

Seamus McGarvey’s ambitious cinematography under the direction of Joe Wright has once again impressed Academy voters. In Atonement, McGarvey’s ability to romanticize Western Europe by focusing on its most natural elements, such as the English countryside, transported us to a time period we never imagined would be so hauntingly beautiful. He does so again with Anna Karenina, although this time it’s by bringing 19th century Russia to the big stage. McGarvey’s crane and dolly shots make us believe that the stage is big enough to house an entire film, its story and its characters. Above all, McGarvey’s long-take of Anna Karenina’s unforgettable ballroom dance with Count Vronsky is the stuff of legends. He is able to suspend time by prolonging it, never cutting away for a split-second as the entire choreographed number is played out from start to finish. That one sequence alone could nab McGarvey the Oscar®, but what ultimately hurts him is that the film itself wasn’t very well-received. Moreover, there will still be voters that take issue with the adaptation set mostly on a stage, no matter how fantastic McGarvey’s work is. It’s an uphill battle for McGarvey, but if that aforementioned sequence packs a wallop on voters like I think it could, watch out Miranda and Deakins!

lincoln5Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln

Oscar Scene: The tracking shot from behind of Abraham Lincoln walking out of his office.

Oscar History: 5 nominations (Schindler’s List, War Horse, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Amistad, and Saving Private Ryan), 2 wins (Schindler’s List & Saving Private Ryan)

Janusz Kaminski has the most second-most wins amongst his competition — and alongside Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, he’s up for a third Oscar® as well (yikes!). These trifecta wins would strike me as a bit gratuitous, especially in a category that, quite frankly, Kaminski fell into due to the love of the film, not because of his “technical accomplishments.” Look, Kaminski does a fine job when it comes to illuminating the grandiosity and humanity of Abraham Lincoln the man and legend, but during many of the cabinet-meeting scenes, his camerawork just observes and doesn’t do anything all that special. If it’s a Lincoln night of sweeps across the board, a cinematography win might be carried along with the rest of the accolades. Honestly, Kaminski’s work in the films he has has won were irrefutably award-worthy, and even he would probably agree that Lincoln isn’t the best work of his career. That being said, Kaminski is well respected by The Academy, and Spielberg will of course fight tooth and nail for Kaminski to be recognized fifteen years after winning his last Academy Award. The work just isn’t sufficient enough for the reward, but that might not matter if Lincoln is as beloved as we imagine it to be. After all, Kaminski managed to trounce the riskier works of Mihai Malaimare, Jr. and Ben Richardson.

Just Happy to be Nominated:

Killshot1Robert Richardson, Django Unchained

Oscar Scene: Django gets revenge on a slaver in the fields, his blood splashing the white flowers following the gunshot kill.

Oscar History: 7 nominations (Born on the Fourth of July, Hugo, JFK, Inglourious Basterds, The Aviator, Snow Falling on Cedars, Platoon), 3 wins (Hugo, The Aviator, JFK)

Robert Richardson is without question the most beloved cinematographer in modern cinema. He could provide his services to a Uwe Boll film, and the cinematography would still be up for an Academy Award nomination. This is Richardon’s second consecutive nomination following last year’s victory for Hugo, and also his second nomination for a Quentin Tarantino motion picture. The numbers will always be in Richardson’s favor, as is the loyalty and adoration the Academy has towards him, but let’s be clear: there is nothing visually spectacular about Django Unchained or the way it was photographed. Again, this is one of those cases where a favorite gets in for a film that also happens to be an Academy Award nominee for “Best Picture.” The arithmetic added up, and Richardson once again found himself on the positive side. Other than a few landscape shots and some interesting camerawork on the gory Western shoot-outs, there is virtually nothing Richardson’s cinematography can offer to the Academy that supersedes the work of his fellow nominees this year. Unless Robert Richardson is the Meryl Streep of cinematographers — which he very well may be — it’s unlikely he’ll will be rewarded twice in two years, especially for work that doesn’t measure up to his former contributions.

Final Predictions: Claudio Miranda wins “Best Cinematography” for Life of Pi

Most Egregious Snubs: Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Mihai Malaimare, Jr. (The Master), Robbie Ryan (Wuthering Heights), Rui Poças (Tabu), and Frank Griebe & John Toll (Cloud Atlas).


Do you think this is Miranda’s category to lose? What were some of the biggest snubs of the year, and who are you rooting for?  Post below in the comments!