Of all the technical categories, cinematography is probably the most accessible to even the most novice of film films. After all, film is first and foremost a visual medium. From the vast openness of space to beaches of Normandie, cinematographers capture the grandness of the most sweeping epics and the confines of the smallest of places. Good cinematography, like sound editing, writing, and acting, is best when you don’t notice it’s there. When you can become immersed in the grandeur of an invented world or plunged into the horrors of war without even realizing how it happened.
This year’s crop of nominees include some familiar names connected to visually stunning films. But this year, one film stands out more than any other. Let’s take a look at the nominees:
Six-time nominee Emmanuel Lubezki follows up last year’s win for Gravity with one of the most talked about cinematic achievements of the year. From the tight corridors of a theater to the rooftops of Manhattan to a harried jaunt through Times Square, Lubezki’s work on Birdman is truly an achievement. With long takes that, when edited together, create the illusion of one continuous sequence, Birdman is visually speaking, the most original of this year’s nominees.
Robert Yeoman is a first-time nominee this year, though his work is well known to fans of Wes Anderson. He has served as the Director of Photography on nearly all of Anderson’s films. The Grand Budapest Hotel has a similar feeling and style to some of Anderson’s previous films, but the cinematography in this one takes the audience on quite a journey, using wide angles and tight close ups so effectively that you almost don’t notice their artistic and often quirky nature.
Two more first-time nominees, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski draw the audience into 1960s Poland beautifully through their use of black and white, which lends to the storytelling and the starkness of Anna’s world. The film is so masterfully shot that it looks almost like a series of photographs and truly captures the look and feel of the era. The only foreign language film to be nominated in this category, it’s definitely one to be admired.
Previously nominated for The Illusionist, Dick Pope takes us into the 19th century world of painter J.M.W. Turner. Pope received a special jury prize at Cannes for his work on Mr. Turner, and has worked with director Mike Leigh on a number of previous projects. (Side note: He’s also collaborated several times with nominated director Richard Linklater.) With Mr. Turner, he showcases the small art studio as masterfully as open landscapes and seasides. The visuals of the film are as impressive as anything you could watch this year.
It is a mystery how eleven-time nominee Roger Deakins has never won an Academy Award. His credits include films like The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, and last year’s Prisoners. This year’s Unbroken is impressive in its scope as Deakins takes us along while Louie Zamperini is lost at sea, running in the Olympics, and captured as a POW by the Japanese. Through it all, the horrors an the triumphs of Zamperini are committed to film by one of the best cinematographers in the business.
Will win: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Could win: Unbroken
Should win: While I love everything about Birdman, I really want to see Roger Deakins finally win the top prize.