2016 Oscar Circuit: Best Cinematography

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Welcome to our annual Oscar Circuit series, our deep down look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2016. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your predicted winners in the comment section too!

The Nominees Are:

  • Ed Lachman for “Carol”
  • Robert Richardson for “The Hateful Eight”
  • John Seale for “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant”
  • Roger Deakins for “Sicario”

Another year, another stupendous Oscar lineup of the best in cinematography. The craft itself is essential to our interaction with the world in which the characters inhabit, its scope and infinite possibilities felt much wider than the frame its enclosed in. If the director is the working brain, then a cinematographer serves as the eyes which confirm the aliveness of cinema. The nominees in this case provide 20/20 vision, their prowess in their field bolstering and often times surpassing the talent of the director. All five of these esteemed visionaries produced such astounding work this year that I firmly believe it’s going to be one of the more competitive categories in ages. Now let’s take a closer look at the contenders in question…

Just Happy to be Nominated:

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Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight: Oscar history (9 nominations, 3 wins) — Even when executing below his usual high standard, it’s always wise to predict Robert Richardson in a lineup, especially if that film has awards prestige attached to it from the get-go. In Richardson’s favor this time around was the uniqueness of Quentin Tarantino requiring his film be shot in 70mm and make that a major part of the in-theater experience. Even more rare was the fact that the film was shot like a stage show, using only a few sets to create this chaotic, claustrophobic atmosphere where his actors could let their passion and larger-than-life performances run wild. Because of this, the flashiness of the set design and staging has been almost unfairly linked to Richardson’s work behind the camera. There have been more than a few protestors of Richardson’s work in Hateful Eight, and because of this and the usual divisiveness attached to a Tarantino film, Richardson is the least likely nominee to secure victory. Then again, if history wants to play a cruel joke by repeating itself, Richardson will once more be the guy who defeats frontrunner Emannuel Lubezki just like in 2012 when Hugo triumphed over the incomparably shot Tree of Life.

Potential Spoilers:

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Roger Deakins for Sicario: Oscar history (13 nominations, 0 wins) — Oscar-nominated a whopping thirteen times, cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins might be the best reason for the Academy to change its rules so that only branch members vote for the prospective winners. It’s a borderline crime that Deakins has walked away with zilch every time he’s been up for an Academy award. I don’t expect such misfortune to change this year with his nomination for Sicario, a film that once again proves Deakins is the most consistently amazing cinematographer working today. His skill behind the camera both enhances and compliments Villenueve’s intense and demoralizing depiction of a war on drugs just outside our borders. Thanks to Deakins, Sicario’s urgency and sense of impending doom never subsides, permeating an everlasting dread that is as horrifying as it is cinematically effective. The only reason Deakins has slightly better odds than Richardson is because of his due recognition — multiple nominations in a row only demonstrate how treasured he is among branch members. If there’s a major shocker at the Oscars, it’ll be Deakins with a win here.

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Edward Lachman for Carol: Oscar history (2 nominations, 0 wins) — Teaming up once more with Todd Haynes, Edward Lachman’s lurid and lush cinematography captures the gaudiness of the 1950s while reminding us that the “American Dream” was merely a projection and nothing more. Lachman’s use of negative space adds thematic depth to the film, highlighting the distance felt between forbidden lovers Therese and Carol, their repressed emotions in tandem with society’s oppressive nature poignantly rendered. Lachman’s esoteric use of colors and hues further accentuates this idea of walking through life in a dreamlike state. Because Lachamn is relatively unknown to most cinefiles and branch members themselves (honestly, I still believe many Academy members would have a hard time pointing out Todd Haynes in a director lineup), he positions himself as somewhat of an underdog in this category. Coupled with the fact that Carol failed to nab a much needed “Best Picture” nomination, the odds of Lachman pulling out a shock win are relatively low…except for the inarguable fact that his magnificent work speaks for itself without the added advantage of being tied to a “Best Picture” frontrunner or history with the Academy.

The Frontrunners:

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John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road: Oscar History (5 nominations, 1 win) — Because of the technical challenge of shooting both this film and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s The Revenant, it could really be a coin toss as to which film winds up victorious in this category. Historically speaking, we’ve seen the effects-driven “Best Picture” nominee cake-walk to a win just because of the perceived grandeur of accomplishment. This same reason could be applied to Mad Max’s chances, though with 12 Oscar nominations including all of the technical nods Mad Max earned, The Revenant is seen in this exact same light. Now with the DGA win and Golden Globe victory, The Revenant clearly has the upper hand in this particular category, though it would not surprise me one iota if this field is where members choose to branch off from their Revenant love-fest and recognize Seale’s epic feat of capturing massive, ongoing, relentless mayhem. Seale and George Miller were dashing side-by-side in a sprint that’s never been attempted before in action cinema, the scope of all moving parts in the desert its own universe we’re simply privileged to marvel at. Maybe because of this excess in technical quality that cannot be denied, Seale could and should very well secure his second Oscar win.

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Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant: Oscar History (8 nominations, 2 wins) — “Chivo” truly is an unstoppable force in this field, continually tied to the most ambitious of projects because his camerawork — especially in the case of The Revenant, let’s be honest — carries the bulk of the storytelling. His one-take extended action sequence opener in The Revenant is one of cinema’s most iconic, so unwilling to let the viewer off easy that we soon become willing silent participants of the unfolding pandemonium. Lubezki, as seen in The Tree of Life, is also a master of harnessing the natural world to do his visual bidding. There’s not a single frame in The Revenant that doesn’t make us absolutely aware of the beautiful harshness of mother nature. Not hurting matters is the upwards momentum of the film itself, continually subverting common expectations of distaste towards it (sorry critics, you’re not in power anymore). The Revenant is very much in the running for “Best Picture,” and if the night is an epic sweep, you pretty much have to assume “Chivo” will be carried along towards the path to cinema’s biggest accolade.

Oscar Prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant

Potential Upset: John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road

Biggest Oscar Snub: Mark Lee Ping Bin for The Assassin

CHECK OUT THE OFFICIAL OSCAR PREDICTIONS FOR ALL CATEGORIES:

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 |DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | FOREIGN LANGUAGE | LIVE ACTION SHORT | ANIMATED SHORT |DOCUMENTARY SHORT