2019 Oscars Look: Best Cinematography

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive 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 Look 2018. 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 own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees Are:

NOMINEE BREAKDOWN

Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”

Wearing several hats on “Roma” beside his director one, Alfonso Cuarón jumped into the daunting role of cinematographer after frequent DP collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki backed out due to scheduling conflicts. The result is a more personal touch that blends heavy symbolism with cinema verite restraint. Using a black and white filter to sharpen the hardship of working-class Mexican housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), Cuarón palpably demonstrates his admiration of his own maid/nanny growing up while acknowledging her unenviable socioeconomic position. Tackling such technical responsibility is already hugely impressive, but his orchestration of the tracking-shot beach sequence of triumph is a feat only legends in the craft could accomplish…until now. Pulling “Roma” off with such prowess and delicate presentation certainly positions Cuarón as the artist to beat in this category.

Matthew Libatique, “A Star Is Born”

Part of why concerts don’t play as well on recorded video is because they lack the intimacy that comes from a live experience. Matthew Libatique takes this intended feeling a step further by positioning us on-stage with the star-crossed lovers, enrapturing our senses and sending them into overdrive. Libatique’s cinematic eye perfectly balances the scope of fame with the claustrophobic toxicity of drug and alcohol abuse within a relationship. There is no stronger character framing that better accentuates its leading talent this year than “A Star Is Born.” By magnifying their tender interactions, Libatique releases Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga from the anchor of celebrity idolatry. The two talented performers are thus able to shine anew with the courage of their vulnerability. Going from Sony’s goofy albeit trite “Venom” to this enchanting display of pulsating love shows Libatique’s versatility and tonal respect for whatever genre he serves.

Robbie Ryan, “The Favourite”

After years of admirable work alongside director Andrea Arnold, Robbie Ryan’s compressed approach to storytelling is finally recognized by the Academy. Utilizing a fish-eye lens to fittingly capture the discombobulation of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her court, viewers knew from the onset that Her Majesty’s madness was less a curse than a gleeful invite. The unfolding drama that exists within Anne’s walls often feels like a Merry-Go-Round of backstabbing, amplified by Ryan’s compacted framing that leaves little room to hide secrets. So long as Oscar voters can maneuver their way through Ryan’s narrow pathways of suffocating yet brilliant absurdity, this could be a potential upset for what’s shaping up to be an unglamorous ceremony.

Lukasz Zal, “Cold War”

Proving he was no fluke with his previous nomination for “Ida,” Lukasz Zal once again deftly translates director Pawel Pawlikowski’s vision of Poland and its historical tendency to place the lives of its people in frigid stasis. Zal’s guiding hand behind the camera exposes a luminous love story that cannot overcome the radically shifting country that contains it. Poland’s pastoral harshness and post-war dilapidation are depicted with a deeper sense of sadness than bitter contempt. This, in turn, provides a semblance of understanding as to why its tumultuous couple can’t seem to turn their backs fully. Zal excels at reminding moviegoers that mankind is at the mercy of its own destruction, illustrated here in sprawling landscape wide-shots that reveal such ruin. This creates an inescapable burden on its citizens no matter the lengths taken by a nation’s government to revitalize and reform. Such indelible work could be rewarded if AMPAS decides to give “Cold War” a small offering to ameliorate the sting of “Roma’s” larger awards dominance.

Caleb Deschanel, “Never Look Away”

The cinematography branch seems to have a difficult time averting their gaze from Caleb Deschanel’s masterful skills on films with epic running times. In this year’s case, “Never Look Away” is so enamored with Deschanel’s composition of shots that it elects to bask in his glory for four hours. This is the second post-World War II nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film,” which helped garner enough support to take out some heavyweight American contenders in the category. To sustain investment for so long and be moved enough to oust other presumed “locks” speaks to the influential reverence of Deschanel.

WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma”

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: Robbie Ryan for “The Favourite”

SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: James Laxton for “If Beale Street Could Talk”

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

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page!